McConnell not pressuring GOP to acquit Trump
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) isn’t pressuring fellow Republicans to acquit former President Trump as the impeachment trial appears poised to wrap as soon as this weekend.
GOP senators have discussed their individual views about the trial behind closed doors this week, including at lunch meetings, but McConnell has limited his remarks to procedural steps and the timeline.
“He’s never really talked about it to us,” said Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.). “Mitch is a very good tactician … but he’s also very respectful that every senator got here on their own.”
Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), an adviser to McConnell who hasn’t made a decision about whether to convict Trump, said he wasn’t getting any pressure from leadership.
“I don’t think I’ve gotten any guidance,” Portman said. “Colleagues have stood up and expressed their views, but they’re not representing leadership. … [McConnell] has said, ‘I think this is a vote of conscience.’”
McConnell declined to respond to questions Wednesday about whether he was open to convicting the former president, whom he aligned closely with during Trump’s tenure in the White House.
The GOP leader has described himself as undecided and told reporters during a recent press conference that he was waiting to hear the arguments at trial. Asked if he was still undecided on Wednesday, a spokesman pointed back to his remarks about wanting to hear the case.
“I want to listen to the arguments. I think that’s what we ought to do. That’s what I said before it started. That’s still my view,” McConnell said.
McConnell stuck closely to Trump during most of his presidency but has re-exerted influence as the most powerful Republican in a Democratic trifecta as he tries to steer the direction of the party heading into the 2022 midterm elections and beyond.
McConnell made a rare foray into House GOP politics this month when he warned that Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s (R-Ga.) embrace of conspiracy theories threatened the party — comments that went further than House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) remarks about the first-term lawmaker.
When asked about the decision to weigh in, McConnell appeared to indicate he was driven by wanting to make it clear that Greene’s views do not represent the larger party.
He also went further than McCarthy in his public defense of Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) when close Trump allies were making a failed attempt to unseat the No. 3 House Republican because of her vote for impeachment.
Additionally, McConnell has criticized Trump for his Jan. 6 rhetoric, when the president repeated his false claims that the election had been stolen and urged his supporters to march to the Capitol as then-Vice President Pence and members of Congress were counting the Electoral College votes.
McConnell, who disclosed late last month that he hasn’t spoken with Trump since Dec. 15, said Trump “provoked” the mob.
But the GOP leader has also taken steps that have been to Trump’s advantage, including denying a request from then-Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) to bring the chamber back into session early to start the impeachment trial while Trump was still in office.
Even when the Senate came back into session on Jan. 19, McConnell negotiated a delay to the trial start date, arguing that it would allow Trump’s attorneys to prepare their defense. And he was one of 44 Republicans who voted this week to say the trial was unconstitutional.
McConnell has closely guarded his endgame following initial reports from last month that he was open to convicting Trump, befuddling some members of his caucus and sparking backlash from some of Trump’s closest allies in the Senate.
Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) said that while it wouldn’t be appropriate to tell reporters what McConnell has said, the Republican leader “hasn’t really told us to do anything.”
Cramer, asked about McConnell, added that there had been “no pressure from anybody.”
The House impeachment managers have referenced McConnell’s criticism of Trump during their trial presentations this week. But McConnell has given nothing away, spending most of the proceedings with his hands in his lap.
The decision by leadership to not pressure GOP senators to vote against conviction comes as they’ve watched the fight tear apart House Republicans, including GOP lawmakers who voted to impeach Trump facing fierce criticism back home.
In order to convict, which would be a historic first, Democrats would need 17 Republican senators to side with all 50 members of the Democratic caucus.
It’s all but guaranteed that Trump will be acquitted. But roughly six GOP senators are viewed as potentially open to convicting him, though no Republican has said that they will do so. Only Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) voted for one of the articles of conviction last year, making it likely the current article will get more GOP support.
Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), who shocked Republicans on Tuesday when he voted to proceed with the trial, said he’s heard nothing from leadership about his decision.
“Haven’t mentioned a word,” Cassidy said, asked about potential feedback.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), also viewed as a crucial swing vote, said there’s been no pressure “whatsoever” on her to vote a particular way.”
“Absolutely,” she added, when asked if she was free to vote how she wanted.
GOP leadership isn’t whipping members to vote one way or another. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), McConnell’s No. 2, acknowledged there were ongoing conversations but stressed that they were not part of an effort to persuade undecided Republican senators.
“You know, not really,” Thune said, asked if leadership was requesting members check in with them on how they will vote.
“People are having conversations,” he added. “You get a sense of where people are headed. … But nothing formal, nothing organized.”