WASHINGTON – Sen. Mitch McConnell’s openness to convicting Donald Trump in a U.S. Senate impeachment trial is a seismic signal to his caucus that could prod other Republicans to break with the president in the coming days and weeks.
While McConnell has remained largely silent since last week’s riot of the U.S. Capitol, those close to him have anonymously conveyed through media reports that the outgoing Majority Leader is ready to wash his hands of Trump and that he sees the impeachment process as a ready-made solvent.
Jim Kessler, a former policy aide to incoming Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, said McConnell’s smoke-signal gives other Senate Republicans permission to abandon Trump.
“Whether they take that permission, I don’t know,” said Kessler. “But between both McConnell and Rep. [Liz} Cheney, this can no longer be seen as a partisan endeavor. That just changes this dramatically.”
A Democratic-led U.S. House voted to impeach Trump for the second time in 13 months on Wednesday, charging the president with “inciting an insurrection” after a mob of Trump supporters stormed the nation’s Capitol last week, vandalized the building and sparked a security lockdown that delayed the certification of the 2020 Electoral College vote. At least five people have died.
Ten Republicans joined Democrats voting for impeachment. They are Wyoming’s Liz Cheney, Ohio’s Anthony Gonzalez, Washington’s Jamie Herrera-Beutler, New York’s John Katko, Illinois’ Adam Kinzinger, Michigan’s Peter Meijer, Washington’s Dan Newhouse, South Carolina’s Tom Rice, Michigan’s Fred Upton and California’s David Valadao.
Still unclear is exactly when the U.S. Senate will take up the article for trial.
But McConnell indicated the next week should be dedicated to ensuring a safe inauguration for President-elect Joe Biden.
“Even if the Senate process were to begin this week and move promptly, no final verdict would be reached until after President Trump had left office. This is not a decision I am making; it is a fact. The president-elect himself stated last week that his inauguration on January 20 is the ‘quickest’ path for any change in the occupant of the presidency,” McConnell said.
While McConnell strongly decried the rampage and publicly rejected Trump’s baseless claims of election fraud, he has reserved his angst about Trump for private conversations with confidantes. As the House debated Trump’s impeachment Wednesday, McConnell released a note to his Republican colleagues, denying he had any final decision.
“While the press has been full of speculation, I have not made a final decision on how I will vote and I intend to listen to the legal arguments when they are presented to the Senate,” he said.
“I don’t think that story would have appeared in the press unless it was intentional,” said Colin Reed, a Republican strategist and aide to former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown. “Mitch McConnell knows what happened last week was indefensible. For the Republican Party to have a chance to regain power, they’re going to have to move past this point and time. … It’ll be a hard vote for a lot of them.”