After watching for hours on Wednesday as House impeachment managers delivered a methodical and at times chilling case for convicting former President Donald Trump—a case that featured previously unseen footage showing just how close violent insurrectionists came to crossing the paths of fleeing lawmakers—a number of Republican senators publicly acknowledged that the presentation was compelling, and some claimed to be shaken by what they witnessed.
But the only question of consequence for the trial, the conclusion of which could be just days away, is whether enough Senate Republicans were sufficiently shaken to convict Trump for inciting the January 6 mob assault on the U.S. Capitol that left five people dead in a failed attempt to subvert the peaceful transition of power.
“The Republican Party has a fundamental choice to make. It can be a conservative party that believes in democracy and the rule of law or it can be an authoritarian party that’s built on conspiracy theories, violence and the Big Lie. But it cannot be both.”
—Sen. Bernie Sanders
The comments of some of the same Republicans who professed to be moved by Wednesday’s presentation—in addition to the inane complaints of lawmakers such as Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who called House Democrats’ case against Trump “offensive”—did not inspire confidence that there will be a substantial shift toward conviction within the Senate GOP caucus.
Speaking to the press following Wednesday’s proceedings, Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) proclaimed that “we want justice” before retreating to a process argument for why he is nonetheless leaning toward voting to acquit the former president.
“There is no doubt there was a mob, that the mob had insurrectionist plans in mind. But for many of us, and for me personally, it’s still a matter that we do not have a constitutional ability to impeach a person who is not a current officer,” Rounds said, referring to the view of 44 Senate Republicans that the trial itself is unconstitutional.
Even though that question was definitively settled Monday when the Senate—with the support of six Republicans—officially affirmed that the trial is lawful, several GOP lawmakers on Wednesday continued to hide behind the constitutionality argument after House Democrats laid out evidence that Trump was directly responsible for inciting the insurrectionist mob.
Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) told CNN that it’s difficult to vote to convict “when you think the process is flawed in the first place.”
After calling Trump’s conduct in the lead-up to the violent insurrection “inexcusable,” Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) told Buzzfeed Wednesday that “it’s a bad precedent to be convicting former presidents, private citizens.”
Mocking the absurdity of the GOP’s procedural case for acquitting Trump, New York Times columnist Jamelle Bouie tweeted:
you see, under a strict construction of the constitution, it is constitutional for the president to try to murder congress, but unconstitutional for congress to do anything about it https://t.co/Qn0l0jZC1d
— b-boy bouiebaisse (@jbouie) February 10, 2021
A two-thirds vote of senators present is required to convict Trump, meaning that—assuming the entire Senate Democratic caucus votes to convict—at least 17 Republican votes will likely be needed. According to the Washington Post‘s tally as of Thursday morning, only 12 Republican senators have indicated they are open to convicting the former president.
“There will be at least 44 [votes to acquit],” Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) predicted in an interview with Politico Wednesday. “Everybody objects to that violence. Everybody is horrified by that violence. But the question is: Did the president incite that?”
“There really is no debating that Trump incited a deadly insurrection riot, no more so than we might debate that the earth is round.”
—Christopher D. Cook
In a column for Common Dreams Thursday morning as House impeachment managers were set to deliver closing arguments in their case against Trump, journalist Christopher D. Cook argued that “there really is no debating that Trump incited a deadly insurrection riot, no more so than we might debate that the earth is round.”
“Yet even now, when presented with the inarguable facts of how Trump’s lies and incitements led directly to the deadly January 6 insurrection riots, even now, the Republican Party (save for a handful of brave leaders, who likely risk both electoral and death threats) has shown us they simply do not care about law and order when it comes to their own deadly deeds,” Cook wrote.
“If nothing more comes of the impeachment trial,” Cook added, “let these truths at least spread far and wide: Trump lied and incited deadly riots; the Republican Party leadership aided and abetted; and when faced with opportunities to own these profoundly grievous acts—to accept responsibility and accountability—they ducked, blinked, and failed.”
Following House Democrats’ presentation on Wednesday, Walter Shapiro wrote for The New Republic that “we are watching an entire political party on trial, just one month after the failed putsch at the Capitol.”
“Beyond Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz and their ilk,” Shapiro added, referring to the Republican senators who voted to overturn the presidential election hours after the mob attack, “how can retiring Republicans with reasonable reputations like Ohio’s Rob Portman and North Carolina’s Richard Burr live with themselves as they ignore the evidence of Trump’s determined efforts to overturn a free election?”
As Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) put the stakes late Wednesday, “The Republican Party has a fundamental choice to make. It can be a conservative party that believes in democracy and the rule of law or it can be an authoritarian party that’s built on conspiracy theories, violence and the Big Lie.”
“But it cannot be both,” said Sanders.