Summary List PlacementSenate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is weighing whether to convict President Donald Trump for his role in inciting last week’s violent riot in the Capitol, Republicans familiar with all the GOP leader’s deliberations told Insider.
It would be an explosive move for the Kentucky Republican which may ultimately lead to Trump becoming the first former president prohibited from ever again holding federally elected office.
McConnell is reported to be enraged at Trump for directing the heavily-armed mob which swarmed the Capitol in protest of Congress certifying President-elect Joe Biden’s 2020 election victory. He now sees the Democrat-led House effort that culminated Wednesday with a bipartisan 232-197 vote to impeach the president as a potential route to rid his own party and American politics once and for all of Trump.
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“He’s seriously entertaining it,” said one GOP source familiar with the Kentucky Republican’s thinking. “He wants to hear it out.”
McConnell is trying to drum up the required 17 Republican votes needed to help convict the president in a Senate trial, according to a source close to the Trump White House. It’ll be an uphill climb awarded the outsized role Trump currently has in GOP politics, particularly with a fervent base of conservatives who wield considerable power through high turnout as principal voters.
But McConnell also recognizes that Trump is as vulnerable as he’s ever been.
For one, the president is about to be exiled from the White House after falling short against Biden last November. He’s going to lose the immunity from prosecution that accompanies being president, exposing him to national, state, and local criminal investigations covering everything in the Capitol riot to his personal business dealings, and overtures to Georgia officials to overturn the results of the 2020 election that he lost.
And the president has already been banned from the powerful social networking networks that helped fuel his political increase, prompting his ability to talk directly to his fans and influence some of those fence-sitting GOP senators who have the power to finish Trump’s profession.
“Now is the time,” a source near the White House stated of McConnell’s potential move. “If you’re going to do it, do it now. He can’t talk to his people. He literally can’t communicate. It’s the time to shiv him and then brace for the fallout.”
Getting to 17 Senate Republican votes
Moderate Republicans such as Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Susan Collins of Maine, and Mitt Romney of Utah are broadly Viewed as potential votes to convict Trump in an impeachment trial.
Other GOP senators might have their own incentives to join them also. Shortly before Christmas, for instance, Trump said he’d back a primary challenger from Sen. John Thune in retaliation for the South Dakota Republican not showing him total loyalty. Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump, the president’s adult sons, also jeopardized primary challenges against any Republicans who didn’t support their daddy’s attempt to overturn Biden’s election.
Republicans interviewed by Insider predicted there’s a mix of Senate retirements coming in 2022, as well as establishment lawmakers mad at Trump’s incessant attacks on the republic, which could really make a difference.
A two-thirds bulk of 67 votes is required to convict Trump, meaning 17 Republican senators would need to join with all the 50 members of the Senate Democratic caucus.
Probably the most persuasive reason Republicans have to back Trump’s certainty is what would come shortly after the impeachment trial. Under the Constitution, a simple majority can vote following a powerful conviction to bar the defendant from holding federal office again. Meaning Republicans with one vote could finish Trump’s choice of mounting the next White House effort and instead open the doorway for a large field of other presidential candidates that comprises some of the very same senators who will find a vote in the impeachment trial.
“It solves the Republicans’ difficulty in 2024,” a source close to the White House said of McConnell’s potential move.
Trump by all accounts is likely to wage war against any GOP defectors. It’s how he responded to Romney when the party’s 2012 presidential nominee broke ranks last February as the only Senate Republican to support Trump’s conviction on one count following the last impeachment trial. The GOP sources say McConnell recognizes the risks if it means no more Trump.
“It’s likely to be a short-term blood bath,” the source close to the White House said. “He’ll likely go on the warpath against most of the senators and try to get them removed from office and that. However, I think the best thing, they believe, is to knock him out than let him linger.”
‘If McConnell comes out in favor of conviction, then he’s the votes’
McConnell isn’t saying yet how he will vote during an impeachment trial.
“While the media was filled with speculation, I have not made a final decision on the way I will vote and I mean to listen to the legal arguments when they are introduced to the Senate,” the majority leader wrote in a letter sent Wednesday afternoon to his GOP colleagues.
The Republican leader also has no plans to bring the Senate back into session until January 19th, a day before Biden’s inauguration. That means a trial to hear the House’s evidence arguing in favor of Trump’s removal due to the “insurrection” from the riots likely won’t happen until after he’s already out of office and with Senate Democrats taking over the majority for the new Congress.
Republicans watching McConnell’s movements say that his team’s decision to leak word he would consider voting to convict Trump should be of alarm to the president. McConnell is a master tactician who wouldn’t let that signal go out without having a reason.
“I think if McConnell comes out in favor of certainty, then he has the votes,” said one former Senate Republican staffer. Other Republicans close to McConnell and the Senate Republican conference echoed that sentiment: McConnell would not be floating Trump’s conviction if he didn’t already have the votes lined up.
At the White House, Trump and his fast-depleting staff have not started planning an impeachment defense. Sources close to the White House say the president’s team remains in chaos after last week’s riot. They also don’t believe McConnell has the votes to convict him, according to another Republican close to the White House.
In an interview on Tuesday, law professor Alan Dershowitz told Insider he had not been asked to defend Trump in an impeachment trial and probably would not do so. Dershowitz served as one of the president’s defense lawyer during the last impeachment trial in early 2020 that ended in Trump’s acquittal on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
Trump issued a statement on Wednesday just before the House voted to impeach him urging his supporters against committing acts of violence at Biden’s inauguration next week. He later released a video statement with the same message.
Republicans tracking McConnell’s moves cautioned that it’s still no guarantee that the 17 GOP votes will ultimately materialize to convict Trump. That’s prompting concern among Republicans that the soon-to-be-former president could earn sympathy should he escape a second impeachment trial.
“He’s only going to get more powerful,” one of the sources close to the White House said,”when he survives all this.”
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