US Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell pointedly did not rule out that he might eventually vote to convict the now twice-impeached US President Donald Trump, but he also blocked a quick Senate impeachment trial.
Minutes after the US House of Representatives voted 232-197 on Wednesday to impeach Trump, McConnell said in a letter to his Republican colleagues that he has not determined whether Trump should be convicted in the Senate’s upcoming proceedings.
The House impeachment articles charge that Trump incited insurrection by exhorting supporters who violently attacked the Capitol last week, resulting in five deaths and a disruption of Congress.
“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,” McConnell wrote.
McConnell’s openness was a stark contrast to the support, or at times silence, he has shown during much of Trump’s presidency, and to the opposition he expressed rapidly when the House impeached Trump 13 months ago
McConnell will become Washington’s most powerful Republican once US president-elect Joe Biden is inaugurated, and his increasingly chilly view of Trump could make it easier for other Republican lawmakers to turn against him.
McConnell’s burgeoning alienation from Trump, plus the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach him, underscored how the Republicans’ long, reflexive support and condoning of Trump’s actions was eroding.
McConnell also issued a statement saying that Congress and the government should spend the next week “completely focused on facilitating a safe inauguration and an orderly transfer of power” to Biden.
He suggested Trump’s Senate trial would begin no earlier than Monday next week — in effect rejecting a drive by the chamber’s Democrats to begin the proceedings immediately so that Trump could be ousted from office.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, said that unless McConnell reverses himself and agrees to quickly start the trial, it would begin after Biden’s inauguration, and about the time Democrats take over majority control of the Senate.
The timetable essentially means McConnell is dropping the trial into Democrats’ laps.
“Make no mistake, there will be an impeachment trial in the United States Senate,” Schumer said. “If the president is convicted, there will be a vote on barring him from running again.”
The US constitution requires a two-thirds majority to convict a president, meaning that at least 17 Republicans would need to join all 50 Democrats to oust Trump.
If Trump were convicted, it would take only a simple majority of the Senate to prohibit Trump, who has mentioned running again in 2024, from holding federal office again.
Earlier on Wednesday, a Republican strategist said that McConnell has told people he thinks Trump perpetrated impeachable offenses.
McConnell also saw the House Democrats’ drive to impeach Trump as an opportune moment to distance the Republican Party from the tumultuous, divisive outgoing president, said the strategist, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe private conversations.
McConnell’s views were first reported by the New York Times on Tuesday.
It is unclear how many Republicans would vote to convict Trump in a Senate trial, but it appears plausible that several would.
US Senator Lisa Murkowski on Wednesday told Alaska’s News Source, an Anchorage news outlet, that Trump “has committed an impeachable offense,” but she stopped short of saying if she would vote to convict him.
US Senator Ben Sasse has said he would “definitely consider” the House impeachment articles.
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