At the beginning of his dramatic trial, House Democrats submitted the impeachment case towards Donald Trump to the Senate, but Republican senators eased their condemnation of the past president and shunned demands to accuse him of the violent attack at the US Capitol.
It’s an early indicator of the lasting influence Trump has over the party.
On Monday night, the nine House prosecutors brought the single “incitement of insurrection” impeachment charge through the Capitol, making a solemn and formal march to the Senate along the same halls the protestors looted just days before. But after the Jan. 6 revolt, Republican protestations of Trump have softened. Instead, Republicans are raising a thread of legal claims against the validity of the court and challenging whether the numerous requests by Trump to reverse the election of Joe Biden actually led to incitement.
What seemed like an open-and-shut scenario for some Democrats that rolled out on live television for the world, when Trump invited a mob rally to “fight like hell” for his administration, is running into a Republican Party that feels very special. Not only are there ethical questions, but legislators are wary of crossing the former president, who are their voters, and his legions of followers. At the Capitol, security stays strong.
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Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, questioned if Congress will start conducting former officials’ impeachment trials, what’s next: “Could we go back and try President Obama?”
Besides, he suggested, Trump has already been held to account. “One way in our system you get punished is losing an election.”
Arguments will start the week of Feb. 8 in the Senate trial, and the claim against Trump. The first sitting president to face an impeachment trial will evaluate a political party still working out itself for the post-Trump period. The needs of high donors who distance away from Trump and voters who seek allegiance to him are being balanced by Republican senators. One Republican, Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, declared Monday that he will not run for reelection in 2022, noting the political climate that is divided.
Late Monday, Biden even told CNN that the impeachment trial “must take place.” While realizing the impact it might have on his agenda, he said there would be “a worse impact if it didn’t happen.”
Biden said he didn’t really think sufficient Republican senators will vote to impeach to charge him. He also said that if Trump had six months remaining in his term, the result could well have been changed.