When it comes to impeachment this week, the Senate Republican conference stands ready to be fairly united, with a handful of exceptions. After all, most Republicans have signaled that they will not vote for the condemnation of former President Donald Trump, while few are open to considering it.
In a vote on the constitutionality of the process a few weeks ago, five Republican senators joined the Democrats to reiterate their belief that the process should proceed. These lawmakers – Sens. Mitt Romney (R-UT), Susan Collins (R-ME), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Pat Toomey (R-PA), and Ben Sasse (R-NE) – are believed to be the most likely to support conviction. Senator Bill Cassidy (R-LA) voted again on the constitutional issue at the beginning of the trial on Tuesday, then said he was unimpressed by the Trump team's arguments.
However, the bulk of the party either claims that the process itself is unconstitutional (a position most legal scholars disagree with) or argues that Trump's actions are insufficient to merit impeachment. "I think I am ready to move on. I am ready to end the impeachment process as I find it blatantly unconstitutional," Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said in a recent interview on CBS.
Unlike Graham, some of the 44 Senate Republicans who voted to dismiss the trial on constitutional grounds have indicated that they intend to hear the evidence before making a final decision. Even so, 17 Republicans are unlikely to be convinced to vote with Democrats, the number it takes to meet the 67-member threshold required for Trump's conviction.
"The result is really not in doubt," remarked Graham.
Still, the House's impeachment executives hope to influence at least some Republicans and intend to use a combination of video and social media evidence to demonstrate how Trump sparked the January 6 riot at the Capitol that killed five people. The final votes on the condemnation will show not only how much Republicans believe in this argument, but also how willing they are to publicly distance themselves from Trump.
Republicans are most likely to vote for condemnation
The Republicans most likely to support the condemnation are the six who voted for the constitutionality of the process, including some lawmakers who urged Trump to step down after the Jan. 6 process in order to openly confront him despite their final votes are still in the air on this matter. Some of these senators are also seen as more moderate members, and Toomey is among the legislators who will retire after this term.
During Trump's initial impeachment trial, Romney was the only Republican to vote for Trump's conviction. He was the first person in history to vote against a president of their own party. This time around, it's possible for him to do the same – and join a few others.
So far, all six senators have been careful not to propose how they might ultimately vote, arguing that they need to see what cases the managers – and Trump's defense team – are doing. This is what these legislators have said so far:
Senator Mitt Romney: "I'll of course hear what the lawyers have to say for each side. But I think it's pretty clear that the effort is constitutional," Romney told CNN.
Senator Lisa Murkowski: "The House reacted quickly, and I believe appropriate, with impeachment," Murkowski said in a statement. "I will listen carefully and examine the arguments of both sides and then announce how I will vote."
Senator Susan Collins: "I haven't made a decision yet, I can't pre-evaluate the evidence during the trial," Collins told NECN.
Senator Pat Toomey: "I still think the best result would have been the president's resignation," Toomey told CNN. "I will listen to the arguments on both sides and make the decision that I think is right."
Senator Ben Sasse: “As a juror, I am not announcing anything now and will limit myself to what I will say beforehand, but let us be absolutely clear: everything we are dealing with here – the insurrection, the loss of Life, the impeachment and now the fact that the US Capitol was turned into barracks for federal troops for the first time since the Civil War is the result of a certain lie, "Sasse said in a statement.
Senator Bill Cassidy: “The property managers were focused, they were organized … they made a compelling argument. President Trump's team was disorganized and went out of their way to discuss the issue at hand, ”Cassidy told reporters after the first day of negotiations. In particular, he had previously voted against the constitutionality of the process and was the only senator to change his position on Tuesday.
The Republicans, who are less likely to vote in favor of condemnation – but they could
According to the New York Times, there are about eight other Republicans who have not yet revealed how they will vote. All previously supported the rejection of the process. These lawmakers might still be open to conviction, but it is believed that they are less likely to vote in favor, as they support ending the process themselves.
Those eight lawmakers are Sens. Rob Portman (R-OH), Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Richard Shelby (R-AL), Todd Young (R-IN), Mike Crapo (R-ID), and Jim Risch (R . -ID), Dan Sullivan (R-AK) and Deb Fischer (R-NE). Some of them have also stated that they will weigh the evidence before making a final position, and some have previously questioned allegations of election fraud, although it is not clear that they are ready to hold Trump accountable for them.
McConnell, for example, had previously told sources close to him that he believed what Trump had done to start the insurrection was a criminal offense, according to the Times. However, he has not signaled how he will vote since then and was among Republicans who voted the process was unconstitutional.
"The trial has not started yet. And I intend to attend and hear the evidence," McConnell recently told reporters.
McConnell is reportedly not whipping votes – or pressuring its members – to vote against the conviction.
The Republicans, who are totally against the process
The majority of Republicans – around 36 – appear to have already decided how they will vote: many question the constitutionality of the process, while others say Trump's actions are not indictable.
With Trump already out of office, Republicans have raised concerns about the Senate's ability to convict a former president – and are sticking to that argument to back the acquittal. As experts previously told Vox, many Republican lawmakers are still cautious about angering Trump's supporters and, as a result, threatening their own election prospects.
"The Senate lacks the constitutional authority to impeach a former president," Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) said earlier in a statement. "The founders designed the impeachment process in such a way that officials are removed from public office – not an investigation against private individuals."
As Vox's Ian Millhiser has explained, most legal scholars believe the process is constitutional, although the precedent for it is blurry: in 1876, the Senate majority voted for War Secretary William Belknap to be tried, although he had already resigned – but he was not convicted and many who refused to vote against him raised questions about constitutionality.
Beyond that constitutionality issue, some lawmakers, like Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI), have also questioned the level of responsibility Trump should assume for the January 6 attack, as Zeeshan Aleem writes for Vox. Others have claimed that Trump's months of lies about electoral fraud and his speech urging supporters to march to the Capitol did not hold him responsible for the storms that occurred. (To counter this argument, however, is that some of Trump's supporters have pointed to his rhetoric as the reason they came to Washington DC and participated in the uprising.)
Democrats, meanwhile, have emphasized that calling for impeachment is about ensuring that the president is held accountable for his role. They also noted that they would seek a vote to expel him from the federal office if convicted by the necessary 67 members of the Senate.
"Senators need to look deeply into their conscience and determine whether Donald Trump is guilty, and if so, ever qualify again to enjoy any office of honor, confidence, or gain among the United States," said Chuck Schumer, majority leader of the Senate.
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