Former president Donald Trump was acquitted in his second impeachment trial by a minority vote in the U.S. Senate on Saturday, after only seven Republicans joined all Senate Democrats to vote to convict him. Below, in reverse chronological order, are live updates on the aftermath.
Polls: 58 percent say Trump should have been convicted; Record-high support for third party
ABC News reports the results of a new post-trial ABC/Ipsos poll:
Over half of Americans (58%) say that Trump should have been convicted, which tracks with the 56% who said the same last week before the 57-43 Senate vote to acquit left Trump free to possibly run for office again. Last year, after Trump was acquitted in his first Senate impeachment trial, Americans were evenly split on the outcome, with 49% approving of the Senate’s judgment and 47% disapproving, according to a Monmouth University poll. …
An overwhelming 88% of Democrats and 64% of independents also say the former president should have been convicted after being impeached for his role in the deadly assault on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
Republicans were mostly unmoved:
Among Republicans, 86% say Trump should not have been convicted and disqualified from holding future office, an attitude shared by only 11% of Democrats and 35% of independents. More than eight in 10 Republicans (83%) actually go even further, believing that the trial shouldn’t have even happened, viewing the single charge against Trump as not serious enough to warrant impeachment proceedings.
Meanwhile, Gallup has recorded a record-high amount of support for a third political party in the U.S.:
Americans’ desire for a third party has ticked up since last fall and now sits at a high in Gallup’s trend. Sixty-two percent of U.S. adults say the “parties do such a poor job representing the American people that a third party is needed,” an increase from 57% in September. Support for a third party has been elevated in recent years, including readings of 60% in 2013 and 2015 and 61% in 2017. Meanwhile, 33% of Americans believe the two major political parties are doing an adequate job representing the public, the smallest percentage expressing this view apart from the 26% reading in October 2013.
A Capitol riot commission?
That appears likely now that Trump’s impeachment trial is over. Establishing one would be a way for Congress to not only continue to uncover more about what happened on January 6, but more about Trump’s culpability as well, as the New York Times’ Emily Cochrane explains:
Lawmakers in both parties have called for a commission modeled on the bipartisan panel established after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. Representative Madeleine Dean, Democrat of Pennsylvania and an impeachment manager, described it on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday as “an impartial commission, not guided by politics, filled with people who would stand up to the courage of their conviction.” …
Democrats, who abruptly dropped what had been a successful demand for witnesses during the final day of the trial on Saturday, framed a possible commission on Sunday as a way to not only understand the failures that had led to the breach of the Capitol but also to underscore Mr. Trump’s role in the events.
Democratic Senator Chris Coons framed the commission that way in an interview on Sunday. Republicans have voiced support, as well, albeit with a different aim. Senator Lindsey Graham said Sunday that “we need a 9/11 commission to find out what happened and make sure it never happens again, and I want to make sure that the Capitol footprint can be better defended next time.” Senator Bill Cassidy, one of the GOP senators who voted to convict Trump on Saturday, called on Sunday for “a complete investigation about what happened on January 6,” asking similar questions.
The Trump defense team’s “assault on reason”
At the New Yorker, Masha Gessen compares the House impeachment trial managers’ carefully constructed case with the counterarguments presented by Trump’s cobbled-together team of attorneys — who “flooded the zone” with noise:
Trump’s defense team assumed that its audience was both gullible and cynical. That their audience was willing to believe, contrary to prevalent legal opinion, that Trump, as a former President, shouldn’t be subject to impeachment proceedings; that he hadn’t intended to incite violence; that he didn’t realize that his supporters had invaded the Capitol; or simply that none of this meant anything—that he didn’t incite and yet he did, that he lost the election but won it, that Antifa members were in the building, as Trump apparently told the House Republican leader, Kevin McCarthy, over the phone. That Trump’s words were as devoid of meaning as those of his lawyers, and that impeaching the former President for “just words” was the beginning of a slippery slope to gratuitous impeachments and the repression of free speech. Arendt wrote that the qualities of gullibility and cynicism were present in different proportions depending on a person’s place in the totalitarian movement’s hierarchy. A senator may be more cynical, for example, and a rank-and-file conspiracy theorist more gullible. I suspect that the proportion of gullibility to cynicism can fluctuate over time, depending on one’s mood or circumstances—because everything is possible and nothing has meaning.
Republicans who voted to convict Trump are already facing attempts at retaliation
Most of the seven GOP senators who voted “guilty” are unlikely to face meaningful repercussions in their home states — which undoubtedly factored into some if not all of their decisions.
Two, North Carolina’s Richard Burr and Pennsylvania’s Pat Toomey, are already retiring once their current Senate terms end in 2022. Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski has already successfully fended off GOP attempts to replace her in the Senate, and though she’s up for reelection in 2022, her electoral standing is likely even more secure back home now that Alaska has ranked choice voting. Mitt Romney was already a well-known critic of the former president when he was elected to the Senate by Utahans in 2018, and it has long been clear he would vote to convict the former president.
The other three senators — Maine’s Susan Collins, Louisiana’s Bill Cassidy, and Nebraska’s Ben Sasse — all just won reelection in November and won’t have to face potential primary threats until 2025 at the earliest.
Nonetheless, there has been pushback for some of the senators since the impeachment trial verdict. The Louisiana GOP quickly censured Cassidy on Saturday, saying in a statement that it “condemn[s], in the strongest possible terms” the senator’s vote against Trump. Reports the Advocate:
The state GOP took the remarkable step of censuring the Baton Rouge Republican hours after his vote to convict. Several Republican elected officials condemned the senator, who was a reliable conservative vote during his first six-year term that began in 2014, voting with Trump 89% of the time …
Almost immediately after his vote to convict, Louisiana Republicans blasted Cassidy. Attorney General Jeff Landry said the vote was “extremely disappointing,” calling the impeachment trial unconstitutional. He said Cassidy fell into a “trap laid by Democrats to have Republicans attack Republicans.”
Mike Bayham, the secretary of the LAGOP, said he hopes the Legislature will revamp the state’s election system to hold closed primaries, which he believes will result in more reliable Republican candidates. Currently, all candidates for office appear on the same ballot regardless of party, in what’s known as a jungle primary. “Bill Cassidy is a senator without a party as of today,” he said.
In North Carolina, the state GOP’s chairman and other Republican leaders condemned Burr, as well, per the Raleigh News & Observer:
“North Carolina Republicans sent Senator Burr to the United States Senate to uphold the Constitution and his vote today to convict in a trial that he declared unconstitutional is shocking and disappointing,” NCGOP chairman Michael Whatley said in a statement.
Former U.S. Rep. Mark Walker, who is running for the retiring Burr’s seat in the 2022 election, sent out a fundraising appeal immediately after Burr’s vote. “Wrong vote, Sen. Burr. I am running to replace Richard Burr because North Carolina needs a true conservative champion as their next senator,” Walker tweeted.
U.S. Rep. Dan Bishop, a Charlotte Republican, said in a tweet that he supported the immediate censure of Burr.
Meanwhile in Nebraska, the state GOP had to fault inclement weather before it could try to official fault Sasse, explains the New York Times:
The only thing that kept Nebraska Republicans from passing their resolution censuring Senator Ben Sasse for his vote was the weather: Subzero temperatures and punishing winds forced the state committee to postpone a meeting planned this weekend until later this month, according to party officials.
And in Pennsylvania, Toomey’s vote to convict Trump can’t have come as much of a surprise, considering how vociferously he has criticized the former president’s post-election conduct. Regardless, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports that “Pennsylvania GOP chairman Lawrence Tabas said he shared the ‘disappointment of many of our grassroots leaders and volunteers’ over Toomey’s vote.”
As Politico noted Sunday, these measures continue a trend of state GOP attempts to punish Republican lawmakers who have turned on Trump:
In Wyoming, the state party voted to censure Rep. Liz Cheney for her House vote to impeach Trump. The Arizona Republican Party recently censured Republican Gov. Doug Ducey after he opted not to back Trump’s bid to subvert the election results. The Arizona party also censured Cindy McCain, GOP Sen. John McCain’s widow, and former GOP Sen. Jeff Flake after they backed Joe Biden for president.
Lindsey Graham talks Trump futures, criticizes McConnell
In interviews on Sunday, Senator Lindsey Graham offered a MAGA point of view on what’s to come now that the impeachment trial is over. Graham told Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace that he had spoken with Trump on Saturday after the verdict and that the ex-president was “excited about 2022” and “ready to move on and rebuild the Republican Party,” claiming that “the Trump movement is alive and well.”
The senator also said that Trump was “mad at some folks” — likely meaning both the Republican senators who voted to convict him, as well as those, like Mitch McConnell, who condemned Trump after voting to acquit him. “The Trump movement is alive and well,” Graham claimed.
Graham singled out retiring North Carolina senator Richard Burr, the most surprising cross-over vote on Saturday, claiming that Burr’s decision “just made Lara Trump almost the certain nominee for the Senate seat in North Carolina to replace him if she runs.” Trump’s daughter-in-law, who was a regular surrogate for the former president during his reelection campaign and has roots in North Carolina, has been reportedly toying with that idea. The New York Times reported Sunday that:
[Ms. Trump] did not immediately respond to a request for comment [on Graham’s remarks]. One senior Republican official with knowledge of her plans said the Jan. 6 riot soured [her] on running, but said [she] would decide over the next few months if she would run as part of a coordinated Trump family comeback.
Senator Graham also criticized McConnell over his long speech on the excoriating Trump on Saturday after the trial was over. The Senate minority leader “got a load off his chest, obviously. But unfortunately he put a load on the back of Republicans. That speech you will see in 2022 campaigns,” Graham told Wallace, calling McConnell’s opinion on Trump’s culpability in the Capitol riot an “outlier.”
Graham offered one of his trademark outlandish threats of retaliation against Democrats, too, claiming the GOP would impeach Vice-President Kamala Harris if the party regained control of both chambers of Congress in 2022. “We’ve opened Pandora’s box here, and I’m sad for the country,” Graham said.
RNC projects GOP unity in post-trial fundraising appeal
The national GOP’s messaging didn’t include the phrase “the best is yet to come,” but it might as well have:
“ACQUITTED AT LAST! The biggest political circus of ALL TIME is finally over and we want to send a message that the Republican Party is STRONGER THAN EVER BEFORE.”
As Politico pointed out on Saturday night, such unity may be hard to come by for a while:
For many Republicans, the uncertainty about Trump’s future is equal parts harrowing, provocative and paralyzing. The former president has promised to help the GOP retake the House in the midterm elections next fall but also wants revenge against 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach him in the lower chamber. It is assumed he will reserve similar animus for the seven Senate Republicans who voted for his conviction on Saturday.
Trump has vowed to pursue statewide election reforms after insisting a second term was “stolen” from him. But in doing so, he threatens a massive schism in the Republican party, which is already deeply fractured by his false accusations of election fraud. Trump allies are unsure how much success he’ll see in any of these ventures, particularly on the heels of an emotional impeachment trial that may have deeply wounded his reputation.
Biden’s statement on the verdict
While the final vote did not lead to a conviction, the substance of the charge is not in dispute. Even those opposed to the conviction, like Senate Minority Leader McConnell, believe Donald Trump was guilty of a “disgraceful dereliction of duty” and “practically and morally responsible for provoking” the violence unleashed on the Capitol …
This sad chapter in our history has reminded us that democracy is fragile. That it must always be defended. That we must be ever vigilant. That violence and extremism has no place in America. And that each of us has a duty and responsibility as Americans, and especially as leaders, to defend the truth and to defeat the lies.
Responding to the Senate’s acquittal of Trump, Intelligencer’s Jonathan Chait points out that Mitch McConnell and other Republicans appear to be hoping that Trump will still face consequences for his conduct they weren’t willing to deliver:
Republicans in Congress may not want to anger their base by voting openly to disqualify Trump from office. But they very obviously wish for Trump to be disqualified by somebody else. The pointed gestures toward the courts by McConnell and his allies are a clear signal that those judges shouldn’t extend to Trump any special protection.
Judges don’t think exactly like elected officials do, of course. But they don’t think completely unlike them. The motivation of jurists is a mysterious elixir of legal principle and political calculation. Their reasoning needs to make some sense, but the bar of “reasonable” tends to be much lower to reach a favorable ruling for their team.