As the House prepares to bring the impeachment charge against Donald Trump to the Senate for trial, a growing number of Republican senators say they are opposed to the proceeding, dimming the chances that former president will be convicted on the charge that he incited a siege of the US Capitol.
House Democrats will carry the sole impeachment charge of “incitement of insurrection” across the Capitol Monday evening, a rare, ceremonial walk to the Senate by the prosecutors who will argue the case. They are hoping that strong Republican denunciations of Trump after the January 6 riot will translate into a conviction and a separate vote to bar Trump from holding office again.
Chief Justice John Roberts is not expected to preside at the trial, as he did during Trump's first impeachment. Instead, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D- Vt., who serves in the largely ceremonial role as president pro-tempore of the Senate, is expected to preside because Trump is no longer in office, according to a person granted anonymity to disclose the planning.
But GOP feelings appear to have cooled since the insurrection. Now that Trump's presidency is over, a number of the Republican senators who will serve along with Democrats as jurors in the trial are speaking out against it, as they did during his first impeachment trial last year.
“I think the trial is stupid, I think it's counterproductive,” said Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.. He said that "the first chance I get to vote to end this trial, I'll do it” because he believes it would be bad for the country and further inflame partisan divisions.
Trump is the first former president to face impeachment trial, and it will test his grip on the Republican Party as well as the legacy of his tenure, which came to a close as a mob of loyal supporters heeded his rally cry by storming the Capitol and trying to overturn Joe Biden's election. The proceedings will also force Democrats, who have a full sweep of party control of the White House and Congress, to balance their promise to hold the former president accountable while also rushing to deliver on Biden's priorities.
Arguments in the Senate trial will begin the week of February 8.
Leaders in both parties agreed to the short delay to give Trump's team and House prosecutors time to prepare and the Senate the chance to confirm some of Biden's Cabinet nominees. Democrats say the extra days will allow for more evidence to come out about the rioting by Trump supporters, while Republicans hope to craft a unified defense for Trump.
Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., said in an interview on Sunday that he hopes that evolving clarity on the details of what happened January 6 “will make it clearer to my colleagues and the American people that we need some accountability.”
Coons questioned how his colleagues who were in the Capitol that day could see the insurrection as anything other than a “stunning violation” of the nation's history of peaceful transfers of power.
“It is a critical moment in American history, and we have to look at it and look at it hard,” Coons said.
An early vote to dismiss the trial probably would not succeed, given that Democrats now control the Senate. Still, the mounting Republican opposition indicates that many GOP senators would eventually vote to acquit Trump. Democrats would need the support of 17 Republicans — a high bar — to convict him.
When the House impeached Trump on Jan. 13, exactly one week after the siege, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., said he didn't believe the Senate had the constitutional authority to convict Trump after he had left office. On Sunday, Cotton said, "The more I talk to other Republican senators, the more they're beginning to line up” behind that argument.
“I think a lot of Americans are going to think it's strange that the Senate is spending its time trying to convict and remove from office a man who left office a week ago,” Cotton said.
Democrats reject that argument, pointing to an 1876 impeachment of a secretary of war who had already resigned and to opinions by many legal scholars. Democrats also say that a reckoning of the first invasion of the Capitol since the War of 1812, perpetrated by rioters egged on by a president who told them to “fight like hell” against election results that were being counted at the time, is necessary so the country can move forward and ensure such a siege never happens again.
A few GOP senators have agreed with Democrats, though not close to the number that will be needed to convict Trump.
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, said he believes there is a “preponderance of opinion” that an impeachment trial is appropriate after someone leaves office. But Romney, the lone Republican to vote to convict Trump when the Senate acquitted the then-president in last year's trial, appears to be an outlier.
Sen. Mike Rounds of South Dakota said he believes a trial is a “moot point” after a president's term is over, “and I think it's one that they would have a very difficult time in trying to get done within the Senate.”