Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has told Republicans to vote their conscience when deciding on former President Donald Trump’s fate following an unprecedented second impeachment trial, according to a report Tuesday.
Citing three anonymous sources, Bloomberg Politics reported that the Kentucky Republican, who voted to declare the trial unconstitutional, allegedly told his caucus that even if they also disputed the constitutionality of impeaching a president who has already left office, they could nevertheless vote to convict Trump anyway.
In addition, McConnell hinted that he has yet to make up his own mind regarding Trump’s fate, two sources told Bloomberg.
By comparison, ahead of last year’s impeachment trial of Trump, McConnell made it clear he had no intention of voting to convict.
The first vote on Tuesday after the Senate trial got underway was to determine whether the chamber even has the constitutional authority to continue the impeachment process since Trump is no longer in office; 56 senators, including six Republicans, voted that the Senate does have the authority, though there is nothing in the Constitution outlining or authorizing a post-presidency impeachment trial.
Nevertheless, 67 votes are needed to convict, so that means 11 more Republicans would have to join with the 56 who voted to claim the trial was constitutional. That’s a high bar and it strongly suggests that the former president won’t be convicted, analysts say.
But even if he is, it’s possible that a conviction could be challenged in court if, say, Trump decided he wanted to run for a second presidential term in 2024. The Constitution specifically calls for the Senate impeachment trial to be presided over by the current chief justice of the Supreme Court — in this case, John Roberts. But Roberts made clear early on he would not officiate since Trump is no longer in office, so Democrats chose Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the Senate President pro tempore, to preside.
“The National Law Journal points out that the impeachment trial is likely to raise constitutional questions,” the American Bar Association Journal reported last month. “They include whether a former president can be impeached and whether Trump’s speech before the Capitol riot was protected by the First Amendment. The impeachment issue could reach the Supreme Court.”
As for McConnell, another source told Bloomberg that he said the same things during a leadership meeting Monday night regarding Trump’s impeachment that he has said publicly.
On Tuesday, both sides presented their opening arguments in the Senate chamber with Trump lawyer Bruce Castor reportedly drawing criticism from the former president and his supporters after he appeared unprepared and ineffective, even praising the House managers for the way in which they presented their case.
The House managers, meanwhile, presented their case effectively enough to persuade one Republican, Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, to vote in favor of the claim that a post-presidency impeachment trial is constitutional.
“Anyone who listened to President Trump’s legal team saw they were unfocused, they attempted to avoid the issue. And they talked about everything but the issue at hand,” Cassidy said.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) also criticized Castor.
“I thought the President’s lawyer, the first lawyer, just rambled on and on and on and didn’t really address the constitutional argument,” Cornyn said.
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