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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is weighing whether to convict President Donald Trump for his role in inciting last week’s violent riot at the Capitol, Republicans familiar with the GOP leader’s deliberations told Insider.
It’d be an explosive move for the Kentucky Republican that could ultimately lead to Trump becoming the first former president banned from ever again holding federally elected office.
McConnell is said to be enraged at Trump for directing the heavily-armed mob that swarmed the Capitol in protest of Congress certifying President-elect Joe Biden’s 2020 election victory. He now sees the Democrat-led House effort that culminated Wednesday with a bipartisan 232-197 vote to impeach the president as a potential avenue to rid his party and American politics once and for all of Trump.
“He’s seriously entertaining it,” said one GOP source familiar with the Kentucky Republican’s thinking. “He wants to hear it out.”
McConnell is trying to drum up the necessary 17 Republican votes needed to help convict the president at a Senate trial, according to a source close to the Trump White House. It will be an uphill climb given the outsized role Trump currently has in GOP politics, in particular with a fervent base of conservatives who wield considerable power through high turnout as primary voters.
But McConnell also recognizes that Trump is as vulnerable as he’s ever been.
For one, the president is about to be exiled from the White House after falling short against Biden last November. He’s about to lose the immunity from prosecution that comes with being president, exposing him to federal, state, and local criminal investigations covering everything from the Capitol riot to his private business dealings, and overtures to Georgia officials to overturn the results of the 2020 election he lost.
And the president has already been banned from the potent social media networks that helped fuel his political rise, undercutting his ability to speak directly to his supporters and influence some of the fence-sitting GOP senators who have the power to end Trump’s career.
“Now is the time,” a source close to the White House said of McConnell’s potential move. “If you’re going to do it, do it now. He can’t talk to his people. He literally can’t communicate. It’s the time to shiv him and then brace for the fallout.”
Getting to 17 Senate Republican votes
Moderate Republicans like Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Susan Collins of Maine, and Mitt Romney of Utah are widely seen as possible yes votes to convict Trump at an impeachment trial.
Other GOP senators may have their own incentives to join them too. Shortly before Christmas, for example, Trump said he would back a primary challenger against Sen. John Thune in retaliation for the South Dakota Republican not showing him total loyalty. Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump, the president’s adult sons, also threatened primary challenges against any Republicans who didn’t support their father’s effort to overturn Biden’s election.
Republicans interviewed by Insider predicted there’s a mix of Senate retirements coming up in 2022, as well as establishment lawmakers angry at Trump’s incessant attacks on the republic, that could make a difference.
A two-thirds majority of 67 votes is needed to convict Trump, meaning 17 Republican senators would have to join with the 50 members of the Senate Democratic caucus.
Perhaps the most compelling reason Republicans have to back Trump’s conviction is what would come right after the impeachment trial. Under the Constitution, a simple majority can vote after a successful conviction to bar the defendant from ever holding federal office again. That means Republicans with one vote could end Trump’s option of mounting another White House campaign and instead open the door for a large field of other presidential candidates that includes some of the very same senators who will get a vote in the impeachment trial.
“It solves the Republicans’ problem in 2024,” a source close to the White House said of McConnell’s potential move.
Trump by all accounts is likely to wage war against any GOP defectors. It’s how he responded to Romney when the party’s 2012 presidential nominee broke ranks last February as the only Senate Republican to support Trump’s conviction on one count following the last impeachment trial. The GOP sources say McConnell recognizes the risks if it means no more Trump.
“It’s going to be a short-term blood bath,” the source close to the White House said. “He’ll probably go on the warpath against all the senators and try to get them removed from office and all that. But I think the better thing, they think, is to knock him out than let him linger.”
‘If McConnell comes out in favor of conviction, then he has the votes’
McConnell isn’t saying yet how he will vote during an impeachment trial.
“While the press has been full of speculation, I have not made a final decision on how I will vote and I intend to listen to the legal arguments when they are presented to the Senate,” the majority leader wrote in a letter sent Wednesday afternoon to his GOP colleagues.
The Republican leader also has no plans to bring the Senate back into session until January 19th, a day before Biden’s inauguration. That means a trial to hear the House’s evidence arguing in favor of Trump’s removal due to the “insurrection” from the riots likely won’t happen until after he’s already out of office and with Senate Democrats taking over the majority for the new Congress.
Republicans watching McConnell’s movements say that his team’s decision to leak word he would consider voting to convict Trump should be of alarm to the president. McConnell is a master tactician who wouldn’t let that signal go out without having a reason.
“I think if McConnell comes out in favor of conviction, then he has the votes,” said one former Senate Republican staffer. Other Republicans close to McConnell and the Senate Republican conference echoed that sentiment: McConnell would not be floating Trump’s conviction if he didn’t already have the votes lined up.
At the White House, Trump and his fast-depleting staff have not started planning an impeachment defense. Sources close to the White House say the president’s team remains in chaos after last week’s riot. They also don’t believe McConnell has the votes to convict him, according to another Republican close to the White House.
In an interview on Tuesday, law professor Alan Dershowitz told Insider he had not been asked to defend Trump in an impeachment trial and probably would not do so. Dershowitz served as one of the president’s defense lawyer during the last impeachment trial in early 2020 that ended in Trump’s acquittal on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
Trump issued a statement on Wednesday just before the House voted to impeach him urging his supporters against committing acts of violence at Biden’s inauguration next week. He later released a video statement with the same message.
Republicans tracking McConnell’s moves cautioned that it’s still no guarantee that the 17 GOP votes will ultimately materialize to convict Trump. That’s prompting concern among Republicans that the soon-to-be-former president could earn sympathy should he escape a second impeachment trial.
“He’s only going to get stronger,” one of the sources close to the White House said, “if he survives all this.”
Expanded Coverage Module: capitol-siege-module