Romney signals support for impeachment, but GOP closes ranks behind Trump

Romney signals support for impeachment, but GOP closes ranks behind Trump

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To be clear, he has danced around the topic, saying he’ll wait until hearing the prosecution of the House impeachment managers and the defence mounted by Mr Trump’s legal team surrounding the events of 6 January – when a mob of Trump supporters descended upon the US Capitol and ransacked the building, menacing lawmakers and interrupting their certification of Joe Biden’s electoral victory.

“There’s no question that the article of impeachment that was sent over by the House describes impeachable conduct, but we have not yet heard either from the prosecution or the defence,” Mr Romney said in an interview with Chris Wallace of Fox News Sunday.

“I’ll get a chance to hear from them, and I’ll do my best as a Senate juror to apply justice as well as I can understand it,” Mr Romney said of the impeachment trial, which is slated to begin on 8 February.

Mr Trump stands impeached for “incitement to insurrection”, a term Mr Romney has already used to describe the president’s behaviour during the post-election period and on the day of 6 January.

In a statement from the very night of the riot, the Utah Republican senator said: “What happened here today was an insurrection, incited by the president of the United States … Those who choose to continue to support his dangerous gambit by objecting to the results of a legitimate, democratic election will forever be seen as being complicit in an unprecedented attack against our democracy.”

Mr Romney dismissed any notion that Mr Trump can escape prosecution in the Senate now that he is not in office.

Some conservative legal scholars in recent weeks have argued that since Mr Trump is no longer president, he cannot stand trial, especially since the primary punishment for impeachment conviction is removal from office. But a conviction can also pave the way towards prohibiting Mr Trump from ever holding federally elected office again. Mr Romney and others in the Senate GOP have said the legalistic arguments against the impeachment trial commencing are hogwash, and only represent a “partisan” sliver of legal thought.

“If you look at the preponderance of the legal opinion by scholars over the years … the preponderance of opinion is that yes, an impeachment trial is appropriate after someone leaves office,” Mr Romney explained on Sunday.

Mr Romney was the only Republican to vote to convict Mr Trump at his first impeachment trial, but it appears likely he’ll be joined by a few others this time around.

GOP Senators Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, and Ben Sasse of Nebraska have been quite vocal denouncing the president’s actions and saying that what he stands accused of is impeachable behaviour.

Even Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell has left open the possibility of voting to convict Mr Trump, reportedly seeing the president’s permanent banishment from public office as a crucial way to diminish the former president’s influence over the GOP.

But more Republicans appear to be closing ranks behind Mr Trump than against him, the way other Senate GOP leaders tell it.

“I don’t know what the vote will be but I think the chance of two-thirds is nil,” said Senator John Cornyn of Texas, citing the required proportion of votes needed to convict Mr Trump.

While the former president bears responsibility for stoking fierce partisan anger and unfounded distrust in the 2020 election results, Republicans have argued, the impeachment trial will only serve to further divide the American public.

“I think the trial is stupid. I think it’s counterproductive. We already have a flaming fire in this country and it’s like taking a bunch of gasoline and pouring it on top of the fire,” Senator Marco Rubio of Florida said in a separate interview on Sunday with Mr Wallace.

And GOP Senator Mike Rounds of South Dakota on Sunday said it was a “moot point” if the Senate were to convict Mr Trump because he is already out of office. (As explained above, the Senate can also bar an impeached individual from ever holding office again.)

The arguments emanating from the anti-impeachment crowd in the GOP underscore how the process is an inherently political one. The Senate technically becomes a “jury”, but the US Constitution does not lay out specific “instructions,” as judges at common criminal trials do.

The Constitution, purposely vague, allows each individual senator to construct and apply his own rules for a given trial. That means politics and public perception inevitably influence most senators’ decision-making.

So even if Mr Rubio concludes beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr Trump indeed incited an insurrection, and even if he concludes that such behaviour is impeachable – he is still well within his constitutional rights to vote against conviction, no matter the reasoning (which he does not have to give).

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