When the Capitol riot was spinning out of control, some of President Trump’s loyalists tried to get messages to him to urge an end to the violence.
Lindsey Graham called Ivanka Trump. Kevin McCarthy called Jared Kushner. Kellyanne Conway tried a close personal aide. Chris Christie tried the president. Mark Meadows, Kayleigh McEnany, and Ivanka all pleaded with him to make a public appeal to his supporters, according to the Washington Post.
“He was hard to reach, and you know why?” a close adviser says. Because Trump was watching “live TV.”
The president did agree to tweet a couple of appeals to his supporters to stand down–one said “we love you”–and while he was persuaded to condemn the violence in a video the following day, he regretted it after watching the news coverage.
Such reporting is fueling the Democrats’ determination to impeach Trump for inciting violence. The proceedings are scheduled to begin today and everyone expects a quick vote. But whether that makes political sense is a whole other question.
Trump spoke with reporters yesterday for the first time since the insurrection, and he’s back to the “witch hunt” rhetoric. He called the impeachment drive “absolutely ridiculous” and a “continuation of the greatest witch hunt in the history of politics.”
Trump defended his rally speech on the morning of the riot as “totally appropriate” and said the path that Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer are following is causing “tremendous damage to this country.” Asked if he would resign, the president said “I want no violence.” Schumer later called the president’s comments “despicable.”
I have no doubt that Pelosi and nearly all of her caucus are personally furious that their lives were endangered by the criminals and terrorists who stormed the Capitol in Trump’s name. It’s also clear that they want to brand Trump for history as the only president to be impeached twice. And given the anger over the rampage, they may attract a few Republican votes in the process. And given the anger over the rampage, they will attract some GOP votes in the process, with No. 3 Republican Liz Cheney saying yesterday she’ll back impeachment because “there has never been a greater betrayal by a president.”
But then what?
The glaring weakness in the Democratic argument is that Trump is leaving office one week from today, without them lifting a finger.
The counterargument is that otherwise, Congress will have responded to the attack by doing nothing.
The Dems seem to have dropped the ludicrous idea of following the lightning impeachment by not formally transmitting it to the Senate for as long as 100 days. The idea was to give Joe Biden a chance to get his administration off the ground, including the fundamental step of getting his Cabinet nominees confirmed.
But even Republicans who are uneasy with Trump’s conduct have an easy out: What is the point, they can say, of delivering an impeachment conviction against someone who is already out of office?
In a bombshell report last night, the New York Times says Mitch McConnell believes Trump has committed impeachable offenses and is glad the Democrats are moving against him, “believing that it will make it easier to purge him from the party, according to people familiar with his thinking.” The same piece says House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has asked other Republicans whether he should call on Trump to resign.
McConnell runs a tight ship, and this news would not have leaked unless he wanted it out there.
Until now, McConnell has said he can’t call the Senate back before Jan. 19–the day before Biden’s inauguration–they would be debating the fate of a private citizen. (Schumer said yesterday that he and McConnell alone can agree to a quicker emergency session.)
What’s more, while a few GOP-aligned senators might vote to convict–Mitt Romney, Lisa Murkowksi, perhaps Pat Toomey–the effort is likely to fall far short of the 67 lawmakers needed for conviction. Pelosi and her colleagues know this. So would it come to be seen as an empty exercise in punitive politics?
The one lingering rationale–that a conviction would bar Trump from running again in 2024–evaporates if that outcome is impossible.
Now I’m not persuaded by the Republicans who have found a newfound desire for unity saying we should just move on. Some of them had no interest in unity when they spent more than two months pushing the “stolen election” narrative, despite the Trump team’s failure to provide widespread fraud in dozens of suits and the finding of his own Justice Department. And 136 House Republicans, and seven Republican senators, voted to challenge Electoral College results even after the attack on the Capitol.
But while the desire by Democrats–and most of the media–is to hold those responsible “accountable,” it’s getting harder to see how a largely partisan and ultimately doomed impeachment would accomplish that. Some Democrats agree with former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell, who told me on “Media Buzz” that impeachment would be a distraction and hurt Biden’s efforts to battle Covid and boost the economy. But that seems to be where we are headed, one year after the first Trump impeachment.
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