The 232-197 vote in the House offered a withering coda to Trump’s inglorious fall. Unable to manage the coronavirus pandemic and persuade voters to return him to the White House, the president instead inspired a violent and conspiracy-fueled attack on the seat of American democracy.
The backlash against Trump in the wake of the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol has been swift, creating an unprecedented test of the vice-like grip he’s held on his party since his 2016 political ascendance. The Capitol riot the president helped incite sparked a wave of resignations across the administration, led to the president’s banishment from Twitter, and prompted corporate leaders to suspend donations to Republicans who peddled false allegations of widespread voter fraud.
The Senate now must hold its second impeachment trial of Trump, likely after he’s already left office. A post-presidential conviction could bar Trump from ever seeking federal office again.
While few Republican senators have said where they stand on the matter, the GOP leader, Kentucky’s Mitch McConnell, left open the possibility he’ll vote to convict in a letter to colleagues on Wednesday.
Regardless of the outcome, the events of the past week have shaken the pillars of American politics and point to a fraught road ahead for the Republican party.
Trump’s impeachment will undoubtedly cement his status as a martyr among his most loyal followers, who have cast the move as the latest effort by Washington to attack and undermine an outsider who threatened the status quo. But several Republicans, including Representatives Liz Cheney, Adam Kinzinger and John Katko, spoke out forcefully against Trump’s actions and voted to impeach.
“This is a vote of conscience,” Cheney said Wednesday. “It’s one where there are different views in our conference. But our nation is facing an unprecedented, since the Civil War, constitutional crisis. That’s what we need to be focused on.”
Some members of the party, though, tried to have it both ways. Loath to defend Trump’s actions, they instead argued that impeachment undermined Biden’s call for the country to unify in the aftermath of a presidency that has worn the nation thin.
Trump, for his part, has maintained the same vaguely threatening posture that helped foment the crisis in the first place. On Tuesday, he blamed the media and Democrats for “a continuation of the greatest witch hunt in the history of politics.”
“I think it’s causing tremendous danger to our country and it’s causing tremendous anger,” he said.
He issued a statement Wednesday, as the House debated impeachment, that called for peace.
“In light of reports of more demonstrations, I urge that there must be NO violence, NO lawbreaking and NO vandalism of any kind,” he said. “That is not what I stand for, and it is not what America stands for.”
But the violent riot has tested the loyalty of some of Trump’s longtime enablers and allies. He alienated Mike Pence by tweeting that the vice president “didn’t have the courage” to illegally declare Trump the winner of an election he had lost, further inflaming his supporters before the riot.
Pence, in the Capitol at the time presiding over the congressional count of Electoral College votes, had to flee the mob with other lawmakers.
Several top administration officials canceled international travel or cut trips short this week out of concern that foreign adversaries might seek to exploit the U.S. political crisis and a White House under strain.
Trump’s attention will now turn to minimizing fallout from the impeachment vote on any possible second act in political life, while attempting to paint the consequences for his role instigating the riot as overblown and unfair.
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