WASHINGTON — U.S. Senate Republicans appear to be edging away from convicting former President Donald Trump of inciting insurrection in the January 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol by hundreds of Trump supporters who looked to confront lawmakers as they debated certifying Joe Biden as the winner of the November election.
All 100 senators — 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans — are being sworn in Tuesday as jurors in Trump’s impeachment trial, although the heart of the case has been put off until February 9.
The Republican lawmakers hold Trump’s fate in their hands, even though the former president’s four-year term in the White House ended January 20 with Biden’s inauguration.
A two-thirds vote is needed for conviction, meaning 17 Republicans would have to turn against Trump for a conviction, assuming all 50 Democrats vote as a bloc. If convicted, a separate, simple majority vote could bar Trump from ever holding public office again.
Biden, a senator for 36 years and the former vice president in the Obama administration, told CNN on Monday he supports holding the trial but does not think enough Republicans will vote against Trump for a conviction.
Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a Trump supporter who has been advising the former president on the upcoming proceedings, said, "There are only a handful of Republicans, and shrinking, who will vote against him."
Numerous Republican senators have said Trump bears some responsibility for the mayhem that unfolded at the Capitol that left five dead, including a police officer whose death is being investigated as a homicide. At a January 6 rally near the White House, Trump continued voicing baseless claims that he had been cheated out of reelection and urged his supporters to march to the Capitol and "fight" to upend Biden’s victory.
In the weeks since, authorities have arrested dozens of the rioters who rampaged into the Capitol building, the worldwide symbol of U.S. democracy, ransacked some congressional offices and scuffled with police. The actions of dozens more protesters are still being investigated.
FILE — With the White House in the background, former President Donald Trump speaks his supporters during a rally in Washington, D.C., Jan. 6, 2021.
But several Republican lawmakers, while often admonishing Trump, questioned why the trial is being held since he is now out of office, or suggested that the rioters themselves were to blame for the rampage.
"We will listen to [the case against Trump], but I still have concerns about the constitutionality of this, and the precedent it sets in trying to convict a private citizen," Republican Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa said.
"He exhibited poor leadership, I think we all agree with that. But it was these people that came into the Capitol. They did it knowingly. So, they bear the responsibility," she said.
Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin asked, "Why are we doing this? I can’t think of something more divisive and unhealing than doing an impeachment trial when the president is already gone. It’s just vindictive. It’s ridiculous."
On Sunday, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida told the "Fox News Sunday" show, "We’re just going to jump right back into what we’ve been going through for the last five years and bring it up with a trial, and it’s going to be bad for the country. It really is."
The lawmaker added, "This is not a criminal trial. This is a political process and would fuel these divisions that have paralyzed the country."
People shelter in the House gallery as protesters try to break into the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer rejected suggestions by Republicans that Trump should escape a judgment because his term as president has ended.
"There seems to be some hope that Republicans could oppose the former president’s impeachment on process grounds, rather than grappling with his awful conduct," Schumer said. "Let me be perfectly clear: This is not going to fly."
Two major newspapers, The Washington Post and The New York Times, said their surveys showed wide opposition among Republican senators to convicting Trump. The Post said 29 of the 50 in the chamber opposed the former president’s conviction, while the Times said 27 are opposed.
With 67 needed for a conviction, that apparently leaves Trump’s fate to the votes of a small number of Republicans unless more evidence emerges linking Trump to the storming of the Capitol, possibly forcing Republicans opposed to conviction to take a new look at the case.
Some Republicans, however, remain open to the possibility of voting for conviction, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, the losing Republican presidential candidate in 2012, and the only Republican who voted to convict Trump in his first impeachment trial.
Romney, while not committing to vote for a conviction, told CNN on Sunday, "I believe incitement to insurrection is an impeachable offense. If not, what is?"
He said he believes Trump was "complicit in an unprecedented attack on our democracy."
Trump supporters clash with police and security forces as they storm the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Jan. 6, 2021.
Whatever happens in the upcoming trial, Trump stands alone as the only U.S. president to be impeached twice in the country’s 245-year history, although the first to face an impeachment trial after leaving office.
The House impeached him in late 2019, accusing him of trying to enlist Ukraine to dig up dirt against Biden ahead of the November election. The Senate acquitted him last February.
Congresswoman Madeleine Dean of Pennsylvania, one of the House Democratic impeachment managers who will present the case in the Senate against Trump, told CNN they will "put together a case that is so compelling" to confront "the big lie" that Trump had been cheated out of reelection.
She called Trump’s incitement of insurrection "an extraordinary, heinous crime. The American public saw what happened."
"This was a terrifying moment ... incited by the president," she said. "This cannot go unanswered."
House impeachment managers formally delivered the article of impeachment to the Senate Monday evening, accusing Trump of "incitement of insurrection."
Two weeks ago, the House voted 232-197 in favor of Trump’s impeachment, with 10 Republicans joining all House Democrats in the majority.