The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion In rallying to Trump, Senate Republicans sacrificed Pence

Vice President Mike Pence officiates as a joint session of the House and Senate convenes to confirm the electoral college votes cast in November's election, at the Capitol in Washington on Jan. 6. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

It comes as no surprise that most Senate Republicans would prostrate themselves for former president Donald Trump even if he were stomping on their knuckles. They voted to acquit not on the merits but because they are scared to death of Trump and his base.

But how could they bail on Trump’s loyal vice president — their fellow Republican — Mike Pence? True, for four years, Pence was to Trump what Igor was to Dr. Frankenstein. Pence’s feeding of Trump’s God complex was unsightly, to say the least. But how could they keep silent after learning that Trump wanted Pence to reject states’ electoral votes when he presided over the joint session of Congress on Jan. 6, delaying the certification process and ultimately giving Trump the win? Trump’s desire was hard to miss.

On Feb. 12, the impeachment trial of former president Donald Trump moved to a question and answers portion where senators hashed out Trump's Jan. 6 timeline. (Video: Blair Guild/The Washington Post)

Trump tweeted on the morning of Jan. 6: “All Mike Pence has to do is send them back to the States. AND WE WIN. Do it Mike, this is a time for extreme courage!”

What did they think of Trump’s request, which had no standing in law? What did they say to Trump? To Pence? The 50-plus Republican senators had a chance to speak out. Unless, that is, they favored Trump’s demand.

Minutes before he was to begin presiding over certification that day, Pence issued a statement in the form of a “Dear Colleague” letter, telling members of Congress that it was his “considered judgment that my oath to support and defend the Constitution constrains me from claiming unilateral authority to determine which electoral votes should be counted and which should not.” What then? Did House and Senate Republicans publicly stand with the vice president?

They were there when the violent mob of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol. In the midst of the destruction, Trump tweeted, “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution.” Congressional Republicans knew, or should have known, that Trump was telling a lie. Worse still, that Trump was riling up the mob. Upon learning about Trump’s accusation, the marauders and looters invading the Capitol chanted “Hang Mike Pence” and denounced him as a “traitor.”

The Trump supporters made their way into the Senate chamber. Senate Republicans knew that, too, having fled for their lives only minutes earlier. What, then, did they say of the president who had brought about what Pence rightly described, when Congress reconvened, as “a dark day in the history of the United States Capitol”? As a body of Republicans, they said nothing.

Republican senators and representatives know how to make themselves heard. How many GOP senators worked up the nerve to simply state at that hour that Trump was wrong to have incited the mob against Congress and the vice president of the United States? That he was wrong to have provoked his followers to violence with the damnable lie that the presidential election had been stolen?

Trump was the leader of their party. He, not the political opposition, incited the mob to hunt down their fellow Republican, the U.S. vice president. They saw what Trump’s crowd did to the doors and windows of the Capitol. They saw the desecration of the Senate chamber, their own desks, the dais with Pence’s chair as Senate president.

Upon returning to the chamber after their rescue, did Republicans come together as a caucus under GOP leader Mitch McConnell and speak out in defense of Pence? That was the day, the hour, the moment when they should have taken a stand, before anything else was done. Collectively, they did nothing. Their gutlessness in not confronting Trump is sickening. Their betrayal of Pence doubles their shame.

We knew that Republican senators, as jurors, would betray their oaths to defend the Constitution. They also abandoned the vice president who was one of their own.

The Republican congressional leadership should be in the dock. A verdict should be rendered on them.

Read more:

Max Boot: The Senate got smoking-gun evidence of Trump’s guilt. Republicans didn’t care.

Jennifer Rubin: Blockbuster revelation: Just how low is Kevin McCarthy?

Ruth Marcus: Trump’s impeachment lawyers had a weak case, argued badly

George T. Conway III: Trump’s lawyers offered an attack on everything but the evidence

The Post’s View: Trump’s lawyers had no defense because there is none

George F. Will: Will Senate Republicans allow their louts to rule the party?