But Trump is unlikely to pay any price beyond political humiliation. Although Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) let it be known, through a tactical leak to the New York Times, that he thinks Trump’s impeachment was warranted, McConnell does not plan to reconvene the upper chamber to conduct a trial in the week before Trump’s term expires.
The constitutional grounds for holding an unprecedented trial after Trump leaves office are questionable, as former federal appeals court judge J. Michael Luttig argued in a Post op-ed this week.
The wisdom of doing so is even more questionable. Such a politically fraught exercise could undermine Joe Biden’s ability to successfully launch his presidency amid a convergence of challenges: the covid-19 pandemic, a ravaged economy, a racial reckoning and frayed U.S. relationships with international allies.
Even more than it was 13 months ago, the case for removing Trump from office was utterly clear.
This time, lawmakers were not asked to adjudicate conflicting accounts of a private phone call with a foreign leader. The evidence here was what they had seen and heard with their own eyes and ears just a week earlier.
Trump, having failed to overturn the results of the 2020 election, dispatched a mob of his conspiratorially minded supporters to the Capitol. There, they committed the most serious breach of the building since the British burned it in 1814. Trump’s words were, as the single article of impeachment described, an “incitement of insurrection.”
Outside the chamber where the House deliberated Wednesday, hundreds of armed National Guard members had slept on the cold marble floors. This was the first time since the Civil War that troops had bivouacked in the federal Capitol.
Republican complaints Wednesday about the process — No committee vote! No hearings! No investigation! — rang hollow.
It was hard to stomach appeals for unity and healing from the very people who have been fomenting the most divisive of lies: Trump’s claim that a fair election was stolen from him.
Just as hollow were their claims that it was pointless to impeach when Trump has only a week left in office. As House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) put it early in Wednesday’s proceedings: “It is never too late to do the right thing.”
Belatedly, a handful of Republicans showed enough spine to stand up to the president they have enabled for four years.
Others took a tentative step toward holding him accountable by acknowledging, in the words of Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), that Trump “bears responsibility” for last week’s violence and should have “immediately denounced the mob.”
But McCarthy himself is complicit for having opportunistically echoed Trump’s lie that the election had been stolen. His proposal for a censure resolution and a “fact-finding commission” appear to be nothing more than an effort to bury the party’s shame.
Now, Republicans must recognize that, as Trump leaves office, he leaves them at a hinge point. Will their party be completely taken over by the loudmouthed conspiracy theorists and white supremacists Trump has invited to crawl out into the open? Or is it still possible for the GOP to regain any claim to a governing philosophy based on conservative ideas?
It remains unclear how congressional Republicans will deal with those in their ranks who deserve their share of the blame for last week’s violence.
The disciplinary mechanisms within the institution are a place to start.
At a minimum, Republican Sens. Josh Hawley (Mo.) and Ted Cruz (Tex.) should be censured by the Senate for seeking to further their own presidential aspirations by challenging the procedure by which Congress certifies the electoral college outcome. It was that normally rote exercise that the Trump rioters disrupted last week.
I’m doubtful the Senate will penalize its own members, no matter how well deserved. There is, however, another option for punishment, one that is old-fashioned and highly effective.
Every Republican who undermined trust in our electoral system by indulging and amplifying the president’s false claims about the 2020 presidential result should be shunned.
Some of the nation’s largest corporations are already leading the way by halting contributions from their political action committees to the 147 Republicans who voted against certifying the election results even after the Capitol was stormed.
In a week, Trump will be gone. But his stench will cling to Republicans for a long time to come.