1. The break within the Republican Party is significant — but not huge
Ten House Republicans voted to impeach Trump, while 197 opposed it.
There are a few ways to look at this: Some members are speaking out against the president in remarkable ways. One of those is the third-ranking House Republican, the daughter of a conservative former vice president. Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) left no uncertainty as to her reasoning: “There has never been a greater betrayal by a president of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution.”
On the same day, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was reported to have said he’s pleased Democrats are pursuing impeachment. McConnell told his colleagues Wednesday that he hasn’t decided how he’ll vote, meaning he hasn’t ruled out convicting Trump.
Still, Trump had his defenders. “If we impeached every politician that gave a fiery speech to partisans, this Capitol would be deserted,” said Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.), who said he didn’t like the president’s speech but defended it as free speech.
The future of the Republican Party and Trump’s influence on it is uncertain. But the fact remains that before the smoke had cleared on the riots, some 140 Republicans still voted not to seat legitimate electors who would have confirmed Trump’s loss. And after Trump encouraged his supporters to “fight like hell” against his loss before the deadly siege on the Capitol, fewer than a dozen voted to impeach him.
2. A majority of Republicans are dodging directly defending the president
Actions speak louder than words, of course. But for a party that has spent four years trying to close any daylight between themselves and their erratic leader, it was notable Wednesday to hear such relatively subdued opposition from mainstream Republican lawmakers.
They mostly rested their opposition on process — how fast this is going — rather than the president’s involvement.
“With only a week to go,” Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) said, “the majority is asking us to consider a resolution impeaching President Trump and doing so knowing full well even if the House passes this resolution, the Senate will not consider these charges until President Trump’s term ends.”
The top House Republican, Kevin McCarthy (Calif.), opposed impeachment but did say: “The president bears responsibility for Wednesday’s attack on Congress by mob rioters. He should have immediately denounced the mob when he saw what was unfolding.”
He and others even suggested censuring the president as an option (one House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has brushed off as too weak.) That reflects just how quickly the bottom has fallen out for Trump, though. A week ago, after the riots, McCarthy was among those who voted against seating Biden’s electors.
3. Trump is not out of the woods yet
To be kicked out of office before he leaves Jan. 20, the Senate would need to come back in session, hold a trial and convict the president. That’s unlikely — but not for the reason you might think.
Most Senate Republicans remain silent, a sure sign that they’re trying to measure the political winds before taking a side on this. If McConnell decides to vote to convict the president, he could bring the necessary 16 other Republicans along to convict him. That means it’s possible Trump could be the first president in American history to be impeached twice — and the first president to be convicted.
(Though, as I argue here, it would have more of an impact coming while Trump is still in office, and McConnell’s team signaled Wednesday that probably won’t happen.)
From there, only a majority vote is needed to prevent Trump from ever serving in office again.
4. Democrats don’t seem too concerned about the political repercussions of impeachment
Republicans spent much of the day Wednesday arguing that Democrats were going to regret impeaching Trump when he has just seven days left in office, rather than focusing on the pandemic or President-elect Joe Biden’s agenda. But Democrats in the House didn’t seem overly worried about that.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) opened the debate Wednesday by arguing this was necessary to give Trump a black mark in the history books. “This is not theoretical, and this is not motivated by partisanship,” she said. A wide array of her caucus — liberal to moderate — apparently feels the same, having spoken in favor of impeachment, too. The support among House Democrats to impeach Trump a second time coalesced in days, compared to months for the last impeachment.
There are still some Democrats who worry this will look like overreach. A prominent one is Sen. Joe Manchin III (W.Va.), who said this week of impeachment: “I think this is so ill-advised for Joe Biden to be coming in, trying to heal the country, trying to be the president of all the people when we are going to be so divided and fighting again.”
Biden appears to be more in line with the Manchins of the world. The Washington Post’s Matt Viser and Annie Linskey report that he’s “suggested he doesn’t see the practical need to introduce articles of impeachment so close to Trump’s departure.” He’s proposed splitting the Senate’s first few days between the trial and confirming his Cabinet. It remains to be seen if that’s possible.
But impeachment is coming to the Senate, and it will be part of Democrats’ legacy this Congress, too.