Donald Trump will face impeachment for the second time in Congress today (Feb. 9), but the soul of the Republican Party will be hanging in the balance.
The former president is facing one charge, “incitement of insurrection,” for his role urging supporters to storm the US Capitol last month.
The goal was to disrupt a constitutionally mandated meeting and kidnap Vice President Mike Pence in an effort to overturn Joe Biden’s election and declare Trump president.
Five people died in the insurrection, including a Capitol police officer, and dozens were injured while Trump extremists desecrated the building for the first time since the War of 1812.
Trump’s role in the insurrection produced a fissure among Republican lawmakers.
Ten GOP House members joined Democrats on a 232-197 vote to impeach Trump for “high crimes and misdemeanors.”
Five GOP senators also joined Democrats, 55-to-45, to declare the process Constitutional. They turned aside arguments Trump couldn’t be impeached because he was already out of office.
More than 140 legal scholars around the country have concurred in a letter to Congress that the impeachment is constitutional.
Of significance, the vote marked the beginning of an effort to break the former president’s cult-like hold on the party and return to its traditional conservative values.
“We can dedicate ourselves to defending the Constitution and perpetuating our best American institutions and traditions, or we can be a party of conspiracy theories, cable-news fantasies, and the ruin that comes with them,” wrote Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb) in The Atlantic.
Sasse and Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) have emerged as the focus of the resurgent effort to throw off Trump extremism. But so far they are in a minority.
Cheney, the third most senior Republican in the House, suggested on Fox News Trump could face criminal investigation for provoking violence during the insurrection.
She cited a tweet in which he attacked Pence during the assault. The crowd chanted “Hang Mike Pence,” during the riot.
More than 250 alleged rioters have been arrested in a sweeping criminal investigation. Cheney said investigators will look at “every aspect” of the events and “everyone who was involved.”
Republicans, led by Trump acolyte Sen. Rand Paul (R-Tex.), say impeachment is doomed to fail because it will take a two-thirds vote to convict.
He doubts many more Republicans will go against Trump to reach that threshold. It would take 17 Republicans and all Democrats to convict Trump and bar him from holding office in the future.
But Sen. Bill Cassidy, a Louisiana Republican, told NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday (Feb. 2) the Senate vote does not necessarily reflect GOP sentiment on impeachment.
“I think it’s important to understand the nature of that vote. It was called two hours before it. There was no debate and no explanation from either side,” he said.
“It was a vote in a moment of time. And so, based upon what senators knew at that point and felt at that point, they then voted.
“But we will now have, hopefully, presentations from both sides, and we will consider the evidence as impartial jurors,” he said.
A majority of Americans expressed horror and outrage at the attack and 56 percent believe Trump should be convicted for his role.
Given the poll results, and graphic nature of the violence, much of it caught on video, Republicans who stick with Trump could face voters’ wrath at the polls.
The Trump defense team, led by Bruce Castor, is expected to make the argument that the Senate doesn’t have jurisdiction.
They are also expected to argue Trump’s speeches and tweets whipping up a false frenzy over election fraud are protected under the First Amendment, which guarantees free speech.
“Even taking every one of Mr. Trump’s prior statements about the election in the most negative light, they were, at most, only abstract discussions that never advocated for physical force,” the defense brief states.
Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), who will argue for impeachment, is expected to present dramatic evidence that Trump was central to the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection. Lawmakers themselves were eyewitnesses to the destruction.
The core of their argument, laid out in an 80-page brief will show that Trump was actively involved in events leading up to the insurrection and did nothing to stop it for two crucial hours.
Among tweets expected to be submitted as evidence, Trump wrote: “Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!”
He also made exhortations like “Election Rigged & Stolen,” “they’re not taking this White House. We’re going to fight like hell, I’ll tell you right now” and “So let’s walk down Pennsylvania Avenue!”
Dozens of people who have been charged so far claim they stormed the building because the president urged them to do so.
The trial is expected to open with four hours of debate today on the constitutional questions and whether the Senate’s power to bar an official from seeking office again hinges on the antecedent act of “removal.”
Each side would then have up to 16 hours starting at noon Wednesday, under draft rules, to argue the merits.