McConnell’s words on the Senate floor Tuesday were some of the strongest he’s used to tie President Donald Trump to the attack that disrupted the certification of the Electoral College votes that elected Joe Biden as the next president.
“They tried to stop a specific proceeding of the first branch of the federal government, which they did not like,” McConnell said of the crowd that marched to the Capitol following a rally where they were addressed by Trump.
The Democratic-controlled House impeached Trump on a single article charging him with incitement of insurrection following the assault on the Capitol, which left five people, including a U.S. Capitol Police officer, dead and resulted in damage to the building.
McConnell’s remarks underscored the extent to which he has sought to distance himself from Trump, even before the Jan. 6 riot, beginning with his belated acknowledgment of Biden’s win. While blaming Trump for provoking the crowd, the Kentucky Republican continued to leave some uncertainty over how he will handle Trump’s impeachment trial. Last week he told fellow Republicans he had not decided how he would vote on the single article of impeachment.
One of his long-time allies told reporters Tuesday that hasn’t changed.
“He’s going to listen to the evidence that’s been presented,” Texas Republican John Cornyn said of McConnell’s approach to the impeachment trial.
Cornyn said each Republican should decide for themselves how they vote on whether to convict Trump, without pressure from party leaders.
“I’ve heard people talk about a vote of conscience,” Cornyn said. “I think that’s a good way to put it.”
It would take 67 votes to convict Trump if all senators vote. That means at least 17 Republicans would have to join all 50 Democrats on the verdict. McConnell’s decision on impeachment will influence what other GOP senators do. It also will have an effect on how much influence Trump continues to exert over the party once he’s out of office.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi hasn’t yet said when she will send the impeachment article to the Senate, triggering the start of a trial.
”We’re doing the inauguration now,” she told reporters when asked when she would transmit it to the Senate.
Biden is set to be inaugurated Wednesday and an impeachment trial risks tying up the Senate at the same time the he is trying to get his cabinet confirmed and roll out his legislative agenda.