Republican senators largely unmoved by Democrats’ Trump trial prosecution

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Several Republican senators said Thursday that House impeachment managers failed to persuade them to convict former President Donald Trump for allegedly inciting the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

The prosecution finished presenting its case Thursday — and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said afterward he believes Democrats are as guilty as Trump of using fiery language in front of large crowds.

Paul, who opposed Trump’s effort to toss out swing-state electors on Jan. 6, said Democrats have been “lucky” that their remarks didn’t translate into worse outcomes. He pointed to a controversial 2020 speech by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) at the Supreme Court.

“Chuck Schumer got lucky that his crowd wasn’t that big and wasn’t as violent. But they did bang on the doors of the Supreme Court, they threw food at the Supreme Court justices and scared them half to death as they chased them out of the building,” Paul said on Fox News after the Trump prosecution wrapped.

Rand Paul (R-KY)

Paul added, “Bernie Sanders — does he hold responsibility for the shooter that came to the baseball field when I was there, when people were shot 10 feet from me, when [House Minority Whip] Steve Scalise almost died, and the guy yells, ‘I did this for healthcare’?”

A Trump conviction requires at least 17 GOP votes and is considered unlikely, with Republicans leaning on arguments that the trial either is unconstitutional because Trump left office or that Trump’s pre-riot speech didn’t cross the legal threshold of incitement.

Roy Blunt (R-Mo.)

No. 4 Senate Republican Roy Blunt of Missouri told reporters Thursday evening, “My view is that you can’t impeach a former president. And if the former president did things that were illegal, there is a process to go through for that.”

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.)

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), said, “I think they did a good job… [but] the fundamental question for me, and I don’t know about everybody else, is whether an impeachment trial is appropriate for someone who is no longer in office. I don’t believe that it is.”

Trump confidant Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told reporters that “nope” the impeachment managers hadn’t changed his mind about convicting Trump.

Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa)

Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) told reporters, “If there is an opportunity or they think that there is a case, it should go to the courts, not to Congress where we don’t have a sitting president.”

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas)

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said even if he believed the trial was constitutional, there was a “prudential argument: if we can do it and all it takes is 51 senators, should we do it? And I think that’s where I have serious doubts.” He said he was concerned about future retribution against former office-holders.

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.)

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), who has been one of Trump’s chief defenders, said the proceedings were “a total kangaroo trial.”

Reporters in the Senate chamber noticed as many as 15 empty Republican seats on Thursday — even though pro-conviction arguments were often jarring with video of battle between cops and protesters

On Thursday, press pool reporters observed retiring Ohio Republican Sen. Rob Portman appearing to fall asleep, while Pennsylvania GOP Sen. Pat Toomey seemed to be battling the urge to follow him.

Portman said later he thought the impeachment managers “did a good job” but that “there’s still, you know the legal questions that we have to struggle with… what is the best approach in terms of the Senate’s role, jurisdictionally?”

Sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD) told reporters he was intrigued by a Democratic argument that if Trump’s allowed to run for office again in 2024, he could lose again and unleash more violence. Rounds said he took notes on that argument and saw colleagues do so too. “I think that was a very powerful statement,” Rounds said.

On Tuesday, Democrats garnered just six GOP votes in an initial ballot on whether the process is constitutional due to Trump having already left office. The six were Toomey and Sens. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Mitt Romney of Utah and Ben Sasse of Nebraska.

No. 2 Senate Republican John Thune of South Dakota, against whom Trump has encouraged a 2022 primary challenge, on Wednesday called the Democratic case “very effective” and said, “I think they’ve done a good job connecting the dots.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said very little about the case arguments. He said last month that the rioters were “provoked by the president” and his wife, former Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, was the first Trump cabinet member to resign over the violence.

Impeachment managers on Thursday also sought to pre-but Trump defense arguments scheduled to begin Friday.

Lead manager Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) argued that Republicans can still vote to find Trump guilty even if they voted on Tuesday the trial was unconstitutional. He likened it to a defeated motion in a courtroom.

Raskin also argued that Trump didn’t have to be legally guilty of incitement because impeachment is a political rather than criminal process.

Fellow impeachment manager Rep. Joe Neguse (D-Colo.) sought to defuse the argument of Trump’s attorneys that the First Amendment protects his speech to the crowd that later stormed the Capitol to disrupt certification of President Biden’s victory.

“At his signal, he struck a match and he aimed it straight at this building, at us,” Neguse said.

Raskin, a former American University law professor, added that public servants can lawfully be fired from their jobs for making politically extreme remarks and that Trump has no grounds to claim an infringement of his free speech rights if he’s barred from holding office as a result of conviction.

“As I mentioned yesterday, President Trump is not even close to the proverbial citizen who falsely shouts ‘fire’ in a crowded theater. He is like the now-proverbial municipal fire chief who incites a mob to go set the theater on fire, and not only refuses to put out the fire, but encourages the mob to keep going as a blaze spreads,” Raskin said.

“We would hold that fire chief accountable, we would forbid him from that job ever again and that’s exactly what must happen here.”

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