McConnell privately backs Trump impeachment in hopes it will “purge him from the party”: report

House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy has also reportedly decided not to oppose Wednesday's impeachment vote

By Igor Derysh

Managing Editor

Published January 13, 2021 11:27AM (EST)

Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has privately said that he is "pleased" that Democrats are moving to impeach President Donald Trump in the wake of last week's Capitol riot, according to The New York Times.

McConnell has told associates he believes Trump committed "impeachable offenses," according to the report, and thinks it will make it "easier to purge him from the party." Fox News' Laura Ingraham confirmed that McConnell will not oppose impeachment and is "done with Trump" after fellow host Sean Hannity tried to dismiss the report as "salacious nonsense." None of the Republican leaders have denied the report since it came out Tuesday evening.

Axios later reported that there is a "better than 50-50 chance" that McConnell would vote to convict Trump and remove him from office. At least five House Republicans, including Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the No. 3 Republican in the chamber, have said they plan to vote to impeach Trump. Several Republican senators have left the door open to removing the president but it would require 67 votes to convict Trump after a Senate trial. That remains an unlikely reach in an evenly divided 50-50 chamber, given that Republican voters still overwhelmingly support the president. Following last week's violence at the U.S. Capitol, some Republicans have even expressed concern that they could be killed if they support impeachment.

House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., who backed objections to the Electoral College results last week, opposes the impeachment vote but has asked fellow party members whether he should call on Trump to resign and has reached out to Democrats to see if they would be willing to support a vote to censure the president, according to the Times. McCarthy and other party leaders have decided not to press their members to oppose the vote even though McCarthy has publicly said that impeachment would "divide our country more."

The House plans to vote to impeach Trump for "incitement of insurrection" against the government on Wednesday, one week after the president's supporters attacked police and overran the Capitol with weapons while hunting lawmakers amid a vote to certify the Electoral College results. Five people were killed, including a Capitol Police officer. Dozens of other officers were injured.

The article of impeachment has drawn at least 218 cosponsors, meaning it already has the votes to pass the chamber and set up a trial in the Senate. Trump would be the first president to be impeached twice. McConnell has indicated that a trial would not begin until the Senate returns from vacation on Jan. 19. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. — who is set to become majority leader after Biden is inaugurated and two newly-elected Democrats from Georgia are sworn in — is considering invoking emergency powers approved for Senate leaders in 2004 to reconvene the chamber immediately, though the measure is not likely to be backed by McConnell, according to Bloomberg News.

The Times reports, however, that McConnell wants to hear arguments in the Senate for Trump's removal and has privately said that "now is the moment to move on from the weakened lame duck, whom he blames for causing Republicans to lose the Senate."

McConnell and Trump have not spoken since last month after the Senate leader acknowledged President-elect Joe Biden's victory. The majority leader's wife, former Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, was the first Cabinet member to resign in the wake of the riot.

Biden called McConnell on Monday to ask whether the Senate can "set up a dual track" to confirm his Cabinet nominees alongside the Senate trial, according to the Times. McConnell said he would get an answer for the president-elect from the Senate parliamentarian.

McConnell condemned the riot after the Senate reconvened last Wednesday, describing it as a "failed attempt to obstruct Congress" and a "failed insurrection."

The House voted 223-205 on Tuesday to call on Vice President Mike Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office. Pence had already made clear, in a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., that he would not do that. The vice president, who defied Trump's demands to block the certification of Electoral College results — something Pence did not have the legal or constitutional authority to do — wrote in the letter that he did not "exert power beyond my constitutional authority to determine the outcome of the election, and I will not now yield to efforts in the House of Representatives to play political games at a time so serious in the life of our nation."

At least five House Republicans plan to vote to impeach Trump, though that number is likely to grow ahead of Wednesday's vote.

Cheney, the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, said in a statement that Trump "summoned" the mob that attacked the Capitol, "assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack."

"Everything that followed was his doing," she said. "None of this would have happened without the President. The President could have immediately and forcefully intervened to stop the violence. He did not. There has never been a greater betrayal by a President of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution."

Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., who has served in the House since 1987, slammed Trump for defending the rally that preceded the riot as "totally appropriate" on Tuesday and for expressing "no regrets" for his role in the "violent insurrection."

Upton said he would have preferred a "bipartisan, formal censure" but "it is time to say: Enough is enough."

Rep. John Katko, R-N.Y., the top Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, said he "cannot sit by without taking action."

"To allow the president of the United States to incite this attack without consequence is a direct threat to the future of our democracy," he said in a statement.

"There is no doubt in my mind that the President … broke his oath of office and incited this insurrection," said Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., an Air Force veteran. "If these actions … are not worthy of impeachment, then what is an impeachable offense?"

Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash., directly blamed Trump for the riot and the five deaths that resulted from it. "Hours went by" before Trump responded to the assault, instead making calls to senators to urge them to overturn the Electoral College results, she said in a statement.

"The President's offenses, in my reading of the Constitution, were impeachable based on the indisputable evidence we already have," she added. "I understand the argument that the best course is not to further inflame the country or alienate Republican voters. But I am a Republican voter … I believe President Trump acted against his oath of office."

In light of last week's assault on the Capitol, some Republicans are worried they may face violent reprisal if they join the growing chorus backing the impeachment. McCarthy told fellow Republicans on a conference call not to verbally attack colleagues who support the vote "because it could endanger their lives," according to the National Review's John McCormack.

Freshman Rep. Peter Meijer, R-Mich., who said that he is undecided on impeachment, told Fox Business that members "going to vote our conscience … on impeachment" have an "assumption that people will try to kill us."

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's managing editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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