A week after the mob stormed the US Capitol leaving staff and members cowering in their offices, in their chambers and waiting out the siege in secure locations, the House will vote – for the first time in history – to impeach a sitting President twice.
This time around, a handful of Republicans will be with them as the GOP reckons with its future, the man they allowed to lead their party and whether it is too late to de-tangle themselves and their voters from his legacy.
There are now five Republicans who have come out publicly for impeachment. There may be a few more in the hours ahead. That’s not many. It’s not even close to overwhelming, but it sends a message that at least some in the Republican Party believe leaving President Donald Trump in power in his waning days in office would be a mistake.
Bottom line: Whatever judges, tax cuts and electoral victories Trump bestowed on Republicans over the last four years isn’t enough right now to keep Majority Leader Mitch McConnell or House Conference Chairwoman Liz Cheney quietly tethered to him. They’re signaling they’re done. They’re over him. And we can’t emphasize enough that we are just at the beginning of the story of what the Republican Party becomes without Trump.
How Wednesday will go
At 9 a.m. ET, the House will convene to begin consideration of impeachment. The first debate will last about an hour and it will revolve around the rules governing the impeachment article.
After that, the House votes on the rule.
Reminder that voting in the House takes time because of coronavirus protocols (and now metal detectors, which was its own scene Tuesday night as Republicans lashed out at police and fellow members when they were asked to go through them to get to the House floor).
Once the House passes the rule in the early afternoon, the House will proceed to a two-hour debate.
Final vote will begin between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. ET. As with all important votes in times of coronavirus, these things are a bit fluid in terms of timing. The resolution is expected to pass.
Republican Conference Chairwoman Liz Cheney coming out in support of impeachment Tuesday ignited the first signal that the Republican Party might try to be something else after Trump. And she didn’t just say she backed impeachment – she put the blame of the events last week squarely on Trump’s shoulders.
“The President of the U.S. summoned this mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack. Everything that followed was his doing. None of this would have happened without the President,” she wrote.
The divide, the differences, the revisionism that we could see in upcoming months and years is just beginning. Little cracks are playing out across Capitol Hill right now. Staff for House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy are calling on their boss to explain himself. The communications director for GOP Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas resigned. Those who disavow Trump both before and because of this moment won’t necessarily win this ideological contest that is going to play out in the days and years ahead. Some are going to get on this bandwagon late, many months and years after they walked in lockstep with the President.
And many may never disavow him at all. Trump’s support is still strong. There’s a reason that his followers took him seriously when he tweeted, when he made promises, when he gave instructions. We still expect just a handful of Republicans to vote with Democrats to impeach Wednesday. One aide put that estimate – even after Cheney – at no more than 20.
Here’s who we have so far:
- Rep. John Katko of New York
- Rep. Jamie Herrera Beutler of Washington
- Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois
- Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan
- Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming
In the Senate
McConnell has not spoken to Trump since December, when he acknowledged that Biden had won the election, and the Kentucky Republican has no intention to talk to him again. McConnell’s silence over impeachment is purposeful, sending a signal to his conference that is being heard loud and wide that if they want to vote to convict Trump when a trial unfolds in their chamber, they are free to do so. Long gone are the days when McConnell was trying to keep his conference together as they weathered the impeachment trial in 2020. There will be no conversations to try and keep more moderate Republican senators such as Lisa Murkowski of Alaska or Mitt Romney of Utah or anyone else from voting however they want.
McConnell had been slowly distancing the GOP conference from Trump for weeks. First by recognizing Biden won. Then by making it clear he wasn’t going to renegotiate a stimulus proposal the President’s own staff had helped draft. In his final days, McConnell led the first veto override of Trump’s Presidency and now, McConnell is going to sit back and let his members do whatever they want to Trump’s future.
McConnell has tried – as he often does – to give his members room. Some members like Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina have rebuffed impeachment. Others, like Sens. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Ben Sasse of Nebraska, have said they’ll take a look.
What this isn’t: McConnell isn’t signaling here that he plans to bring the Senate back into session and hold an impeachment trial before Biden is sworn in next week. McConnell has made it clear that a trial is going to fall squarely in the incoming Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s lap. McConnell is still a Republican. It’s still in Republicans’ best interest politically to slow Biden’s agenda. But, as CNN reported Tuesday, McConnell is telling people that impeachment could make it easier to rid the GOP of Trump. McConnell is having conversations with Biden over the rules that would govern a trial. McConnell isn’t closing the door on his own vote, and he is signaling – very strongly – that if a member wants to vote to remove Trump from office, it sure would make it easier for the party to rid itself of Trump’s legacy forever.
Another reminder: The Senate can vote to convict Trump by a two-thirds majority. That requires 17 Republican senators. That’s a lot of members. That’s a lot of Republicans. But let’s give it time. If the Senate votes to convict, it then can vote to never let Trump hold office again. Keep that in the back of your head. There is not only a way to symbolically move on, there is a way for the Republican Party to literally rid Trump from ever being atop their ticket again.
A quick note about next week
Despite the unexpected move to impeach Trump for the second time, four confirmation hearings are already scheduled for Tuesday, a sign that Republicans and Democrats are finding some consensus to move forward despite the inflamed political environment right now. Reminder, these committees are still chaired by Republicans until Wednesday, meaning Republicans had to notice these hearings. Four Senate Committees – Foreign Relations, Armed Services, Finance and Homeland Security – have announced they will hold confirmation hearings for Secretary of State nominee Antony Blinken, Defense Secretary nominee Lloyd Austin, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas.
The Biden team is also having conversations with key committees and leadership about his first legislative priority, ensuring they can pass another stimulus bill. CNN has been told by one source familiar with those talks that Biden is eying legislation that will include $2,000 checks, an extension of federal unemployment benefits, more money for vaccine distribution as well as state and local funding that was dropped from the last package. The plan, according to the source, is for Democrats to try and introduce the bill without using reconciliation first. If Republicans object, aides tell CNN, they could use the arcane reconciliation process to try and pass the stimulus with a simple majority vote. While there is still likely to be plenty of time between now and then, Biden’s team isn’t letting impeachment stop them from beginning their legislative work.