Two Republican senators said Sunday they’ll remain fair jurors and listen to the evidence presented during former President Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial set to begin February 9.
Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, a moderate Republican, told CNN’s Dana Bash on “State of the Union” that he believed Trump’s comments leading up to the Capitol attack were partly responsible for the violence and that he’ll keep an open mind.
“I have said with regard to the President’s comments that day that they were partly responsible for what happened for the horrible violence on Capitol Hill. I’ve also said that what he did was wrong and inexcusable. I’ve used the word inexcusable because that is how I feel. We’ll see. I am a juror and will keep an open mind but I think the constitutionality issue has to be addressed,” said Portman, who won’t seek reelection after his term ends in 2022.
Another moderate Republican, Louisiana Sen. Bill Cassidy, separately told Fox News Sunday he would wait to make a decision about his vote based on the evidence presented in the trial.
“The evidence is, as I understand, going to focus on whether or not the President contributed to an atmosphere to have people charge the Capitol, break-in, threatening, if you will, both members of Congress and Vice President (Mike) Pence. So I would hope that whatever defense is put up refutes that charge,” he said.
The comments come hours after Trump’s five impeachment defense attorneys have left the team, according to people familiar with the case, amid a disagreement over his legal strategy.
A person familiar with the departures told CNN that Trump wanted the attorneys to argue there was mass election fraud and that the election was stolen from him rather than focus on the legality of convicting a president after he’s left office. Trump was not receptive to the discussions about how they should proceed in that regard.
CNN previously reported that Senate Republicans who criticized Trump without doing anything about his actions are hoping to put distance between themselves and the former President without casting any votes that could cause a backlash from Trump and his fervent supporters. Many say something should be done about what Trump did – but just not by them.
The rhetoric showcases the split between House and Senate Republicans as the party struggles to find its voice after the tumultuous Trump era. Many House Republicans remain staunch Trump defenders, saying he did nothing wrong and shouldn’t be blamed for the violence that occurred at the Capitol.
Portman said Sunday that he believed a Senate vote last week forced by Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul was not about dismissing the impeachment trial but rather a vote to table a discussion about the constitutionality. He believes the constitutionality of convicting a former president should be discussed. “The vote was not about dismissing the trial it was about not discussing the constitutionality as a critical issue,” he said.
Many Democrats and Republicans alike have pointed to the vote on Paul’s point of order to vote on the constitutionality of Trump’s impeachment trial as an indicator for how the trial’s final vote will likely land. Only five Republicans joined all Democrats to kill the Kentucky Republican’s motion, and there is no sense that anywhere close to 17 Republicans would vote to convict the former President.
In order to convict Trump, at least 17 Republicans will need to vote with all Democrats when the trial begins. Significantly, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell sided with Paul in the vote – a potential indicator that he agrees the constitutionality of impeaching a former President is in question.
The Democratic-led House has already voted to impeach Trump, charging him with incitement of insurrection for the attack on the Capitol that left multiple people dead. But two-thirds of the Senate would have to vote to convict Trump after a trial, an extremely high bar to clear.
CNN’s Clare Foran, Manu Raju and Ted Barrett contributed to this story.