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What must Republican senators be thinking after Wednesday’s presentations from the House impeachment managers? How will they justify acquitting the man who sent a mob for them to stop the counting of electoral votes?
What we expect today
Marching orders. First they watched video of President Donald Trump whipping his supporters into a fury.
Gut-wrenching evidence. Then they sat through a moment-by-moment deconstruction of the sacking of the US Capitol building where they work. They saw death, violence, fear and destruction.
Forcing their way in. They saw CCTV of the teeming mob breaking the windows and entering the inner sanctum of the legislative branch, a place where lawmakers are supposed to be safe.
The target. They listened to a montage of Trump repeatedly criticizing Vice President Mike Pence for refusing to reject the Electoral College results in now-President Joe Biden’s favor.
The evacuations. Then there was CCTV video of Pence being rushed from the Senate chamber as the mob chanted “Hang Mike Pence!”
Cries for help. They heard the cries of Capitol Police officers on the radio begging for backup as they were overrun.
Hiding from rioters. They listened to the desperate whispers of aides to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, barricaded in an inner office and calling for Capitol Police as the rioters’ pounding on doors could be heard in the background.
The crime. “The vice president, the speaker of the house, the first and second in line to the presidency, were performing their constitutional duties, presiding over the election certification, and they were put in danger because President Trump put his own desires, his own need for power over his duty to the Constitution and our democratic process. President Trump put a target on their backs and his mob broke into the Capitol to hunt them down,” said Virgin Islands Del. Stacey Plaskett, who put the riot together with video, audio and a map that showed just how close the riot came to the senators who are now supposed to be an unbiased jury. Watch here.
Senators are supposed to be a jury. If this were a court of law, they’d all be dismissed as impossibly biased.
“Most of the public does not know how close these rioters came to you,” California Rep. Eric Swalwell told senators. “As you were moving through that hallway, I paced it off, you were just 58 steps away from where the mob was amassing and where police were rushing to stop them.”
They saw video of police creating a physical barrier to protect them from the rioters.
Saved from the mob. They saw Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, once the standard-bearer of the GOP, turned around by the hero cop Eugene Goodman. And Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer, flanked by his security detail, running this way and that to avoid the mob.
Now what? The question is whether after seeing this threat, created by their President, Republican senators will find their conscience changed, or vote the way Trump wants them to.
Witness for the prosecution
We all know the mob broke laws and threatened democracy. The question at the heart of this trial is how exactly Trump is responsible for their actions.
Trump chose not to testify at his second impeachment trial, perhaps fearing self-incrimination.
He didn’t need to.
House impeachment managers used his previous words against him Wednesday.
Laying groundwork. We all lived for months before and after the election with Trump chipping away at confidence in the democratic process, pretending it was fraudulent and encouraging supporters to dispute it, calling them to gather in Washington as the electoral votes were counted and demanding they help him “stop the steal.”
Public record. The Democratic managers, on the first of two days laying out their case to bar him from future office, wove those public statements and open facts into a damning prosecution of the former President’s behavior before the mob took over.
Months of preparation. To see his tweets and statements priming the anger of his supporters over the course of the summer and fall, before and after the election, assembled in order and culminating in the January 6 rally before the mob stormed the Capitol was damning.
Rep. Madeleine Dean of Pennsylvania interspersed video of Trump’s January 6 speech and other comments with analysis in a comprehensive annotation to the incitement.
She said Trump told supporters to “fight” 20 times that day as he encouraged them to stop fake theft of the election.
He told them to be “peaceful” one time, before sending them on to Capitol Hill.
Seeing Trump’s words for the first time. Senators, who were busy with the counting of electoral votes at the time, may not have seen the President unleash his mob upon them.
And Republican senators now sitting in judgment of him might not have heard just how he turned on Pence when it became clear his vice president would not reject the election results for his boss. They might not have heard the anger at the GOP by Trump supporters.
Targeting Republicans who oppose Trump. They probably knew how he’d targeted GOP officials in Georgia after they wouldn’t falsify votes to help him win that state.
They certainly know that if they vote against the former President, he will push his supporters to put political targets on their backs.
If this were a secret plot uncovered, the scope of rejecting an American election would be too big to believe. But Trump didn’t try to hide what he was doing. And that’s the weirdest part of all.
Shaken, but no changed minds
CNN’s Manu Raju spoke with Republican senators during a morning, an afternoon and a final evening break in the presentations.
He wrote that some of them were shaken, but not convinced to convict.
“Same way that I was before,” Indiana Sen. Mike Braun told Raju, when asked if he was shaken. He added: “When you think the process is flawed in the first place,” it’s hard to vote to convict.
“Who wouldn’t be” shaken? asked Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson, according to Raju. But Johnson blames the rioters – not Trump.
Texas Sen. John Cornyn, usually very talkative, told Raju: “I’ve got nothing for you now.”
Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who is likely to vote to convict, said that “the evidence that was presented thus far is pretty damning.”
But the clear suggestion is Senate Republicans are not swayed to vote to convict Trump at this point. Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt, a member of GOP leadership, compared the anti-police protests from the summer to what happened on January 6 at the Capitol.
“Well, you know, you have a summer where people all over the country are doing similar kinds of things. I don’t know what the other side will show from Seattle and Portland and other places, but you’re going to see similar kinds of tragedies there as well,” he said. Blunt is up for reelection in 2022.
Asked if he was shaken by the video, Blunt said: “Well I’ve seen parts of it and I’ve talked to the police about a lot of this, so, you know, it’s obviously a tragic day for the country and not at all what we’d want to see people all over the world seeing happen in the United States.”
Riotous mobs of yore. And whiskey
Today lawmakers are watching impeachment managers argue that Trump, refuting his election loss, incited an insurrection against the country. A partisan mob inspired by him tried to stop counting of electoral votes. The opposite of that is George Washington, who raised a militia and rode with the troops to put down the so-called Whiskey Rebellion against federal tax authority.
Farmers and distillers, angry about an excise tax backed by Alexander Hamilton, had ignored the tax, which was more favorable to large producers. The disagreement festered for years.
In 1794, anti-tax farmers got into armed conflict with the landowner, slave owner and tax collector John Neville. The anti-tax rebels attacked his house after he fled and then marched on Pittsburgh, although some accounts say they got too drunk to take the city. Washington, though he sought diplomacy, raised a militia and the rebellion ultimately fizzled.
Only two rebels were found guilty of treason and Washington ultimately pardoned them. Opposition to Hamilton’s Federalist tax policy, however, helped Thomas Jefferson win the presidency a few years later in 1800, and the beginning of the anti-Federalist Democrat-Republicans. US political parties have been changing and evolving ever since.