WASHINGTON – Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., was among the 45 Republicans who voted Tuesday against holding an impeachment trial of former president Donald Trump after Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., raised an objection questioning the constitutional basis for the impeachment and removal of a former president.
Even so, McConnell said Wednesday that he plans to “listen to the evidence” during the trial.
“Well, the trial hasn’t started yet. And I intend to participate in that and listen to the evidence,” McConnell told reporters at the Capitol Wednesday morning.
Asked whether he remains open to convicting Trump – as he suggested this month – McConnell did not reply and turned to enter his office.
In a previous message to his colleagues, an excerpt of which was released by his office, McConnell said, “While the press has been full of speculation, I have not made a final decision on how I will vote and I intend to listen to the legal arguments when they are presented to the Senate.”
Meanwhile, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois, the second-ranking Democrat in the chamber, delivered a forceful rebuttal against Republicans, including former United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley, who have argued that Democrats should just “get over it.”
“When almost 50% of Trump loyalists refuse to believe that the events of three weeks ago occurred, or, if they occurred, that they had anything to do with President Trump, we need to make a record – a record of fact, not just for our current deliberations but for history,” Durbin said.
He then recounted some of what took place on Jan. 6 within the Senate chamber.
“Do you remember at 2:15, when the Secret Service went up and grabbed the vice president by his arms and pulled him down, out that door, so that they could take him to a secure place? We were stunned by that. I was,” Durbin said.
He added: “I’ll never forget it. Do the 45 senators who voted against the impeachment trial last night still remember it? I certainly hope they do.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., on Wednesday criticized the former president’s GOP defenders, calling their actions “deeply, deeply irresponsible” and vowing to hold Trump accountable for his role in inciting the riot.
“Only five Republican senators were willing to take a principled stand against this reckless and ill-advised effort by members of this body who are eager to excuse President Trump’s campaign to overturn the election and, apparently, to excuse his incitement of the mob that every one of us experienced in this Capitol,” Schumer said in remarks on the Senate floor.
“I would simply say to all of my colleagues: Make no mistake, there will be a trial, and the evidence against the former president will be presented in living color for the nation and every one of us to see once again.”
Tuesday’s effort by Paul failed on a vote of 55 to 45. But it nonetheless was a signal that the proceedings probably will end with Trump’s acquittal on the charge that he incited the Capitol riot.
“No one will be able to avert their gaze from what Mr. Trump said and did and the consequences of his actions,” Schumer said Wednesday. “We will all watch what happened. We will listen to what happened, and then we will vote. We will pass judgment as our solemn duty under the Constitution demands. And in turn, we will all be judged on how we respond.”
Earlier Wednesday, Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., said he has been discussing with some Republicans the possibility of a swift Senate vote to censure Trump rather than a lengthy impeachment trial.
In an exchange with reporters at the Capitol, Kaine called Tuesday’s vote “completely clarifying that we’re not going to get near 67,” the number of votes that would be necessary to convict Trump.
“I think there is a need for some accountability and some consequences,” Kaine told reporters. “And I think many Republicans, if you look at the words they’ve used about what happened on January 6 and the president’s role in it, they’ve essentially stated that. So, if we could do something like this and . . . potentially avoid the trial, I think that would be beneficial, but we’re not there yet.”
The Constitution requires the Supreme Court chief justice to preside over a Senate trial of a sitting president, but Chief Justice John Roberts declined to be part of this trial because Trump is no longer in office.
Presiding over the trial will be Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., president pro tempore of the Senate, who returned to the Capitol on Wednesday after being taken to a hospital Tuesday when he did not feel well.
Leahy presided over the Senate session when the chamber opened Wednesday morning.
In a statement Tuesday night, Leahy’s spokesman, David Carle, said the 80-year-old senator was released from George Washington University Hospital after the Capitol physician suggested that he go there for observation “out of an abundance of caution.”
“After getting test results back, and after a thorough examination, Senator Leahy now is home. He looks forward to getting back to work,” Carle said.