SALEM, Ore. (AP) — A Democratic U.S. senator says he believes his Republican colleagues at President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial will be thinking about what’s more important: their place in history or getting re-elected.
U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon believes they will be grappling with this when it comes time to vote whether Trump is guilty or innocent of incitement of insurrection.
House Democrats prosecuting Trump’s impeachment said Thursday the Capitol invaders believed they were are acting on “the president’s orders” to storm the building and stop the joint session of Congress on Jan. 6 that was certifying Democrat Joe Biden’s election.
Merkley has been watching both the gripping presentation of videos by House Democrats showing the deadly assault, and his Republican colleagues’ reactions. The videos show how close the members of Congress and former Vice President Mike Pence came to being harmed during the insurrection.
“Almost all the Republican senators were paying close attention,” Merkley told reporters Thursday in a Zoom call.
Merkley said his GOP colleagues appear “deeply troubled,” though he added that he has not conferred with any of them because Senate members disperse quickly after the trial adjourns for the day.
“They know this is a moment in history, which they would like to do the right thing, but they feel the right thing may be in conflict with the political imperative of where their electoral base sits, the opinions of the electoral base,” Merkley said.
But hours into Thursday’s presentation by House Democrats, Republicans said they couldn’t connect the violence to Trump’s behavior.
“Today was not connecting the dots,” said Oklahoma Sen. James Lankford.
Only six Republican senators on Tuesday joined 50 Democrats in voting to proceed with the impeachment trial. But votes of two-thirds of members of the Senate —- or at least 67 votes — are needed to convict, meaning almost a dozen more Republicans would need to vote guilty, if all Democrats also do so, in order to convict Trump.
Merkley told reporters that evidence against Trump includes that he repeatedly told a “big lie” that the election was stolen, that he and his team rescheduled a rally so it would coincide with Congress’ certification of the election results on Jan. 6, and that Trump did nothing when the mob started to attack the U.S. Capitol.
“When a president takes an oath of office, the president says he will follow the Constitution and defend the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. Well, when domestic enemies physically assaulted the Capitol, the president chose not to defend the government of the United States of America,” Merkley said. “And to me, that’s an extraordinary breach of oath.”
The Oregon senator’s own office was broken into by members of the mob, who smoked marijuana there. His laptop was taken but was later recovered in the Capitol and dusted for fingerprints, said Sara Hottman, a Merkley spokeswoman.
At least one of those who allegedly broke into Merkley’s office has been arrested by the FBI.
Trump’s lawyers are scheduled to launch their defense on Friday.
Mary Clare Jalonick in Washington contributed to this report.
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