McConnell and Republicans who defied Trump face GOP backlash

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Alex Woodward
·4 min read
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 (AP)
(AP)

The Republican Party remains sharply divided in the wake of Donald Trump’s impeachment for his role inciting a deadly riot on 6 January inside the same halls of Congress where senators convened for his second trial this week.

Senator Mitch McConnell, moments after voting to acquit the former president on Saturday, condemned his “disgraceful dereliction of duty” and said he is “practically and morally responsible” for his supporters’ assault on the Capitol.

On Sunday, Trump ally Lindsey Graham said the Senate’s GOP leader “got a load off his chest, obviously, but unfortunately he put a load on the back of Republicans” by giving ammunition to negative adverts ahead of critical midterm elections, as Republicans mount an aggressive campaign to gain a majority in the House of Representatives.

“That speech you will see in 2022 campaigns,” Senator Graham told Fox News.

Read more: Follow live updates following Trump’s trial

He added that Senator McConnell’s speech “is an outlier regarding how Republicans feel” about Mr Trump’s impeachment.

On Saturday night, Donald Trump Jr fired back at Senate minority leader McConnell.

“If only McConnell was so righteous as the Democrats trampled Trump and the Republicans while pushing Russia collusion bull**** for 3 years or while Dems incited 10 months of violence, arson, and rioting. Yea then he just sat back and did jack ****,” the president’s eldest son tweeted.

Mr Trump Jr followed with a call to “impeach the RINOs” – referring to “Republicans in name only” – and oust them from the GOP.

Seven Republican senators who joined Democrats to vote to convict have faced blowback from their party leaders in their home states, signaling fissures within the GOP over the former president’s role in the party.

Louisiana’s Bill Cassidy and North Carolina’s Richard Burr were censured by their state Republican parties for their votes.

“I have no illusions that this is a popular decision,” Mr Cassidy wrote in a column published on Sunday.

“I made this decision because Americans should not be fed lies about ‘massive election fraud.’ Police should not be left to the mercy of a mob. Mobs should not be inflamed to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power.”

Louisiana attorney general Jeff Landry said the senator’s vote is “extremely disappointing” and claimed that Mr Cassidy has “fallen into the trap laid by Democrats to have Republicans attack Republicans”.

Senators Burr and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania are both retiring in 2022, eliminating the likelihood of long-term political blowback.

But the chair of the Pennsylvania Republican Party called the trial “an unconstitutional theft of time and energy that did absolutely nothing to unify or help the American people.”

“I share the disappointment of many of our grass-roots leaders and volunteers over Senator Toomey’s vote today,” Lawrence Tabas said.

While Senators Mitt Romney and Lisa Murkowski still have strong support in their states, the former president’s volatile base of support has routinely rejected their place in the party.

In a lengthy statement on Sunday, Senator Murkowski of Alaska outlined the case against Mr Trump as presented by House impeachment managers, adding that if the evidence “is not worthy of impeachment, conviction, and disqualification from holding office in the United States, I cannot imagine what is”.

The US Senate voted 57-43 to convict Mr Trump, falling short of a two-thirds majority to secure a conviction but representing a bipartisan effort to hold accountable a former president who will continue to loom large over a party moulded in his image.

It remains unclear how he will wield that influence without his social media bully pulpit.

Mr Graham told Fox News on Sunday that the former president is “ready to move on and rebuild the Republican Party” ahead of 2022 elections.

In a statement following his acquittal, the former president said his Make America Great Again movement “has only just begun”.

House impeachment managers’ closing arguments on Saturday warned that the insurrectionists are “still listening” and that the assault on the Capitol could be the “beginning” of a violent political legacy initiated by the former president.

“I fear, like many of you do, that the violence we saw on that terrible day may be just the beginning,” said Congressman Joe Neguse.

“The extremist groups grow more emboldened every day. Senators, this cannot be the beginning. It can’t be the new normal. It has to be the end, and that decision is in your hands.”

Federal law enforcement has warned that far-right militia groups and others supporting the “shared false narrative of a ‘stolen’ election” and opposition to Joe Biden’s presidency and a Democratically-controlled federal government “may lead some individuals to the belief that there is no political solution to address their grievance and violence action is necessary”.

The Department of Homeland Security has also issued a terrorism advisory bulletin due to a “heightened threat environment” through the end of April, following the Capitol violence.

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