(CNN)The path in the Senate to convict Donald Trump is extremely slim, with a growing number of Republicans expressing confidence that the party will acquit the former President on a charge that he incited the deadly insurrection aimed at stopping President Joe Biden’s electoral win.
After Democratic leaders announced they would kick off the process to begin the impeachment trial on Monday, Republicans grew sharply critical about the proceedings — and made clear that they saw virtually no chance that at least 17 Republicans would join with 50 Democrats to convict Trump and also bar him from ever running from office again.
In interviews with more than a dozen GOP senators, the consensus was clear: Most Republicans are likely to acquit Trump, and only a handful are truly at risk of flipping to convict the former President — unless more evidence emerges or the political dynamics within their party dramatically change. Yet Republicans are also signaling that as more time has passed since the riot, some of the emotions of the day have cooled and they’re ready to move on.
“The chances of getting a conviction are virtually nil,” said Sen. Roger Wicker, a Mississippi Republican.
“I don’t know what the vote will be but I think the chance of two-thirds is nil,” said Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican and member of his party’s leadership who called the Democratic push to begin the trial “vindictive.”
“From listening to the dynamic — and everything to this point — it’s going to be tough to get even a handful,” said Sen. Mike Braun, an Indiana Republican, referring to possible GOP defectors. “I think so many are getting confused by the fact that we’re doing this – and everybody has views that it’s kind of a constitutional concern.”
The GOP arguments are now coming into sharper focus, claiming the proceedings are unconstitutional to try a former President and contending that the trial is moving on too short of a timeframe to give due process to Trump, claims that Democrats resoundingly reject. But those arguments, Republicans believe, will allow them a way out of convicting Trump without endorsing his conduct in the run up to the deadly mob that ransacked the Capitol on January 6. And Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is likely to land in the same spot as much of his conference, GOP senators believe, although the Republican leader has said he would listen to the arguments first before deciding how to vote.
Politically, most Republicans are not eager to break ranks and draw the kind of attacks that came the way of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump last week for the second time in his presidency, this time on a charge of inciting an insurrection.
“Many view it as a game of shirts and skins,” said one GOP senator, referring to how many of his colleagues view the proceedings as a strictly partisan affair.
For the Democrats, the calculation is also tricky. If they seek a longer trial — even as long as the 21 days of Trump’s first impeachment trial in 2020 — with witnesses, they could satisfy some Republicans who are arguing that the trial must give adequate opportunity for Trump to make his case. Yet, doing so could eat away at the first full month of the Biden presidency, while a shorter trial would alienate some Republicans.
“I’m not for any witch hunts,” said Cornyn, who noted he’d be less likely to convict if it were a short trial with no witnesses. “This needs to be a fair and respectable process because whatever we do, it’s not just about President Trump. This is about setting a new precedent and as you know, once we do things around here and there is a precedent for it, then that’s the rule for the next time this happens.”
Among the most likely GOP defectors are Sens. Mitt Romney of Utah, Susan Collins of Maine, Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania. But Republican leaders who monitor their conference closely don’t see much of a chance that the list will swell to 17 senators unless something dramatically changes or more is learned about Trump’s role in stoking the violent mob.
Updated 0223 GMT (1023 HKT) January 23, 2021
Sources from: CNN
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