- Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has been emailing senators to tell them their decision on whether to convict President Trump during the upcoming impeachment trial will be a “vote of conscience,” North Dakota GOP Sen. Kevin Cramer told Insider in an exclusive interview.
- Cramer said he doesn’t want to impeach Trump. But he’s also not sure he wants the president ever serving in federal office again after placing democracy in jeopardy.
- “A conviction of Trump may mean he doesn’t run again, but it doesn’t mean he gives up without a fight,” Cramer told Insider. “I don’t know that impeachment sends a message that’s a winning message, to our base.”
- Cramer and others have been buzzing about a legal assessment from retired federal judge J. Michael Luttig saying the Senate can’t hold an impeachment trial once Trump leaves office.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is telling his Republican colleagues they have the freedom to vote however they want during the upcoming impeachment trial for Donald Trump after the lame duck president incited a deadly January 6th riot at the US Capitol.
“His message to me was this would clearly be a vote of conscience,” Sen. Kevin Cramer, a North Dakota Republican, told Insider. “He’s always been respectful of members that way.”
The Senate could start its trial of the president as early as Wednesday, the same day as President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration. Under the Senate rules, the upper chamber must prioritize the Trump trial once the House officially delivers its article of impeachment charging Trump with inciting rioters who stormed the Capitol. So far, that hasn’t happened and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Friday declined to say when Democrats were planning to make the formal handoff.
In anticipation of the eventual trial, GOP sources close to McConnell and the White House said earlier this week the Kentucky Republican might vote to convict Trump as a means to bar him from ever serving in federal office again. McConnell later told other senators he hasn’t made up his mind and wants to listen to the legal arguments before coming to any conclusions.
Cramer, a former House Republican and early supporter of Trump in 2016 who stuck with him through his one term in office, said that he doesn’t want to vote to convict Trump. But he said he might be open to voting in favor of barring Trump from serving in office again after last week’s attack.
Such a vote to permanently end Trump’s federal government career requires just a simple majority but would only happen should two-thirds of the Senate vote to convict Trump. That has never before occurred to a president in more than 230 years of US history.
GOP senator calls riot ‘an assault’ on republic
The domestic attack on the Capitol has lawmakers from both parties rattled ahead of Biden’s inauguration, where about 20,000 National Guard troops have set up camp in and around the nation’s seat of legislative power.
“This is the representative republic at work and it was such an assault, it was an assault on that very day’s work,” Cramer said in the interview on Thursday.
But the senator acknowledged that Republicans like him are also worried about backlash from Trump and his supporters as the impeachment trial approaches. Some GOP lawmakers have faced death threats from Trump supporters and they’ve purchased body armor for protection.
Now they’re weighing whether convicting Trump would chasten him or empower him.
“A conviction of Trump may mean he doesn’t run again, but it doesn’t mean he gives up without a fight,” Cramer said. “All my pro-Trump Republican friends want to take my head off for not blowing up the Constitution.”
The House voted 232-197 Wednesday to impeach Trump for his role urging rioters to storm the Capitol, making Trump the only president to be impeached twice. All 222 of the House’s Democrats and another 10 Republicans supported the impeachment.
Spokespeople Trump did not immediately return a request for comment Friday. A McConnell spokesman declined comment for this story.
Counting votes in the Senate
Senate Republicans have also been debating behind the scenes whether an impeachment trial is even technically allowed considering Trump will no longer hold office after noon on January 20th.
Making the rounds among GOP offices is an argument espoused by J. Michael Luttig, a former federal appellate court judge who wrote in the Washington Post this week that the Senate can’t try an official once they’ve left office.
“That Senate trial would be unconstitutional,” Luttig said.
Luttig’s viewpoint isn’t going unchallenged. Jeffrey Rosen, a constitutional scholar, argued Friday in Politico’s Playbook newsletter that the discretion for holding the trial lies solely with the Senate.
It’s unclear how many Senate Republicans will ultimately side with Democrats should the Trump trial — which will have Chief Justice John Roberts in charge — reach a final vote on conviction or acquittal. Even the chamber’s most moderate members, like Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski, are refusing to say how they would vote.
Cramer said he doesn’t think there are 17 GOP Senate votes who would join with all 50 Democrats to convict Trump.
If that scenario played out, Trump’s trial would end with the ex-president’s acquittal.
McConnell’s strategy of telling Republicans like Cramer they have the freedom to convict Trump has prompted all manner of speculation about what the GOP Senate leader is doing. Some sources think he’s delivering a warning shot to the lame duck president that Republicans are finished with him in politics.
“They’re free, like a bird,” a GOP source familiar with McConnell’s thinking told Insider. “They don’t want him running again. That’s what McConnell is trying to figure out how to do.”