But once this vote has taken place, the real drama will begin, as the House of Representatives is expected to send the articles of impeachment to the Senate, where a trial will then take place. (It is not yet clear whether the House will send the items immediately or wait).
And in the Senate, Republicans face a very clear choice: Will they vote to convict Trump or acquit him, as they did in 2019?
We know that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell thinks the impeachment is actually a good thing for his party, because it opens up the possibility that the GOP could make a very public break with the outgoing president.
McConnell alluded to his opening remarks in a note to his Republican colleagues Tuesday afternoon, saying: While the press is full of speculation, I have not yet made a final decision on how I will vote, and I plan to listen to the legal arguments when they are presented to the Senate. (On the contrary, McConnell was quick to oppose Trump’s indictment in 2019 for his actions in Ukraine.)
But McConnell still hasn’t voted to condemn Trump. He should. Here’s why.
1. Trump is a declining stock. Yes, that leaves a large part of the Republican base loyal to Trump. But as the president has made clear in recent weeks – not to mention the last four years of his presidency – it is completely unpredictable and uncontrollable. He will say and do things (and he has said and done things) that neither McConnell nor any Republican with the party’s medium- or long-term future in mind can tolerate or be responsible for.
If McConnell votes to convict Trump of his role in the unrest at the U.S. Capitol, it is highly likely that he will bring enough of his Republican colleagues to get the 67 votes needed to dethrone Trump. (When Mitch is done, he’s done, CNN said Tuesday night, a GOP source in the Senate said he didn’t want to be nominated). Of course, Trump’s indictment doesn’t mean that all of McConnell’s and other Republicans’ surrenders to Trump over the past four years are forgotten. But it would certainly be easier to put Trump in the rearview mirror – and make sure that every elected Republican doesn’t have to react to all the normal things the president does in his last week in office and after he leaves the White House.
2. The property is worth the Republicans’ money. The series of announcements from Corporate America that they will stop making donations to House Republicans and Senators who voted against the Electoral College results should be very, very troubling to McConnell and the rest of the GOP leaders who are accused of trying to regain a majority in the House and Senate in the next election. (The fact that Florida Senator Rick Scott’s campaign manager voted against the Pennsylvania results is a serious problem for Republicans.)
McConnell… not to mention minority leader Kevin McCarthy of California… needs a way to get at these companies with something to get them back on board. What better way to say that the Republican-controlled Senate has condemned Trump and voted him out of office – a sort of mea culpa for the Electoral College, which filed its objections earlier this month?
3. Trump’s term is good anyway. Unlike Trump’s ouster a year ago, impeachment and impeachment would have very little practical impact on the policies or internal workings of official Washington. In one week, Joe Biden will become the 46th president of the United States. The Speaker was sworn in regardless of what the Senate does with the articles of impeachment in the House. And as I said, Trump himself has quit this job at this point. He is completely unrelated to the current fight against the coronavirus and prefers to hold a grudge against the big tech companies, the media and the Republicans who he believes have betrayed him. This guy isn’t interested in keeping his job, and he’s almost unemployed anyway.
Yes, as you can see from the points above, a vote by McConnell (and the Republican Senate) in the near future to remove Trump from office would be a largely symbolic gesture. But in politics, as in life, symbolism counts! Words are important!
As when presidential candidate Barack Obama said in 2008: It is true that talking does not solve all problems. But it’s also true that it doesn’t matter how many policies and plans we have if we can’t inspire a return of faith in this country.
What McConnell and the Republican Party need is a clear (and yes, symbolic) break from Trump’s last four years. It won’t fix all the damage Trump – and his Republican accomplices – have done to the Republican brand. But what a vote to condemn Trump, led by McConnell, can do is send a message to the public and the Republican Party that Trump is not what the GOP is – not now and certainly not in the future.
CORRECTION: This story has been updated to reflect that Biden is the 46th president. The president will be sworn in.