The unbreakable wall of Republican support that has encouraged and enabled Donald Trump’s norm-shattering presidency has cracked.
It might not seem like much, but 10 of his party members voted to impeach the president for a historic second time Wednesday (local time).
While that’s just 10 out of 211, in the increasingly partisan politics of Washington, it’s a sign of Trump’s weakening grip on the party.
The first time Trump was impeached, not a single Republican voted in support. In fact this was the most bipartisan impeachment in American history, based on votes from House members from the president’s party (Richard Nixon resigned before he could be impeached).
Even some of those who opposed impeachment condemned Trump’s behaviour and blamed him for sparking the violent insurrection on the country’s so-called seat of democracy last week.
“The president bears responsibility for Wednesday’s attack on Congress by mob rioters,” said House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, who has been a staunch ally of the president.
There have been numerous reports on Capitol Hill that some Republicans had expressed a desire to vote with their conscience and support the impeachment but feared for their safety if they did.
Congressman Jason Crow, a Democrat, told MSNBC that some were fearful of reprisal after scenes of angry Trump supporters accosting both Democratic and Republicans lawmakers in public.
“I had a lot of conversations with my Republican colleagues last night, and a couple of them broke down in tears talking to me, and said they are afraid for their lives if they vote for this impeachment.”
Politico’s chief political correspondent, Tim Alberta, reported that Republicans had received death threats over the issue.
“Crow is right. Numerous House [Republicans] have received death threats in the past week, and I know for a fact several members *want* to impeach but fear casting that vote could get them or their families murdered,” he wrote on Twitter.
“Not spinning or covering for anyone. Just stating the chilling reality.”
The ten republicans who voted to impeach
The ten Republicans who broke ranks have been described by CNN anchor Jake Tapper as “brave” during a live broadcast of the vote while others in the US media said they had secured their place in history.
Given the large pro-Trump vote in many of their constituencies, some could end up paying a high political price. Those who voted for impeachment were:
Jaime Herrera Beutler
Liz Cheney, the number three Republican in the House, gave rank-and-file conservatives the green light to abandon Trump in a scathing statement on the eve of the vote, saying “there has never been a greater betrayal by a president of the United States”.
Since the vote she has faced backlash from her fellow party members who demanded she be stripped of her senior position in the GOP.
“I’m not going anywhere,” the three-term congresswoman told reporters after Wednesday’s vote.
Republican congresswoman: ‘I’m choosing truth’
When casting her vote on the floor of the House, Washington Republican Jaime Herrera Beutler said it was a vote for truth over partisanship.
“My vote to impeach our sitting president is not a fear-based decision. I am not choosing a side. I'm choosing truth. It's the only way to defeat fear.”
Representative Tom Rice, from South Carolina, surprised many with his vote in support of impeachment, citing the president’s behaviour during and after the mob attack as motivation.
“It has been a week since so many were injured, the United States Capitol was ransacked ... Yet the President has not addressed the nation to ask for calm. He has not visited the injured and grieving. He has not offered condolences,” he said in a statement.
“I have backed this President through thick and thin for four years. I campaigned for him and voted for him twice. But, this utter failure is inexcusable.”
Rice had previously voted to baselessly reject Joe Biden’s Electoral College votes in two states.
Peter Meijer, a new member of Congress from Michigan, said he was voting for impeachment with a “heavy heart”.
“The President betrayed his oath of office by seeking to undermine our constitutional process, and he bears responsibility for inciting the violent acts of insurrection last week,” he said in a statement.
Meanwhile, Republican Adam Kinzinger, from Illinois, said he was “at peace” with his choice.
“It was a sobering moment to vote in support of impeachment today,” he said in a statement on Twitter.
“This is not a vote I took lightly, but a vote I took confidently. I'm at peace.”
Questions remain over Senate trial
Although smaller than it could have been, the Republican dissent is a dramatic turn of events for a president who has enjoyed virtually unyielding loyalty from his party and was expected to play a key role in shaping the GOP’s future.
To convict the president in a senate impeachment trial, it will likely take 17 out of 50 Republican senators to turn on Trump. Whether the decline in Trump’s stature will be enough to facilitate that outcome remains to be seen.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell hasn’t ruled out convicting Trump during a trial later this month, giving fellow Republicans cover if they chose that option. But any trial will take place after Trump has left office – raising legal and logistical questions.
Biden has floated a plan to bifurcate the Senate’s business to deal with the work of the incoming administration while simultaneously holding an impeachment trial, which has been met with some criticism.
“There are constitutional questions being raised about whether the Senate can actually trial Trump when he leaves office,” Dr Daniel Fleming, a US history expert from UNSW, told Yahoo News Australia.
“There’s a plan to wait 100 days so it doesn’t interrupt the Biden program and then trial him in the Senate.
“That may happen but it could go to the Supreme Court and it could actually be found to be unconstitutional because Trump would no longer be a sitting president,” he said.
It comes after former US judge Michael Luttig made the case in the Washington Post that such a trial could be struck down by the courts.
Any eventual trial is expected to include a vote to ban Trump from running for office again.
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