The Senate’s Cowardly Lions prepare to let Trump off the hook
In this Jan. 6, 2021, file photo rioters loyal to President Donald Trump storm the U.S. Capitol in Washington. Arguments begin Tuesday, Feb. 9, in the impeachment trial of Donald Trump on allegations that he incited the violent mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. | John Minchillo/AP

In his day Sen. Edward Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, was known as the Lion of the Senate. These days that Senate is full of another set of “lions,” the cowardly lions that make up the Republican caucus.

The Republican senators, still cowering before the disgraced former President Trump, met yesterday to pitifully rally around him.

Just two days before the opening of Trump’s second impeachment trial, they came out of their meeting dismissing the trial as a “waste of time” and claiming that Trump’s speech urging his followers to march on the Capitol and “fight like hell” did not make him responsible for the death and destruction that followed.

“If being held accountable means being impeached by the House and being convicted by the Senate, the answer to that is no,” said Republican Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi, making clear his belief that Trump should and will be acquitted. Asked if Congress could consider other penalties, such as censure, Wicker said the Democratic-led House had that choice earlier but rejected it in favor of impeaching him.  “That ship has sailed,” he said.

The Senate is set to open the impeachment trial Tuesday to consider the charge that Trump’s incitement of supporters at a rally after months of lies about a stolen and rigged presidential election provoked them to storm the Capitol. Six people died as a result of the insurrection.

Immediately after the insurrection some GOP senators, including Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, mustered the courage, for a variety of reasons, to denounce the attempted coup and blamed Trump.

Even Wicker of Mississippi said Americans “will not stand for this kind of attack on the rule of law” and “we must prosecute” those who undermine democracy.

But those early sounds have been replaced by silence or excuses as their taste for any action against Trump has waned and they have returned to their prior undying loyalty to the worst president the United States has ever had.

The continuing fear of crossing Trump among Senate Republicans is a disturbing sign of the autocrat’s continued hold on the Republican Party. Hopefully, the trial will make this clearer to the section of the public not yet on board with the necessity of preventing Trump from ever running for public office again and reducing the possibility for future coup attempts.

On Sunday, Wicker described Trump’s impeachment trial as a “meaningless messaging partisan exercise.” When asked if Trump’s conduct should be more deserving of impeachment than President Bill Clinton, whom Wicker voted to impeach, he said: “I’m not conceding that President Trump incited an insurrection.” Clinton was impeached in 1998 for his false denial of a sexual relationship with a White House intern.

Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky described Trump’s trial as a farce with “zero chance of conviction,” describing Trump’s words to protesters to “fight like hell” as Congress was voting to ratify Joe Biden’s presidential victory as “figurative” speech.

“If we’re going to criminalize speech, and somehow impeach everybody who says, ‘Go fight to hear your voices heard,’ I mean really we ought to impeach Chuck Schumer then,” Paul said, referring to the now Democratic Senate majority leader and his criticisms of Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh. “He went to the Supreme Court, stood in front of the Supreme Court, and said specifically, ‘Hey Gorsuch, Hey Kavanaugh, you’ve unleashed a whirlwind. And you’re going to pay the price.’”

“It is a farce, it is unconstitutional. But more than anything it’s unwise, and going to divide the country,” Paul said.

Last month, Paul forced a vote to stop the trial as unconstitutional because Trump is no longer in office.

Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., arrives for a Republican policy luncheon on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021. | Susan Walsh/AP

Several points must be made in considering how far off base are the arguments put forward by Sen. Paul.

Most constitutional scholars say that a trial of a former president is constitutional because, if it were not, the president could commit a crime and then quickly resign before any action could be taken against him.

And in this case, Trump was impeached while he was president. It then is the responsibility of the Senate to hold a trial and it was the Senate that decided to hold the trial after Trump’s presidency was ended.

People also note that even if the President’s speech was not the cause of the deadly insurrection that followed he spent hours watching the insurrection on television and doing nothing about it. That alone, they note, would be cause for impeachment.

But the vote a few weeks ago on whether to hold the impeachment trial suggested strongly already that there will not be enough votes to convict Trump. The Democrats hold 50 seats but a two-thirds vote — or 67 senators — would be needed to convict Trump. Forty-four Republican senators sided with Paul and voted to oppose holding an impeachment trial at all. Five Republican senators joined with Democrats to reject Paul’s motion: Mitt Romney of Utah, Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania.

The Senate trial will open with a discussion this week on whether the trial itself is constitutional. While Republicans will vote against even having a trial they will not have enough votes to scratch it altogether.

Some Republicans have said the vote they took on the constitutionality of the trial doesn’t “bind” them into voting a particular way on conviction, with Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana saying Sunday he would “listen carefully to the evidence.” But even Trump’s strongest GOP critics on Sunday acknowledged the expected outcome.

“You did have 45 Republican senators vote to suggest that they didn’t think it was appropriate to conduct a trial, so you can infer how likely it is that those folks will vote to convict,” said Toomey, who has said Trump committed “impeachable offenses.”

Regardless of the final outcome on conviction,  the trial will constitute an historic display of the unprecedented events that have rocked the nation during the Trump presidency.

There are reports for example that there will be video shown that allows the nation to see former President Trump enjoying himself in the White House while the deadly insurrection he provoked unfolded that day.

The judgment of history, then, will supersede whatever the GOP Senators decide to do after this trial.

AP contributed to this story

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John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward and a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee. In the 1970s and '80s, he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.