WASHINGTON – Donald Trump’s defenders in the Senate on Sunday rallied around the former president before his impeachment trial, dismissing it as a waste of time and arguing that the former president’s fiery speech before the U.S. Capitol insurrection does not make him responsible for the violence of Jan. 6.
“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 punishment, such as censure, Wicker said the Democratic-led House had that option earlier but rejected it in favor of impeaching him.
“That ship has sailed,” he said.
The Senate is set to launch the impeachment trial Tuesday to consider the charge that Trump’s fighting words to protesters at a Capitol rally as well as weeks of falsehoods about a stolen and rigged presidential election provoked a mob to storm the Capitol. Five people died as a result of the melee, including a police officer.
Many senators including Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell immediately denounced the violence and pointed a finger of blame at Trump. Following the riot, Wicker said Americans “will not stand for this kind of attack on the rule of law” and without naming names, said “we must prosecute” those who undermine democracy.
But with Trump now gone from the presidency, Republicans have shown little political appetite to take further action, such as an impeachment conviction that could lead to barring him from running for future office. Those partisan divisions appear to be hardening ahead of Trump’s trial, a sign of his continuing grip on the GOP.
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’s, whom Wicker voted to impeach, he said: “I’m not conceding that the President Trump incited an insurrection.” Clinton's impeachment, in 1998, was sparked by his false denial in a deposition of a sexual relationship with a White House intern.
Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky dismissed 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.