Just minutes after voting to acquit Donald Trump of inciting the Capitol riot, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) launched into a fiery, head-scratching speech blaming the former president for doing exactly that.
“There’s no question—none—that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day. No question about it,” McConnell said on the Senate floor on Saturday, adding that Trump’s “disgraceful” actions directly contributed to the “terrorism” on display on Jan. 6.
“The president did not act swiftly. He did not do his job… Instead, according to public reports, he watched television happily. Happily,” he said.
But, despite torching Trump, he said he believed the Senate didn’t have the jurisdiction to try a case against Trump because he’s no longer in office. Earlier on Saturday, he told his GOP colleagues he would vote to acquit on the basis that the trial was unconstitutional.
McConnell’s takedown of Trump was a painful exercise in playing both sides. As outgoing majority leader, he could have facilitated a trial before President Biden assumed office on Jan. 20. But Republicans, with McConnell at the helm, refused to expedite the process.
In the end, seven Republicans voted alongside 50 Democrats to convict the president, while 43 voted not guilty. Impeachment managers needed 67 votes for Trump to be found guilty of the single charge of inciting supporters on Jan. 6.
“The defendant, President Donald John Trump, was let off on a technicality,” one of the House impeachment managers, Rep. Joaquin Castro (R-TX), said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said McConnell was “hedging all over the place” with his Saturday speech.
“I don’t know whether it was for donors or what, but whatever it was, it was a very disingenuous speech and I say that regretfully because I always want to be able to work with the leadership of the other party,” she said during a press conference after the vote.
As he slammed Trump for “a disgraceful dereliction of duty,” McConnell offered a critique near-identical to that of impeachment managers, who provided a systematic breakdown of how Trump’s rhetoric over four years culminated in his incitement of the Capitol riot.
“Fellow Americans beat and bloodied our fellow police. They stormed the Senate floor. They tried to hunt down the Speaker of the House. They built a gallows and chanted about murdering the vice president. They did this because they’d been fed wild falsehoods by the most powerful man on earth because he was angry he’d lost an election,” McConnell said.
He said that the rioters who stormed the Capitol “believed they were acting on the wishes and instructions of their president,” after subscribing to a belief system that was full of “false statements, conspiracy theories, and reckless hyperbole which the defeated president kept shamefully shouting into the largest megaphone on earth.”
“The leader of the free world cannot spend weeks thundering that shadowy forces are stealing our country and then feign surprise when people believe him and do reckless things,” he added.
But he said that, despite Trump’s inflammatory language, the time had passed for accountability in a congressional setting. He did, however, suggest that the former president could still be held accountable for his actions at a judicial level.
“We have a criminal justice system in this country. We have civil litigation. And former presidents are not immune from being accountable by either one,” McConnell said. “President Trump is still liable for everything he did while he's in office. He didn't get away with anything yet.”
Seven Republicans believed Trump’s rhetoric was actually worthy of a “guilty” vote. In a statement, Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) said that he believed it was “unconstitutional’ to impeach an ex-president but nevertheless “the facts are clear.”
“As I said on January 6, the President bears responsibility for these tragic events. The evidence is compelling that President Trump is guilty of inciting an insurrection against a coequal branch of government and that the charges rise to the level of high Crimes and Misdemeanors,” he wrote. “Therefore, I have voted to convict. I do not make this decision lightly, but I believe it is necessary.”
Burr said that Trump “violated his oath of office to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution” by what “he did and by what he did not do” during his term. “My hope is that with today’s vote America can begin to move forward and focus on the critical issues facing our country today,” he added.
Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA), who surprised his base last week when he voted that the trial was constitutional, said in a Saturday tweet that “our Constitution and our country is more important than any one person. I voted to convict President Trump because he is guilty.”
His colleague, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), said on the floor after the vote that her decision to convict Trump was based on context.
“Tossing a lit match into a pile of dry leaves is very different from tossing it in to a pool of water, and on January 6th the atmosphere among the crowd outside the White House was highly combustible,” Collins said. “Instead of preventing a dangerous situation, President Trump created one. And rather than defend the Constitutional transfer of power, he incited an insurrection with the purpose of preventing that transfer of power from occurring,”
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT), a frequent thorn in Trump’s side, said in a statement on Saturday that Trump “violated his oath of office by failing to protect the Capitol, the Vice President, and others in the Capitol. Each and every one of these conclusions compels me to support conviction.”
Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE), who turned on Trump after the election, said that he made a promise to his constituents to vote with his conscience.
“In my first speech here in the Senate in November 2015, I promised to speak out when a president—even of my own party —exceeds his or her powers. I cannot go back on my word, and Congress cannot lower our standards on such a grave matter, simply because it is politically convenient,” he said.
Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA), who is retiring from his elected seat in 2022, said Saturday his decision to convict Trump was the “right call.”
“As a result of President Trump’s actions, for the first time in American history, the transfer of presidential power was not peaceful. A lawless attempt to retain power by a president was one of the founders’ greatest fears motivating the inclusion of the impeachment authorities in the U.S. Constitution,” Toomey said in a statement, noting that he’d voted for Trump’s re-election. “His betrayal of the Constitution and his oath of office required conviction.”