But Trump will also go down in history as a disgraced figure who escaped conviction on a technicality after a trial that undeniably proved that he endangered his own vice president, lawmakers in both parties, and scores of police officers as he sought to overturn the election results.
And unlike Trump’s first impeachment trial, when he could claim that he’d been vindicated, few GOP senators rushed to defend him on Saturday. Clearly still afraid of the electoral consequences they would face if they crossed the former President, many pinned their votes on the weak procedural argument that they lacked authority to convict under the Constitution since Trump has already left office. (The vast majority of constitutional scholars disagreed with that premise and the Senate had already voted earlier in the week that the trial was constitutional).
Sen. John Thune, the No. 2 Senate Republican, told CNN’s Ted Barrett that he voted to acquit Trump because it was a “jurisdictional issue” and called it “an uncomfortable vote.”
“I don’t think there was a good outcome for anybody,” the South Dakota Republican said.
“Each of us has a duty and responsibility as Americans, and especially as leaders, to defend the truth and to defeat the lies,” Biden said. “That is how we end this uncivil war and heal the very soul of our nation.”
“He went down a path he shouldn’t have, and we shouldn’t have followed him, and we shouldn’t have listened to him. And we can’t let that ever happen again,” the former South Carolina governor said in that interview.
“The President did not act swiftly. He did not do his job,” McConnell said. “Even after it was clear to any reasonable observer that Vice President (Mike) Pence was in serious danger, even as the mob carrying Trump banners was beating cops and breaching perimeters… the President sent a further tweet attacking his own vice president.”
Pence, another potential contender for the GOP nomination in 2024, has stayed notably silent since the insurrection — choosing not to openly criticize Trump, but also choosing not to offer Trump political cover as it became clear that the way Trump endangered his vice president on that day was one of the issues that weighed most heavily on GOP senators during the trial.
Republicans prepare for political consequences
Some GOP lawmakers had entertained the notion that Congress could censure Trump, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi rejected that course of action on Saturday as an avenue that would let “cowardly” senators “off the hook.”
“These cowardly Senators who couldn’t face up to what the President did and what was at stake for our country are now going to have a chance to give (Trump) a slap on the wrist?” Pelosi said when asked about censure during a news conference with impeachment managers after the vote. “We censure people for using stationery for the wrong purpose. We don’t censure people for inciting insurrection that kills people in the Capitol.”
While Trump may not face any punishment in the halls of Congress, some of the GOP senators who voted to convict him are already facing the blowback back home — as have GOP members of the House who voted to impeach him — particularly at the local levels of the Republican Party where Trump loyalists still reign.
Sen. Bill Cassidy, who surprised with his vote that the trial was constitutional earlier in the week, was immediately sanctioned by the Louisiana GOP Saturday for his conviction vote. But the GOP senator, who just won reelection in November and won’t face voters for another six years, was blunt in his statement explaining why he favored acquittal: “Our Constitution and our country is more important than any one person. I voted to convict President Trump because he is guilty,” he said.
The most surprising vote for impeachment came from North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr, who long ago announced he was not seeking reelection in 2022. Among the others who voted to convict were Sens. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, who isn’t running for reelection either, Mitt Romney of Utah, Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.
Of the seven, only Murkowski is up for reelection next year. The GOP senator, who has overcome primary defeats before and doesn’t hesitate to buck GOP leadership, told CNN’s Ryan Nobles Saturday that she understood the potential consequences of voting to convict the former President.
“It’s not about me and my life, my job,” Murkowski said. “This is really about what we stand for. And if I can’t say what I believe that our president should stand for, then why should I ask Alaskans to?”
With the final outcome, Sasse said he was concerned that Congress “is a weaker institution than the Founders intended, and it is likely to shrivel still smaller.”
“A lot of Republicans talk about restoring Congress’ power from an already over-aggressive executive branch,” Sasse said in his statement.
“If Congress cannot forcefully respond to an intimidation attack on Article I instigated by the head of Article II, our constitutional balance will be permanently tilted. A weak and timid Congress will increasingly submit to an emboldened and empowered presidency. That’s unacceptable. This institution needs to respect itself enough to tell the executive that some lines cannot be crossed.”