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3 takeaways from the debate over impeaching Trump again

1. The break within the Republican Party is significant — but not huge

There are a few ways to look at this: Some members are speaking out against the president in remarkable ways. One of those is the third-ranking House Republican, the daughter of a conservative former vice president. Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) left no uncertainty as to her reasoning: “There has never been a greater betrayal by a president of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution.”

On the same day, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was reported to have said he’s pleased Democrats are pursuing impeachment. The Post is reporting that McConnell said in a note to colleagues Wednesday that he has “not made a final decision on how I will vote and I intend to listen to the legal arguments when they are presented to the Senate.”

Still, Trump had his defenders. “If we impeached every politician that gave a fiery speech to partisans, this Capitol would be deserted,” said Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.), who said he didn’t like the president’s speech but defended it as free speech.

The future of the Republican Party and Trump’s influence on it is uncertain. But the fact remains that before the smoke had cleared on the riots, some 140 Republicans still voted not to seat legitimate electors that would have confirmed Trump’s loss. And after Trump encouraged his supporters to “fight like hell” against his loss before the deadly siege on the Capitol, we’ll see how many vote to impeach him.

2. A majority of Republicans are dodging directly defending the president

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said the president should “accept his share of responsibility,” but did not support his impeachment. (The Washington Post)

Actions speak louder than words, of course. But for a party that has spent four years trying to close any daylight between them and their erratic leader, it was notable on Wednesday to hear such relatively subdued opposition from mainstream Republican lawmakers.

They mostly rested their opposition on process — how fast this is going — rather than the president’s involvement.

“With only a week to go,” Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) said, “the majority is asking us to consider a resolution impeaching President Trump and doing so knowing full well even if the House passes this resolution, the Senate will not consider these charges until President Trump’s term ends.”

The top House Republican, Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) opposed impeachment but did say: “The President bears responsibility for Wednesday’s attack on Congress by mob rioters. He should have immediately denounced the mob when he saw what was unfolding.”

He and others even suggested censuring the president as an option (one House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has brushed off as too weak.) That reflects just how quickly the bottom has fallen out for Trump, though. A week ago, after the riots, McCarthy was among those who voted against seating Biden’s electors.

Trump is not out of the woods yet

To be kicked out of office before he leaves Jan. 20, the Senate would need to come back in session, hold a trial and convict the president. That’s unlikely — but not for the reason you might think.

Most Senate Republicans remain silent, a sure sign that they’re trying to measure the political winds before taking a side on this. The Post has reported that McConnell won’t try to convince his caucus to vote one way or another, but if McConnell decides to vote to convict the president, he could bring the necessary 16 other Republicans along to convict him. That means it’s possible Trump could be the first president in American history to be impeached twice — and the first president to be convicted.

(Though, as I argue here, it would have more of an impact coming while Trump is still in office, and McConnell’s team signaled Wednesday that probably won’t happen.)

From there, only a majority vote is needed to prevent Trump from ever serving in office again.

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