Donald Trump’s defenders in the Senate have rallied around him, dismissing his impeachment trail as a waste of time and arguing his fiery speech before the US Capitol insurrection doesn’t make him responsible.
“If being held accountable means being impeached by the House and being convicted by the Senate, the answer to that is no,” said Republican Senator Roger Wicker on Sunday, making clear his belief 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.
“That ship has sailed,” he said.
The Senate will launch the impeachment trial on Tuesday to consider the charge 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 on January 6.
Five people died as a result including a police officer.
Many senators including Republican leader Mitch McConnell immediately denounced the violence and blamed 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 appetite for 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 in a sign of Trump’s continuing grip on the GOP.
On Sunday, Wicker described the trial as a “meaningless messaging partisan exercise”.
Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky dismissed Trump’s trial as a farce with “zero chance of conviction”, describing his words to protesters to “fight like hell” as “figurative” speech.
He also noted Chief Justice John Roberts had declined to preside over the impeachment proceeding because Trump was no longer president.
Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy will do so pro tempore.
“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 set aside the trial as unconstitutional because Trump is no longer in office, which legal experts say is disputable.
But the vote suggested the near impossibility in reaching a conviction in a Senate where Democrats hold 50 seats but a two-thirds vote – or 67 senators – would be needed.
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.