President Joe Biden is hoping to turn the page after the U.S. Senate acquittal of Donald Trump over the deadly storming of the Capitol building, even as Mr. Trump is vowing to stage a political comeback.
Mr. Biden declared that the country would learn from the threat to its political system to ensure that such violence never happens again. He is hoping his administration and Congress can now focus on pandemic relief, immigration and his cabinet appointments.
“This sad chapter in our history has reminded us that democracy is fragile,” the President said in a statement from Camp David. “Each of us has a duty and responsibility as Americans, and especially as leaders, to defend the truth and to defeat the lies.”
But Mr. Trump, unencumbered by the prohibition on seeking office that a conviction might have brought, is unrepentant. The trial confirmed the grip he still holds on the Republican legislative caucus. And he said he would soon launch the next phase of his political career.
“Our historic, patriotic and beautiful movement to Make America Great Again has only just begun,” he said in a statement.
As the dust settled after the former president’s historic second impeachment trial, it was unclear whether the country could step back from the brink of political strife, or if a dangerous new precedent for presidential behaviour had been set.
The Senate voted 57 to 43 in favour of convicting Mr. Trump of incitement of insurrection, with seven Republicans joining all Democrats and Independents. It marked the most bipartisan presidential impeachment trial in U.S. history and only the second in which a majority of senators supported conviction. But it fell well short of the two-thirds needed to convict.
The trial had played out over five days at the scene of the alleged crime, a heavily fortified Capitol surrounded by National Guard troops, barely a month after the worst attack on the building since the War of 1812.
Democratic legislators serving as prosecutors argued that the Jan. 6 riot was the culmination of both Mr. Trump’s bid to overturn his election defeat and his years of encouraging violence by supporters. They reconstructed the storming in vivid detail, using never-before-seen security video that showed the mob beating up police officers, ransacking the Senate chamber and trying to hunt down fleeing politicians. Five people died.
“The president summoned the mob, assembled the mob, incited it, lit the match,” Maryland Congressman Jamie Raskin, the lead impeachment manager, said in his closing argument.
Mr. Trump’s lawyers focused much of their defence on attacking Democrats and often avoided directly addressing Mr. Trump’s behaviour. Michael van der Veen, a member of the former president’s legal team, accused the Democrats of “hatred” and branded the proceedings a “show trial.”
Impeachment has left the Republicans deeply divided. While many legislators are angry at Mr. Trump, believing he endangered their lives, the vast majority of the caucus ultimately voted to acquit in the face of his overwhelming popularity with their base. One CNBC poll last week found that 74 per cent of Republicans want Mr. Trump to stay active in politics, even as 54 per cent of all voters want him to play no further public role.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell embodied this dissonance. He voted in Mr. Trump’s favour at the end of the trial, but then promptly condemned him on the floor of the Senate. “President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day,” he said.
The seven Republican senators who voted to convict – Richard Burr, Bill Cassidy, Lisa Murkowski, Mitt Romney, Ben Sasse, Susan Collins and Pat Toomey – have faced an avalanche of condemnation from their own party.
The Republican state parties in Mr. Burr’s North Carolina and Mr. Cassidy’s Louisiana both voted to reprimand them. Senator Lindsey Graham declared on Fox News that Mr. Burr’s vote made certain that Lara Trump, the former president’s daughter-in-law, would win the Republican nomination for his seat in 2022.
The Democrats, meanwhile, were eager to move on. Mr. Biden is trying to push through a US$1.9-trillion COVID-19 stimulus package. He is also expected to present immigration legislation this week.
Amid all this, the party appears reluctant to continue pursuing Mr. Trump. There has so far been no significant action to invoke the Constitution’s 14th Amendment, a different process that could bar Mr. Trump from running again. Near the end of the trial on Saturday, the Democrats even backed down on an effort to call witnesses, in a bid to get proceedings over with.
Whether Mr. Trump will face criminal charges is unclear.
Constitutional scholar Laurence Tribe contended that, despite Mr. Trump’s acquittal, the trial had made a definitive statement about his unprecedented actions as president.
“The impeachment permanently establishes a historical record of how this president was probably the most dangerous in American history,” said Prof. Tribe of Harvard Law School. “His astonishing and long-lasting campaign to overturn a fair election and hold onto power by whatever means possible distinguishes him from any other president.”
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