WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The coming second impeachment trial of former U.S. President Donald Trump on a charge of inciting the deadly storming of the Capitol has aggravated a rift among his fellow Republicans that was on full display on Sunday.
At least one Republican, Senator Mitt Romney, said he believed the trial, which could lead to a vote banning Trump from future office, was a necessary response to the former president’s inflammatory call to his supporters to “fight” his election defeat before the Jan. 6 attack.
Ten Republicans joined the House of Representatives in voting to impeach Trump on a charge of inciting insurrection, and the House is to present the charges to the Senate on Monday. Leaders of the narrowly divided Senate agreed to start the trial in two weeks, leaving time to confirm some of President Joe Biden’s Cabinet nominees and possibly address his call for a fresh round of stimulus for a coronavirus-hammered nation.
“The article of impeachment that was sent over by the House suggest(s) impeachable conduct,” Romney, a frequent critic of Trump who voted to convict during the first impeachment trial, told Fox News on Sunday. “It’s pretty clear that over the last year or so, there has been an effort to corrupt the election of the United States and it was not by President Biden, it was by President Trump.”
The night after Trump’s supporters stormed the Capitol – an attack that left five dead, sent lawmakers into hiding and delayed Congress by a few hours in its duty to certify Biden’s election win – multiple Republicans condemned the violence.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell last week blamed Trump for the violent attack, saying he “provoked” the mob.
But a significant number of Republican lawmakers, concerned about Trump’s devoted base of voters, have raised objections to the impeachment. Trump is the first U.S. president to be impeached after leaving office.
Senator Tom Cotton, another Republican, said the Senate was acting beyond its constitutional authority by holding a trial. “I think a lot of Americans are going to think it’s strange that the Senate is spending its time trying to convict and remove from office a man who left office a week ago,” Cotton told Fox News on Sunday.
Romney said he concurred with what he called the preponderance of legal opinion that an impeachment trial is still appropriate after someone leaves office. He said accountability required the trial, because Trump had led an effort to “corrupt” the national election that Biden won.
Not everyone agrees. “I think the trial is stupid,” Republican Senator Marco Rubio told Fox News on Sunday, saying he would vote to end it at the first opportunity. “I think it’s counterproductive. We already have a flaming fire in this country and it’s like taking a bunch of gasoline and pouring it on top of the fire.”
Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said the trial will be fair but move at a relatively fast pace.
“It will be a fair trial but it will move relatively quickly,” Schumer told a news conference in New York. He said it should not take up too much time because “we have so much else to do.”
Reporting by Susan Cornwell in Washington; Editing by Scott Malone and Matthew Lewis