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Saturday December 4th, 2021 6:25PM

As impeachment trial ends, GOP senators face big decision

By The Associated Press
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WASHINGTON (AP) — Most every Senate juror has said they will listen to the evidence in Donald Trump’s historic second impeachment trial, but most minds were likely made up before the trial began. Democrats would need a minimum of 17 Republicans to vote with them to convict Trump of incitement of insurrection, and that appears unlikely.

Still, Democrats say they are holding out hope that they will win over enough Republicans to convict the former president for his role in the Jan. 6 Capitol riots, in which five people died. If Trump were convicted, the Senate could take a second vote to ban him from running for office again. A final vote is likely on Saturday.

Here's a look at the Republicans whom Democrats are eyeing as they make final arguments in the case:

THE FREQUENT TRUMP CRITICS

Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Mitt Romney of Utah and Susan Collins of Maine have been clear that they believe Trump incited the riots on Jan. 6. While none of them are locks to vote for conviction, they have joined with Democrats twice to vote against GOP efforts to dismiss the trial.

Collins said after the riots that Trump does “bear responsibility for working up the crowd and inciting this mob.” Murkowski called on Trump to resign after the attack on the Capitol, telling a local paper three days later that “I want him out. He has caused enough damage.”

Romney tweeted on Jan. 6: “What happened at the U.S. Capitol today was an insurrection, incited by the President of the United States.” During the trial, the Democrats showed video of Romney narrowly escaping the mob, redirected by a Capitol Police officer as he unknowingly ran toward the violent crowd.

Sasse said that Trump had “lied to” Americans and the “consequences are now found in five dead Americans and a Capitol building that’s in shambles.” In a recent video, he said Republican politics shouldn’t be about the “weird worship of one dude.”

Murkowski, Collins and Sasse voted to acquit Trump during his first impeachment trial, in which Democrats charged that he had abused his power by urging the president of Ukraine to investigate then-candidate Joe Biden. Romney was the sole GOP guilty vote, leaving the Democrats far short of conviction.

HEADED OUT

Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey, who is retiring from the Senate in 2022, has also voted twice with Democrats to move forward with the trial. Like Murkowski, he called for Trump’s resignation after the riots, saying that would be the best way to “get this person in the rearview mirror for us.” Toomey had also aggressively pushed back on Trump’s false assertions that he had won Pennsylvania and other states in the election.

Three other GOP senators have said they will not run again in two years, potentially freeing them up to vote against Trump and anger base voters in the party – Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr and Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby. All three voted to dismiss the trial, but Portman says he still has an open mind about conviction.

Burr said on Thursday that he would not comment on the trial at all. Shelby said this week that the impeachment managers had a “strong point” that Trump could have acted sooner to stop the violence, but maintained that the trial is unconstitutional because Trump is now out of office.

CASSIDY AS WILD CARD

Louisiana Sen. Bill Cassidy, who won re-election by a large margin in 2020, voted two weeks ago for a GOP effort to dismiss the trial. But he switched his vote this week, saying Trump’s lawyers had done a “terrible” job making the case that the trial was unconstitutional.

Cassidy, who has been taking extensive notes throughout the trial, said Friday that the managers had raised some “intriguing questions” during their two days of arguments. He said that he hoped Trump’s lawyers would answer them thoroughly and that he is “trying to approach it objectively.”

During the trial's question and answer session on Friday afternoon, Cassidy asked Trump's lawyers about a conversation the then-president had with Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville on Jan. 6 just after Vice President Mike Pence had been evacuated from the Senate. Tuberville says he told Trump that Pence had been whisked away, making clear that Trump likely knew of the danger at that point, even though he tweeted criticism of Pence after that for not trying to overturn the election. Cassidy asked the lawyers if that showed Trump "was tolerant of the intimidation of Vice President Pence?”

Lawyer Michael van der Veen dismissed Tuberville's account as “hearsay," an answer that Cassidy later said was not sufficient.

THUNE TAKES HEAT FROM TRUMP

South Dakota Sen. John Thune, the No. 2 Senate Republican, dismissed Trump’s attempts to challenge the certification of President Biden's election victory. He predicted the effort would “go down like a shot dog″ in the Senate.

That comment drew a furious response from the former president, who urged Gov. Kristi Noem to run against Thune in a GOP primary, an idea she immediately rejected.

Still, Thune has voted twice to dismiss the case. He said Friday that he was keeping an open mind and indicated he could be open to a censure resolution if Trump is acquitted.

“I know a couple of my colleagues who’ve seen a couple of resolutions, at least, that I think could attract some support,” Thune said.

EYES ON McCONNELL

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell has twice voted to dismiss the trial, indicating he will ultimately vote to acquit. But he has also said that Trump “provoked” the mob, which was “fed lies.”

Soon after the attack, McConnell privately told associates he was done with Trump and said publicly he was undecided on impeachment. He has told Republicans the decision on Trump's guilt is a vote of conscience.

His neutral stand is in sharp contrast to his management of the first trial, when he largely protected Trump and pushed back against Democrats’ pleas to call witnesses.

___

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