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One week after a violent mob broke into the U.S. Capitol, threatened lawmakers and forced evacuations, members returned to the floor of the house for an emotional and often angry debate over accusations against the president, which many claimed encouraged the uprising that resulted in five deaths.
The House of Representatives approved an article on the indictment Wednesday against President Trump for “inciting rebellion,” in which 10 Republicans joined all Democrats in a 232-197 vote. The article now leads to the Senate, which is not expected to recover until next week.
Crowds of armed National Guard troops were stationed around the Capitol building, and they lined the streets around buildings housing members’ offices and the area where Joe Biden is to be sworn in next Wednesday.
There was a standing ovation for members of the U.S. Capitol Police, who undoubtedly saved members, aides and journalists from a far worse outcome. But Washington and the country are still penetrating from the images of the attack. As more details emerge about how it was orchestrated and the severity of the threats, the political fallout is sure to continue.
Here are 4 ways the persecution is already changing the political world:
1. President Trump is making history
President Trump has broken norms since riding the golden escalator down to his presidential campaign announcement in 2015. Now he has a distinction in the history books that no president wants – the first to be charged twice. He is also the president who has had the most members of his own party voting for the indictment.
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The president’s strong support among congressional Republicans during his persecution in 2019 had all House GOP lawmakers opposed the claims. These articles accused the president of calling on a foreign government to intervene in the 2020 elections in his favor. Just one Senate Republican, Mitt Romney of Utah, voted he was guilty of an article about abuse of power.
2. The Republican Party’s cracks are out in the open and getting bigger in real time
There is no sign that the president’s base is abandoning him, but the split between congressional Republicans over the party’s future is accelerating after last week’s events, and it is happening in real time.
Now that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Made it clear that no lawsuit will be found before Trump leaves office, the Senate’s vote is now about whether Trump will be able to run again. There is some legal debate about whether it is binding, but how the Senate Republicans approach it means a lot about their call for who should lead the party in the future.
The lawsuit will essentially be a proxy vote for where lawmakers sitting on the GOP spectrum – as a loyal supporter of a president who has achieved widespread bipartisan condemnation for his role in urging right-wing extremists to resort to violence or as a more established member who may want to revive the party’s conservative approach to fiscal issues and muscular national defense attitude.
McConnell, who has not spoken to Trump, told his colleagues he does not rule out voting to convict the president. A week ago, no one could have considered that there would ever be a question.
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Republican Sen. Rob Ohio of Ohio, ready for re-election in the 2022 intervening terms, signaled that he, too, was open to reprimanding the president. “If the Senate continues with a trial against the indictment, I will do my duty as a jury member and listen to the cases presented by both sides,” he said in a statement after the vote in Parliament.
The Republican rep. Illinois’s Adam Kinzinger told the NPR that he believes “there is a pretty significant chance that the Senate will vote to remove President Trump,” he said the number of senators who planned to formally protest the results of the Electoral College fell after the attacks and said “I think every day that goes by, there will be people who regret their no when more information comes.”
Those who broke with the president are well aware that they could be isolated. Wyoming GOP Rep. Liz Cheney, the Republican leader number 3, was one of the 10 who supported the indictment. She never spoke on the floor of the house and made it known that she thought it was a voice of conscience, but her voice could potentially cost her a seat at the leadership table.
The spotlight is now shifting to those senators who may want to bid on the White House in 2024 – Missouri Senator Josh Hawley and Texas Senator Ted Cruz have chosen the path to the champions of the Trump base. Others like Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton, who opposed efforts to challenge the January 6 election, could take up the cloak of conservative establishment.
3. The election of President Biden becomes complicated
Even before Wednesday’s vote, Biden’s allies were openly concerned about what the start of the move would mean for the incoming president’s ability to secure the Senate’s confirmation of his cabinet candidates and push for too high a priority as coronavirus assistance. Now the reality comes in and the trial is likely to begin shortly after Biden takes office. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, has appointed prosecutors, and articles are expected to be delivered to the Senate soon, potentially before it is even back in session on January 19th.
It is unclear who will defend the president. NPR’s Tamara Keith reports that three of the lawyers – Jay Sekulow, Jane Raskin and Marty Raskin – who worked on the team last time, would not be part of a lawsuit this time. But whoever the president chooses could set the tone.
Biden has said he consults senators and parliamentarians to simultaneously go ahead with a lawsuit and still hold hearings and polls on his top agency leaders, but the nonstop news of the uprising keeps it on the front pages and main story of most news broadcasts.
“The indictment now is like an initial scream,” the Tennessee Democratic Rep. Jim Cooper. But he said the “primary goal” for Democrats should be to get the two new Georgian Democratic senators – Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock – sworn in and both chambers come to work to help make the new government successful. He said the Senate can “go and chew gum” at the same time.
The US Capitol has been changed forever on January 6th
The images of magnetometers stationed around the house chamber, National Guard troops nibbling on marble floors throwing their weapons, and remnants of broken windows make it clear that things have changed dramatically in the building. The symbol of democracy used to be a frequent tourist attraction pre-pandemic for school groups learning about the country’s founders and history. Now it has a new picture of what can happen when political rhetoric ignites supporters to turn on their opponents.
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The new security measures are likely to remain for some time. Although members praised law enforcement and there are great stories of those who fought for the mob, the serious security flaws have many lawmakers questioning the leadership of the force, and an inevitable lengthy investigation could turn out to be far more disturbing information about what happened.
But legislators have changed, too. Several Democrats accused GOP lawmakers during the indictment of being “conspirators” and “accomplices” in the attack – a serious charge, but they did not provide evidence. It was already difficult for lawmakers to develop relationships across the aisle, as many members no longer moved their families to Washington. Members rarely socialized with members of another party. The level of confidence has really changed in the last week. Some Democrats already promise not to work with Republicans who voted to challenge the election result.
The rapid pace of events has given members some time to consider how to return to legislation. Three major events in three weeks – a revolt the day Congress met for what is usually a ceremonial task of counting votes followed by a lightning-fast accusation and an inauguration to be scaled back to the health crisis made the first days of new Congress historically in several ways.