March 4, 2021

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Trump’s Acquittal: Live Updates – The New York Times

12 min read
The executive committee of the Louisiana Republican Party voted to censure Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana over his vote to convict former President Donald J. Trump.
Credit…Alyssa Schukar for The New York Times

The blowback against the seven Republican senators who supported former President Donald J. Trump’s conviction in his impeachment trial has begun.

In Louisiana, the state Republican Party’s executive committee voted unanimously on Saturday to censure Senator Bill Cassidy, who was just re-elected in November and was among those who voted to find Mr. Trump guilty. The state’s Republican attorney general, Jeff Landry, said Mr. Cassidy had “fallen into the trap laid by Democrats to have Republicans attack Republicans.”

Two of the Republicans who voted for conviction, Senators Richard M. Burr of North Carolina and Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania, are not seeking re-election next year, giving them more political freedom than many of their colleagues. But they still faced rebukes at home.

Lawrence Tabas, the chairman of the Pennsylvania Republican Party, called the trial “an unconstitutional theft of time and energy that did absolutely nothing to unify or help the American people,” adding, “I share the disappointment of many of our grass-roots leaders and volunteers over Senator Toomey’s vote today.”

In North Carolina, the chairman of the state Republican Party, Michael Whatley, said Mr. Burr’s vote was “shocking and disappointing.” Representative Dan Bishop, Republican of North Carolina, expressed support for censuring him.

“Wrong vote, Sen. Burr,” former Representative Mark Walker, a Republican who is seeking his party’s nomination for Senate next year, wrote on Twitter. “I am running to replace Richard Burr because North Carolina needs a true conservative champion as their next senator.”

Of the seven Republicans who voted to convict Mr. Trump, only one of them, Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, will be on the ballot in 2022. But she is a uniquely formidable candidate in her state, having once won re-election as a write-in candidate after losing a primary.

The Republican senators who broke with their party during the former president’s trial joined 10 House Republicans who voted last month to impeach him, triggering an earlier backlash within the G.O.P.

Despite being defeated in the election and impeached twice by the House, Donald J. Trump remains a potent political force in the Republican Party. 
Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

During the first trial of Donald J. Trump, the former president commanded near-total fealty from his party. His conservative defenders were ardent and numerous, and Republican votes to convict him — for pressuring Ukraine to help him smear Joseph R. Biden Jr. — were virtually nonexistent.

But this time, seven Republican senators voted with Democrats to convict Mr. Trump — the most bipartisan rebuke ever delivered in an impeachment process. Several others, including Mitch McConnell, the minority leader, intimated that Mr. Trump might deserve to face criminal prosecution.

Mr. McConnell, speaking from the Senate floor after the vote, denounced Mr. Trump’s “unconscionable behavior” and held him responsible for having given “inspiration to lawlessness and violence.”

Yet Mr. McConnell had joined with the great majority of Republicans just minutes earlier to find Mr. Trump not guilty.

The vote stands as a determinative moment for the party Mr. Trump molded into a cult of personality, one likely to leave a deep blemish in the historical record. Now that Republicans have passed up an opportunity to banish him through impeachment, it is not clear when — or how — they might go about transforming their party into something other than a vessel for a semiretired demagogue who was repudiated by a majority of voters.

Yet Mr. Trump remains the dominant force in right-wing politics.

Indeed, in a statement celebrating the Senate vote on Saturday, Mr. Trump declared that his political movement “has only just begun.”

The lineup of Republicans who voted for conviction was, on its own, a statement on Mr. Trump’s political grip on the G.O.P. Only Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska is up for re-election next year, and she has survived grueling attacks from the right before.

The remainder of the group included two lawmakers who are retiring — Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina and Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania — and three more who just won new terms in November and will not face voters again until the second half of the decade.

In Washington, a quiet majority of Republican officials appears to be embracing the kind of wishful thinking that guided them throughout Mr. Trump’s first campaign in 2016, and then through much of his presidency, insisting that he would soon be marginalized by his own outrageous conduct or that he would lack the discipline to make himself a durable political leader.

Several seemed to be looking to the criminal justice system as a means of sidelining Mr. Trump. Mr. Trump is facing multiple investigations by the local authorities in Georgia and New York into his political and business dealings.

Even in places where Mr. Trump retains a powerful following, there is a growing recognition that the party’s loss of the White House and the Senate in 2020, and the House two years before that, did not come about by accident — and that simply campaigning as the Party of Trump is not likely to be sufficiently appealing to win back control of Congress next year.

House impeachment managers watch Senator Minority leader Mitch McConnell speak on the Senate floor after voting to acquit former President Donald Trump.
Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

The two-thirds majority of Senate votes needed to convict Donald J. Trump in his impeachment trial was always extraordinarily unlikely, and everybody involved knew it. As a result, the House impeachment managers often seemed to be speaking less to the Senate than to history.

On Saturday, the senators voted 57-43 to convict Mr. Trump on the charge of inciting the brutal, bloody insurrection at the Capitol on Jan. 6 — failing, as expected, to secure a guilty verdict.

And afterward, it seemed that some Republicans, too, wanted to speak to history, even if doing so seemed rather like trying to have it both ways.

In speeches and statements following the vote, several Republicans who had voted to acquit Mr. Trump still declared him responsible for the assault on the Capitol. Most prominent, and most strident, among them was Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader.

“The people who stormed this building believed they were acting on the wishes and instructions of their president,” Mr. McConnell said, “and having that belief was a foreseeable consequence of the growing crescendo of false statements, conspiracy theories and reckless hyperbole, which the defeated president kept shouting into the largest megaphone on planet earth.” [Watch.]

Mr. McConnell’s stated reason for his “not guilty” vote was that Mr. Trump was no longer in office — even though it was Mr. McConnell who prevented the Senate from beginning the trial while Mr. Trump remained in office.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi took that reasoning to task when she made an unexpected appearance at a Democratic news conference after the vote.

“It is so pathetic that Senator McConnell kept the Senate shut down so that the Senate could not receive the article of impeachment and has used that as his excuse for not voting to convict Donald Trump,” she said.

Nevertheless, it was striking that the leader of the Senate Republicans excoriated Mr. Trump using language that could have come from the House managers trying to convict him — something he certainly did not do the last time Mr. Trump was impeached.

“A mob was assaulting a Capitol in his name. These criminals were carrying his banners, hanging his flags and screaming their loyalty to him,” Mr. McConnell said. “There’s no question, none, that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day.”

President Biden boarding Air Force One on Friday as he left Washington for a weekend at Camp David.
Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

President Biden said late Saturday that while former President Donald J. Trump had been acquitted of inciting last month’s riot at the Capitol, “the substance of the charge is not in dispute.”

He pointed out that even Republicans who did not vote to convict Mr. Trump had criticized his behavior, including Senator Mitch McConnell, the minority leader, who said after the vote on Saturday that the former president was guilty of “a disgraceful dereliction of duty.”

Mr. Biden went on to express gratitude for “those who bravely stood guard that January day” as Trump supporters stormed the Capitol building, as well as Democrats and Republicans “who demonstrated the courage to protect the integrity of our democracy.” Election officials from both parties strongly disputed Mr. Trump’s baseless claims of fraud, and judges — some of them appointed by Mr. Trump — rejected warrantless legal challenges.

“This sad chapter in our history has reminded us that democracy is fragile,” Mr. Biden said. “That it must always be defended. That violence and extremism has no place in America. And that each of us has a duty and responsibility as Americans, and especially as leaders, to defend the truth and defeat the lies.”

Other leading Democrats turned their ire toward their Republican counterparts. Speaker Nancy Pelosi quickly batted down the idea of a bipartisan censure resolution, saying it would let “cowardly senators” off the hook and constitute “a slap in the face of the Constitution.”

“Five years ago, Republican senators lamented what might become of their party if Donald Trump became their presidential nominee and standard-bearer,” Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, said moments after the vote. “Just look at what has happened. Look at what Republicans have been forced to defend. Look at what Republicans have chosen to forgive.”

Mr. Biden had mostly distanced himself from the particulars of the trial, with a notable exception on Thursday, when he declared that a graphic video of the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol that was shown during the trial might have changed “some minds.” As Congress was consumed by the trial this weekend, Mr. Biden was at the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland on his first trip away from Washington since he took office.

Aides said that Mr. Biden’s plan next week was to return the country’s focus to fighting the coronavirus and its economic fallout. They have scheduled a televised town hall in Wisconsin on Wednesday focusing on his pandemic response, followed by a trip to Michigan on Thursday to tour a vaccine production facility.

On Sunday, the third anniversary of the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., Mr. Biden issued a statement honoring the young victims and their loved ones, who “like far too many families — and, indeed, like our nation — they’ve been left to wonder whether things would ever be OK.”

He added: “We will take action to end our epidemic of gun violence and make our schools and communities safer. Today, I am calling on Congress to enact common-sense gun law reforms, including requiring background checks on all gun sales, banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and eliminating immunity for gun manufacturers who knowingly put weapons of war on our streets. We owe it to all those we’ve lost and to all those left behind to grieve to make a change.”

A staff member tallying the votes to convict or acquit former President Donald J. Trump on the final day of his impeachment trial on Saturday.
Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

Commentators from around the world were quick to react to the news of former President Donald J. Trump’s acquittal in his second impeachment trial, with many saying it had shaken their faith in an already weakened American democracy.

Though the acquittal was expected, it highlighted for many that Mr. Trump’s influence over the Republican Party would endure and signaled that American politics would remain deeply divided.

“Donald Trump’s acquittal confirms the profound division of the Republican Party,” read a headline on Sunday in Le Monde, a French daily newspaper.

An editorial in The Sydney Morning Herald of Australia called the outcome a “demoralizing blow to the ideals of democracy, justice and accountability” that “will stand for generations as an appalling instance of Republican Party cowardice.”

The editorial said that if Mr. Trump continued to dominate the thinking of the G.O.P., then “those who seek to defend democracy will need to remain vigilant.”

The uncertain future of the United States’ political system was a recurring topic for international observers.

The acquittal was “an unprecedented failure of American democracy,” and “a triumph of madness,” said Roland Nelles, a Washington correspondent for the German outlet Der Spiegel, adding that Republican senators had left open the door for a comeback by Mr. Trump in 2024.

“The U.S. remains in a precarious situation,” Li Haidong, a professor at China Foreign Affairs University, wrote in The Global Times, a newspaper controlled by the Communist Party of China.

“The minds of ordinary Americans and even the American political elites are in a state of flux regarding how to define ‘I am American,’” he added. “This also shows that the ongoing cultural wars, identity struggles, and overall social division in the U.S. will continue to deepen and cannot be alleviated.”

Tom Perez, the former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, at his home in Maryland.
Credit…Justin T. Gellerson for The New York Times

For the past four years, Tom Perez had perhaps the most thankless job in American politics: chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

His final day working for the D.N.C. was Friday, and he spoke with The New York Times a day before about his experience running the party, the results of last year’s elections and his future political plans. Here are a few highlights; you can read the full Q. and A. here.

Do you think that the D.N.C. should have devoted more attention and resources to down-ballot contests given the results in state legislative and congressional races?

The thing about this election cycle that is really regrettable is that we had record turnout. And we should be celebrating that on a bipartisan basis, because we did really well. We won the presidency. We have the House. We have the Senate. And Republicans won in a number of critical races. That’s undeniable. They won a number of Senate seats. They won a number of congressional seats. And they won because a lot of their people turned out. And instead, what Donald Trump and the far right chose to do is to invest in this fiction that there was some sort of massive voter fraud, which is inaccurate.

Should Iowa and New Hampshire keep going first in the presidential nominating process?

That will be up to the D.N.C.’s Rules and Bylaws Committee.

I’m aware. But what does the private citizen Tom Perez think?

A diverse state or states need to be first. The difference between going first and going third is really important. We know the importance of momentum in Democratic primaries.

I’ll try one more time. Could you make a case for defending Iowa and New Hampshire going first?

The status quo is clearly unacceptable. To simply say, “Let’s just continue doing this because this is how we’ve always done it,” well, Iowa started going as an early caucus state, I believe, in 1972. The world has changed a lot since 1972 to 2020 and 2024. And so the notion that we need to do it because this is how we’ve always done it is a woefully insufficient justification for going first again.

This is the Democratic Party of 2020. It’s different from the Democratic Party in how we were in 1972. And we need to reflect that change. And so I am confident that the status quo is not going to survive.

How far down the road are you in thinking about running for governor of Maryland?

I’m seriously considering a run for governor in Maryland.

We need a governor who can really build strong relationships with the Biden administration, will build strong relationships with every one of the jurisdictions in Maryland.

Marylanders are just like everybody else. We want an end to this pandemic. We want to put kids back to school. We want to put people back to work. The pandemic has disproportionately touched women and communities of color in Maryland. And I’ve had the fortune of working in local government, and with the nonprofit faith communities and state government there.

So I’m currently listening. I’m on a listening tour in Maryland. And I think we need leadership, really, with a bold vision of inclusion and opportunity because ZIP code should never determine destiny in any community across America.

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