The Senate impeachment trial of former United States President Donald Trump, who stands accused of “incitement of insurrection” for his role in the January 6 riot at the US Capitol, continues to drive a wedge within the Republican Party.
Ten Republicans in the US House of Representatives voted to impeach Trump on January 13, a week after pro-Trump rioters breached the US Capitol as Congress met to certify President Joe Biden’s election victory.
Republicans who voted for impeachment included Representative Liz Cheney, the chairwoman of the Republican conference, who has since faced a push from within the party to remove her from her leadership post.
Meanwhile, several Senate Republicans have said they oppose moving forward with the trial in the chamber, which is set to begin on February 9, while at least one, Senator Mitt Romney, has said moving forward with the impeachment trial is “appropriate”.
The House is expected to officially send the article of impeachment to the Senate on Monday.
The inter-party conflict centres on the question of whether Trump committed impeachable offences in his campaign to overturn the election results and to egg on protesters shortly before the riot, as well as whether impeachment proceedings can continue after a US president has left office.
“The article of impeachment that was sent over by the House suggests impeachable conduct,” Romney 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.”
Romney added that there was a “preponderance of the legal opinion” that moving forward with the trial after Trump has left office is constitutional.
Republicans are unlikely to succeed in any early vote to dismiss the trial, given Democrats now control a slim majority in the 100-seat chamber, with 50 seats and Vice President Kamala Harris casting a tie-breaking vote.
Still, Democratic House impeachment managers, who will be arguing for impeachment during the Senate trial, will face an uphill battle; the Senate must secure a two-thirds majority to convict Trump.
That means 17 Republicans would need to break ranks and vote to convict. Such a conviction could also lead to Trump being barred from holding federal office in the future.
Romney’s statements stood in stark contrast to those of many of his Senate colleagues, who have increasingly begun to stake positions on the matter in recent days.
In an interview on Fox News on Sunday, Republican Senator Tom Cotton maintained that moving ahead with the trial after Trump has left office was unconstitutional.
“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 said.
Republican Senator Marco Rubio, also on Fox News on Sunday, called the trial “stupid”.
“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,” he said.
Meanwhile, Republican Senator John Cornyn, in a tweet on Saturday, suggested that moving ahead with the impeachment trial of a president who has left office would set a precedent that could lead to “former Democratic Presidents” facing impeachment if Republicans regain control of Congress.
Some scholars argue that conducting an impeachment trial after a president has left office is unconstitutional, while others say it is permitted as long the proceedings begin before a president has left office.
But the question of whether impeachment proceedings can begin wholesale after a president has left office is considered even less clear.
Cotton, Rubio and Cornyn join Republican Senators Mike Rounds, Lindsey Graham, John Barrasso, and Ron Johnson in publicly opposing the trial for Trump, who is expected to remain a political force in the coming years.
Republicans to watch
Still, several influential Senate Republicans have been less clear about their intentions.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has laid the blame for the Capitol riot at Trump’s feet, saying he “provoked” his supporters who were “fed lies” by the president and other powerful people.
McConnell has not said how he would vote on impeachment or taken a public stance on the constitutionality of the trial.
Other Republican senators will be closely watched in the weeks to come, including Lisa Murkowski, who called on Trump to resign after the riot and later said the House acted “appropriately” in impeaching him, and Susan Collins, who said Trump “bears responsibility” for the incident.
Neither has taken public positions on the constitutionality of the trial or said how they will vote.
Senator Ben Sasse and Pat Toomey have also said they would be open to impeaching the president, but have questioned whether a Senate trial would further divide the country.