Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, said on Tuesday that the insurrectionists who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 had been “provoked by the president and other powerful people,” stating publicly for the first time that he holds President Donald Trump at least partly responsible for the assault.
“The mob was fed lies,” McConnell said, referring to attempts by Trump to overturn the election based on bogus claims of voter fraud. “They were provoked by the president and other powerful people. And they tried to use fear and violence to stop a specific proceeding of the first branch of the federal government which they did not like.”
McConnell made the remarks on his last full day as majority leader, speaking on the eve of President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration and as the Senate was bracing to receive a single article of impeachment from the House charging Trump with “incitement of insurrection.”
The Kentucky Republican has indicated privately that he believes that Trump committed impeachable offenses, but he has said he has yet to decide whether to vote to convict the president, and many senators in his party are awaiting a sign from McConnell before making their own judgments. It would take 17 Republicans joining all 50 Democrats to find the president guilty, which would allow the Senate to hold a second vote to disqualify Trump from public office in the future.
McConnell’s remarks came hours before he was set to meet face to face with his Democratic counterpart, Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, to work out a set of rules for the trial and the coming Senate session, when the chamber will be split 50-50 between the parties. Democrats will hold control because Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will have the power to break Senate ties, but Schumer will need at least some cooperation from McConnell to run the chamber and get things done.
On impeachment, the Republican leader appeared to be striking a far different posture than he did a year ago, when the Senate first sat in judgment of Trump. Then, McConnell acted at the White House’s behest to set trial rules that would favor acquittal. Now, he has told allies he hopes never to speak to Trump again and is doing nothing to persuade senators to back him, instead calling the impeachment vote a matter of conscience.
But as Democrats take unified control of Washington, he warned them that pursuing a partisan agenda would come at their own political risk.
“Certainly November’s election did not hand any side a mandate for sweeping ideological change,” McConnell said. “Our marching orders from the American people are clear: We’re to have a robust discussion and seek common ground. We are to pursue bipartisan agreement everywhere we can, and check and balance one another respectfully where we must.”
Speaking after McConnell, Schumer stressed that the Senate would proceed on three thorny paths at once, convening a trial at the same time as Democrats try to confirm Biden’s Cabinet nominees and begin to draft additional coronavirus relief legislation.
Though some Democrats have fretted that Trump’s trial will overshadow Biden’s opening days in office, Schumer insisted a trial was necessary to eliminate the risk Trump may continue to pose to the country, even out of office.
“He will continue spreading lies about the election and stoking the grievances of his most radical supporters, using the prospect of a future presidential run to poison the public arena at a time where we must get so much done,” Schumer said.
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