WASHINGTON – Senator Bill Cassidy’s decision to convict Donald J. Trump of inciting an insurgency was crashed one day last fall, when he received an email from a friend full of false statements from the president of the time about a stolen election.
Alarmed that Mr. Trump’s lies were gaining credibility, Mr. Cassidy, a Republican from Louisiana, was among a small minority in his party – and one of the few officials in the South – to acknowledge the victory from President Biden. Months later, after Mr. Trump’s campaign to overturn the election culminated in the Capitol Riot, Mr. Cassidy was one of only seven Republican senators to vote Saturday to condemn him.
Taken at face value, Mr Cassidy – a newly re-elected Tory doctor with a quirky streak – has little in common with the six other senators who broke with their party and found Mr Trump guilty in the most popular vote. bipartisan for a presidential election. indictment conviction in US history. Most faced backlash on Sunday from Republicans in their states furious at the vote, as did the 10 House Republicans who backed impeachment last month.
But the senators were united by a common thread: Each of them, for their own reasons, was not afraid of political retaliation from Mr. Trump or his supporters.
“Two are retiring, and three are not until 2026, and who knows what the world will be like in five years,” said Whit Ayres, a veteran Republican pollster. “Five years ago it was quite different from what it is today. All seven have a certain independence that those due to run in 2022 in a closed Republican primary simply don’t have.
For Mr. Cassidy, it was a sense of outrage at the actions of the former president, long before the January 6 assault, that played the dominant role. In an interview on Sunday, Mr. Cassidy said Mr. Trump had ‘cheated this lie’ about the election for months, then sat for hours as lawmakers and his own vice president were attacked on Capitol Hill and n ‘Republican senators had not been called to ask them to continue to challenge the election results.
“This anger is simmering in the background,” Mr. Cassidy said. “All my life I have read stories of great men and women who sacrifice themselves for our country, who sacrifice themselves so that we can have the freedoms that we have here today – and the idea that someone one would try to usurp and destroy them?
“It always makes me angry,” he continued. “This makes me really angry.”
Many Republicans privately shared Mr. Cassidy’s anger, but the fact that only seven of them were ultimately willing to find Mr. Trump guilty underscored the extraordinary loyalty the former president still commands from the party.
Even with Mr. Trump out of the White House, Republican lawmakers have been reluctant to cross paths with the former president for fear of invoking his anger and infuriating primary voters who still worship him. All but one Republicans who voted to condemn Mr. Trump will not face voters at the polls for years – or never again, in the case of two who are due to retire in 2022.
Mr Cassidy was re-elected in November, as were two others who voted to convict the former president – Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Ben Sasse of Nebraska – meaning they have five years before their names fail. appear on a ballot. Two others, Senators Richard M. Burr of North Carolina and Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania, are retiring. The other two, Senators Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Mitt Romney of Utah, the 2012 Republican presidential candidate, have long established their willingness to break with their party, and in particular with Mr. Trump.
Ms Murkowski is the only one in the group to face re-election next year, making her vote the most politically risky of all.
She remained famous in Washington even after losing a Republican primary in 2010 by defeating the Republican and Democratic candidates in a daring written campaign, and she did not seem troubled by the potential political consequences of her vote.
This could be in part influenced by a change in Alaska’s voting system: Voters in November approved a measure to eliminate party primaries and institute a tiered choice contest in which any candidate could win, weakening the influence of far-right voters who decide the most Republican. primary.
On Capitol Hill on Saturday, Ms Murkowski said she owed her constituents to vote the way she did. “If I can’t say what I believe our president should stand for, then why should I ask the Alaskans to support me?” she told reporters.
And in a scathing statement on Sunday, Ms Murkowski explained why she found Mr Trump guilty.
“If months of lies, organize a rally of supporters in an effort to thwart the work of Congress, encourage a crowd to march on Capitol Hill, then take no meaningful action to stop the violence once it has started.” is not worthy of impeachment, conviction and disqualification, ”she said,“ I can’t imagine what it is. “
Republicans had viewed Ms Murkowski as a likely senator to defect, along with Ms Collins. The two have previously linked arms to break with their party in important votes, including when they helped support a Republican-led effort to dismantle the Affordable Care Act. Ms Collins was re-elected in November, triumphing in a brutal contest few expected her to win, as voters reaffirmed their support for her long independent streak.
“This impeachment trial is not about a single word President Trump spoke on January 6, 2021,” Ms. Collins said in a Senate speech on Saturday. Rather, it is President Trump’s failure to abide by the oath he took on January 20, 2017. His actions to interfere with the peaceful transition of power – the hallmark of our Constitution and our American democracy – were a abuse of power and constitute grounds for conviction.
In the weeks leading up to the impeachment trial, Ms Collins huddled into several Zoom meetings with a team of attorneys, including outside advisers and members of her staff, to discuss the constitutionality of Judy’s trial. a former president and the possibility for Mr. Trump to hold a trial. defense based on his right to free speech, according to Richard H. Fallon Jr., professor of law at Harvard and adviser to Ms. Collins who participated in the discussions.
“I don’t think there was any substantial disagreement at the end on constitutional points,” he said.
Mr. Cassidy’s vote to condemn was less expected. A gastroenterologist who was easily re-elected in November for a second term, he is a reliable curator. But he has shown a growing willingness in recent weeks to topple his party in an effort to work with Mr. Biden and his fellow Democrats, and clearly less interest in Mr. Trump’s humor.
This approach has had an intense impact at home. The Louisiana Republican Party on Saturday offered to censor him for his vote, and Mr. Cassidy said people would be “appalled at how negative the comments on his Facebook page had become.
But he also said he had received “quite a bit of support” in texts and voter appeals – and that he expected that sentiment to grow.
“The president spent two months building this,” Mr. Cassidy said. “It’s going to be hard; people just don’t give up a deeply held belief in someone they trust, just like that. But the more the facts come out, the more people will move to this position. “
For his colleagues who are retiring, voters’ reactions were less worrying. Neither Mr. Burr nor Mr. Toomey were a particularly vocal critic of Mr. Trump while in office, and both were fiercely conservative on matters of policy, especially Mr. Toomey, a fiscal hawk and former president of the Pro-Business Club for Growth.
But the two mingled with the former president in their own way. While Mr. Trump continued to falsely claim he won the election, Mr. Toomey strongly pushed back and went so far as to criticize his own colleagues for trying to overturn the results.
Mr Burr, then chairman of the Intelligence Committee, subpoenaed Donald Trump Jr.’s testimony in 2019 as part of his work leading the only bipartisan congressional inquiry into Russian election interference. The son of the former president responded by launching a political war against the senator in an attempt to turn his party against him.
Perhaps the most predictable votes came from two of Mr. Trump’s most harsh criticisms in the Senate: Mr. Sasse and Mr. Romney, who was the only Republican to vote to convict Mr. Trump in his first trial of dismissal.
While the two senators have used equally scathing language to excuse the former president, they are at very different points in their careers. Mr. Romney, 73, after trying and failing to reach the White House, has positioned himself as a former statesman trying to deflect the party from Mr. Trump’s influence, regardless of the political fallout . Mr Sasse, 48, young and ambitious, has banked his hopes on leading a post-Trump Republican party.
Now Mr. Sasse faces censorship threats from the Nebraska Republican Party. An effort last year by a Republican Utah lawmaker to censor Mr. Romney for his first impeachment vote fell flat after the state’s Republican governor defended the senator, who faces re-election in 2024.
It is not known how much the seven senators discussed the verdict ahead of Saturday’s vote. But Mr. Cassidy quietly shared his decision with Mr. Burr during closing arguments in the trial, surreptitiously passing the North Carolina Republican a note in the Senate.
“I am a yes”, he said.
Mr. Burr nodded in silent agreement.
Emily cochrane and Nicolas fandos contribution to reports.