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Analysis

Republicans meet violent insurrection with calls for unity instead of punishment for Trump

“The president touched the hot stove on Wednesday and is unlikely to touch it again,” said GOP Senator Roy Blunt. He said he doesn’t think President Trump should resign.
“The president touched the hot stove on Wednesday and is unlikely to touch it again,” said GOP Senator Roy Blunt. He said he doesn’t think President Trump should resign.Rod Lamkey - Pool via CNP/Associated Press

As House Democrats speed toward impeaching President Trump for a second time, numerous Republicans declared that holding the commander in chief accountable for inciting a violent assault on Congress would further divide the nation and urged their colleagues to turn the page for the sake of unity and healing.

“It is past time for all of us to try to heal our country and move forward,” lectured GOP Senator Lindsey Graham, one of Trump’s staunchest allies for the past four years and a supporter of the president’s false claims that the election was beset by widespread fraud.

“If Democrats say they want unity, this isn’t the way to show it,” scolded Representative Ted Budd, Republican of North Carolina, who voted to overturn the 2020 election results last week, despite results being certified in every state and courts knocking down dozens of challenges.

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Their comments echoed Trump’s own take on the push to impeach him again. Speaking publicly for the first time since the day of the siege, Trump on Tuesday called the effort a “continuation of the greatest witch hunt in the history of politics” and said it is “causing tremendous danger to our country.”

Republicans’ eagerness to sprint past an event without precedent in American history — which left five people dead, including a Capitol Police officer killed by an angry mob — marks the culmination of more than four years of GOP officials taking cover under platitudes in place of principled action.

Once again, many Republican lawmakers appear ruled by fear that crossing Trump will upend their own political prospects — or perhaps, as some critics charge, a cynical desire to curry favor with the president’s most ardent supporters. Several polls conducted in recent days show that a large majority of Republican voters oppose Trump’s immediate removal.

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Whatever their motivation, many GOP lawmakers continue to balk at holding Trump accountable for his lies about the the integrity of the 2020 election, even after the president’s furious commitment to those lies threatened their own lives.

Mere hours after insurrectionists ransacked the Capitol, nearly 150 Republican lawmakers went ahead and did just what Trump, and the mob he incited, wanted: Voted in favor of overturning Joe Biden’s electoral victory, citing the same lies about the election being tainted by widespread voter fraud that inspired the mob.

A small group of Republicans who voted to accept Biden’s victory also sent Biden a letter urging the president-elect to prevent House Speaker Nancy Pelosi from pursuing impeachment “in the spirit of healing and fidelity to our Constitution.” They warned that a second impeachment of Trump is as “unnecessary as it is inflammatory.”

Biden has said he’s leaving the decision to pursue impeachment up to Congress.

Democrats remain undeterred, united in rage at last week’s violent assault on the Capitol, in which a mob of pro-Trump supporters broke through security lines, shattered windows, pillaged congressional offices, smeared feces in marble hallways, and sent lawmakers, aides, and journalists into hiding.

The House on Tuesday night approved a resolution urging Vice President Mike Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment to the Constitution to remove Trump with a Cabinet vote, although Pence had already said he would not do so.

So on Wednesday, House Democrats plan to impeach Trump for “inciting violence against the Government of the United States.” The move will make Trump the only president to be impeached twice.

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And many experts warn that turning the page too quickly risks dangerous consequences for national security and the resilience of American democracy.

“It’s vital to our national security that the President’s effort to use a mob to disrupt the Constitutional process that was underway in the Capitol be condemned in the strongest possible way,” said Suzanne Spaulding, a national security expert and director of the Defending Democratic Institutions project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a bipartisan think tank. “We can’t risk a repeat of this affront to the Republic and to our Constitution.”

“Our adversaries are watching and they are gauging the strength of our democracy,” Spaulding added.

Radicalized Trump supporters are watching, too. The FBI has warned of forces planning armed protests in both Washington and state capitals across the country in coming days ahead of Biden’s inauguration, though the agency said it didn’t have any specific intelligence about plans for an armed protest at the Massachusetts State House.

Laurence Tribe, a constitutional legal scholar at Harvard, said it’s dangerous to move past last week’s violent siege without action. He supports the move to impeach.

“If he can’t be convicted on the basis of what we have now, and if the idea of appeasement and peace sort of prevails, then we have effectively removed the impeachment clause from the Constitution. It will be gone. It will be a dead letter,” said Tribe, who has advised Biden for decades.

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A handful of Republicans have refrained from joining the Kumbaya chorus.

On Tuesday, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell indicated he believed Trump had committed impeachable offenses, and a handful of House Republicans, including Representative Liz Cheney, a member of GOP leadership, said they would vote to impeach Trump.

Senators Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, both Republicans, have called for Trump to resign, with Toomey acknowledging that Trump has committed “impeachable offenses.” Murkowski suggested in an interview with her home state newspaper she may leave the Republican party if it “has become nothing more than the party of Trump.”

Nebraska GOP Senator Ben Sasse said he would “consider” impeachment articles when the House sends them to the Senate.

Senator Mitt Romney, a Utah Republican and former Massachusetts governor, has remained silent on the issue, but he was the only Republican who voted to convict Trump in his first impeachment trial. When the Senate reconvened late last Wednesday, Romney described the siege as an “insurrection incited by the president.”

But far louder are the voices from the Republican Party calling for everyone to just move on.

“The president touched the hot stove on Wednesday and is unlikely to touch it again,” said GOP Senator Roy Blunt, a member of McConnell’s leadership team, who also said he doesn’t think Trump should resign.

Many Republicans seemed more upset that Twitter, Facebook, and other online platforms had banned Trump and others than they were with Trump’s incitement of the riot.

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Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, who helped lead the charge in the Senate to dispute the presidential election results, has spent more time on Twitter railing against “Big Tech” and critics calling for his resignation than condemning the violence that occurred.

For now, few if any Democrats appear swayed by the Republican calls for “unity.” House Democrats say they have the votes to impeach Trump when the resolution comes to the floor Wednesday, and they’re actively working to bring at least some of their Republican colleagues on board.

And many of them are calling out their Republican peers forcefully.

“I’m glad that all it took for you to call for unity and healing was for our freedom and democracy to be attacked,” House Rules Chairman Jim McGovern, Democrat from Worcester, told GOP Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, who was among those who voted to overturn Biden’s victory last week, as the committee on Tuesday debated the resolution calling on Pence to use the 25th Amendment.

McGovern repeatedly pressed Jordan to acknowledge that Biden won the election fairly, but Jordan declined.

Representative Katherine Clark of Melrose, the fourth-ranking leader of the House Democratic caucus, told the Globe she has trouble finding the words to describe the “hypocrisy” of Republicans who have enabled Trump in dividing this country over the course of his presidency.

“To call for unity now — it is so galling and so amoral of them to not take any accountability for what they have done, and the destruction they have caused,” she said.

Liz Goodwin of Globe staff contributed to this story.


Victoria McGrane can be reached at victoria.mcgrane@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @vgmac.