McConnell says Trump ‘provoked’ the Capitol attackers

McConnell says Trump ‘provoked’ the Capitol attackers

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday said President Donald Trump “provoked” the rioters who stormed the Capitol earlier this month as Congress was certifying the presidential election results, his strongest condemnation yet of the outgoing president’s actions that led to the violent insurrection targeting lawmakers.

McConnell’s remarks come as the Senate is awaiting formal transmission of the House’s impeachment article passed last week, which charged Trump with “willful incitement of insurrection.” The Kentucky Republican, who will soon become the minority leader when Democrats take control of the chamber later this week, has not yet said whether he would vote to convict the president in the Senate’s upcoming trial, which will begin after President-elect Joe Biden is inaugurated and immediately once Pelosi sends the article across the Capitol.

“The mob was fed lies,” McConnell said on the Senate floor on the last full day of Trump’s presidency. “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. But we pressed on.”

The House impeached Trump last week in a bipartisan vote, with 10 Republicans joining all Democrats. After the House vote, McConnell signaled to his fellow Republicans that he is open to conviction, even as some GOP senators have questioned whether the Constitution allows the Senate to put a former president on trial.

Several Republicans have similarly critiqued the president’s rhetoric, in particular his speech the morning of the Jan. 6 riots in which he repeated his false claims of voter fraud and continued to insist, without evidence, that the election was “stolen” from him. Even many of the House Republicans who opposed impeaching Trump said his posture was “reckless,” and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said the president bears responsibility for the attack on the Capitol.

McConnell has done little to help the president or defend him in the wake of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. Last year, McConnell vigorously defended the president ahead of his first impeachment trial and declared that there was “no chance” that Trump would be removed from office. This time around, he is keeping an open mind, raising the possibility that the Senate could reach the two-thirds threshold required to convict the president and force a vote to bar him from holding federal office in the future.

Conviction in the Senate would require the support of all 50 Democrats plus at least 17 Republicans.

Even before the mob stormed the Capitol, McConnell was vigorously opposed to the Trump-backed efforts to object to the Electoral College certifications from a handful of swing states where Biden won. Ultimately, eight GOP senators and more than 130 House members objected to a slate of electors — even after the Capitol was violently desecrated. The objections went nowhere, though, and the House and Senate certified Biden’s victory.

“We stood together and said an angry mob would not get veto power over the rule of law in our nation, not even for one night,” McConnell added on Tuesday. “We certified the people’s choice for their 46th president.”

McConnell initially defended Trump’s right to challenge the election results in individual states, deferring to the president’s long-shot lawsuits. But those legal challenges eventually crumbled in court, prompting Republicans to acknowledge that Biden would indeed be sworn in on Jan. 20.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), the incoming majority leader, insisted that despite Pelosi’s delay, the Senate will soon hold an impeachment trial. He said Trump should be barred from ever holding office again.

Schumer and other top Democrats have sought to focus the opening days of their Senate majority on staffing Biden’s Cabinet and passing additional Covid-19 relief measures alongside holding an impeachment trial, though that could prove to be difficult given the all-encompassing nature of the trial process.

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