Seven Republicans Voted To Convict Trump. Where Does The GOP Go From Here? : The NPR Politics Podcast Seven Republican senators voted to convict former President Donald Trump of inciting an insurrection, making this impeachment the most bipartisan in history. But some of those senators are already facing backlash. As the GOP continues to decide what its future will look like, President Biden forges ahead with his plan to combat the pandemic.

This episode: White House correspondent Tamara Keith, congressional editor Deirdre Walsh, and national political correspondent Mara Liasson.

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Seven Republicans Voted To Convict Trump. Where Does The GOP Go From Here?

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Seven Republicans Voted To Convict Trump. Where Does The GOP Go From Here?

Seven Republicans Voted To Convict Trump. Where Does The GOP Go From Here?

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/968099931/968102470" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

JJ: Hi. My name is J.J. (ph), and I'm calling in from San Francisco, Calif. I just finished dropping off my new puppy at puppy school. This podcast was recorded at...

TAMARA KEITH, HOST:

9:42 a.m. on Monday, the 15 of February - President's Day.

JJ: Things might have changed by the time you hear this. Here's the show.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE BIGTOP ORCHESTRA'S "TEETER BOARD: FOLIES BERGERE (MARCH AND TWO-STEP)")

KEITH: Let me just say that little Rocket (ph), my puppy, also needs puppy boot camp desperately.

DEIRDRE WALSH, BYLINE: My puppy's sleeping next to me.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: And so is mine, but he's not a puppy.

KEITH: Aw. Well, let's see if any of these little critters wakes up for this podcast.

Hey there. It's the NPR POLITICS PODCAST. I'm Tamara Keith. I cover the White House.

WALSH: I'm Deirdre Walsh, congressional editor.

LIASSON: And I'm Mara Liasson, national political correspondent.

KEITH: On Saturday, seven Republican senators and all 50 Democratic senators voted to convict former President Trump for inciting an insurrection that attacked a coequal branch of government. Those seven Republican votes weren't enough to convict Trump, but this will also go down in history as the most bipartisan impeachment in history. The question looming over them now, though, is, will there be consequences for their votes? I think we know the answer, Deirdre.

WALSH: (Laughter) We do. There already have been some consequences.

KEITH: Remarkably fast.

WALSH: So, Tam, the seven Republicans that voted that Donald Trump was guilty of inciting an insurrection were Richard Burr from North Carolina, Bill Cassidy from Louisiana, Susan Collins from Maine, Lisa Murkowski from Alaska, Mitt Romney from Utah, Ben Sasse from Nebraska and Pat Toomey from Pennsylvania.

And pretty swiftly, the consequences started to come after the vote on Saturday. In Louisiana, the state Republican Party voted to censure Bill Cassidy. In North Carolina, the head of the Republican Party there put out a statement saying - about Burr's vote - his no vote in a trial that he had declared unconstitutional is shocking and disappointing. The person who's going to face the most swift backlash is Alaska Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski because, of the seven, she's the one up for reelection in the 2022 midterms.

KEITH: Yeah.

WALSH: The thing that will help Murkowski is there is a new primary system for the next election where they have an open primary system and ranked choice voting. So voters in the state can rank their preference on the primary ballot. So it does help her a little bit, but there's no doubt about it, she will face backlash. I mean, Alaska voted strongly for President Trump in the 2020 election.

KEITH: 2022 is a long way off, but I think that this is the beginning of starting to understand what a post-Trump Republican Party looks like. And these censures coming from state parties are reminiscent of what happened with House Republican Liz Cheney, who faced incredible backlash from her party, even from fellow House members, one of whom went to her state to hold a rally against her after she voted to impeach President Trump. Mara, do you have any sense of - I don't know - what all this says about where the Republican Party is going?

LIASSON: The Republican Party is as deeply split as any party I can imagine in modern American political history. A circular firing squad doesn't even do it justice. I mean, to have members campaigning against other incumbents openly, to have these censure votes - the Republican Party post-Trump is really not post-Trump at all because he is still the major factor, the most dominant person in the party. He's going to be the kingmaker. He's going to decide who he endorses in these primaries. He's promised to take revenge and back primary challenges to anyone who opposed him.

I think yesterday you saw it in full display on the Sunday shows. You had Senator Cassidy, who, of course, voted to convict, saying the party is bigger than one man; we're a party of ideas. Then you had Lindsey Graham saying Lara Trump is the future of the Republican Party. There you have it.

KEITH: Yeah. And Lara Trump is President Trump's daughter-in-law. She is the wife of Eric Trump.

LIASSON: I guess she represents a kind of family dynasty. She might run for Senate in North Carolina for the seat being vacated by Richard Burr. So there you have the two views. The future of the party is still a cult of personality, a Trump family dynasty, a Trump party. And then you have people who think the party should be bigger than just one man. As Ben Sasse said, it's - shouldn't be the weird worship of one dude. And you even have talk about people - Republicans splitting off and forming a third party, a kind of alternative to the Trump party.

WALSH: I think you also have the two top Republicans in Washington sort of having completely different strategies. You have, you know, the Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, who's effectively the top Republican now in Washington now that Trump is gone, you know, sort of in open warfare with the former president, you know, sort of scorching him on the Senate floor after the trial, even though he voted not guilty. He's - clearly wants to move on from Trump. But then you have this House Republican leader, Kevin McCarthy, who's already gone down to Mar-a-Lago and locked in Trump's support to help him win back the House in 2022.

LIASSON: But Deirdre, I have a question about Mitch McConnell. He voted to acquit and then gave a speech that described all the ways Trump was guilty. So did he - is he going to succeed in having it both ways? Which is the operative thing here, the vote - the - McConnell's vote to acquit or McConnell's criticism of Trump?

WALSH: Probably his vote to acquit. I mean, I think he made it clear in an interview after the vote with Politico that he's very focused on the 2022 midterms. And he said, you know, I will vote for candidates who are, you know, pro-Trump candidates, and I will vote for, you know, other Republican candidates. For him, the issue is electability and picking up that one seat in the Senate that would make him the Senate majority leader again. I don't know if he can have it both ways. I mean, the Trump base is very angry with Mitch McConnell.

KEITH: The one person we haven't really heard from in the way we're used to is President Trump. He did put out a statement after the vote to acquit, but it wasn't a traditionally Trumpy (ph) statement. He hasn't had the use of Twitter. He hasn't done any interviews. Aides I've spoken to say they are not anticipating any imminent post-acquittal celebration-type event. I don't know what his next move is. He's been very quiet, probably because he was facing a trial. But now what?

LIASSON: Now what - that is the huge question. He says that the movement is just beginning. We don't know what he's going to do. If he wanted to, he could have 10 cameras on him every single day at the drop of the hat, and he hasn't done that. The other thing we don't know about is all of the other legal jeopardy, the legal cases that he faces, both civil and criminal. Also, we don't know if there's going to be a January 6 commission, like the 9/11 Commission, which will keep January 6 and the events there and his involvement in them alive all the way up till maybe the 2022 elections. There are a lot of unanswered questions, but Trump is still a huge factor.

KEITH: Real quick, before we go to a break, I'm wondering about the Democrats. In the end, Democrats sort of backed down, and they didn't call witnesses. They didn't push this trial further. And there was some backlash about that. Like, why'd you guys back down if you had the votes to get witnesses and potentially take this further? Is there any fallout for Democrats from this trial?

WALSH: I mean, I think if there is a bipartisan 9/11-style commission that does a thorough investigation of January 6 and more things come out, I mean, I think you could look back at the decision to back down from having witnesses, and it could - Democrats could look, you know, worse in hindsight. But I think they made the call that they weren't going to be able to change any Senate votes. There was one of the impeachment managers, Stacey Plaskett, on the Sunday show, saying it wasn't about getting more witnesses; it was about getting more senators with spines. So I think they just made the call that wasn't going to affect the votes, and they didn't want to tie up the Senate for weeks, postponing the president's agenda.

KEITH: All right. We are going to take a quick break. And when we get back, President Biden said the substance of the charges against President Trump are not in dispute, even if he was acquitted. Now that it's over, what happens next with Biden's agenda?

And we're back. And I know we just talked a lot about impeachment, but it is over, and that means all eyes will be back on President Biden and his plan to tackle the coronavirus pandemic. Tomorrow, he flies to Wisconsin for a televised town hall to push for his $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan. Thursday, he visits a Pfizer plant, where they're making vaccines, in Michigan. And point of personal privilege here - I think we could make an argument that what happens with the pandemic, what happens with the economy, whether this vaccine rollout gets better and faster - it could matter a lot more to the next election in 2022 than anything that happened in this impeachment trial.

WALSH: Well, I agree with you, Tam. I do think that what happens with the response to the pandemic is going to be a key issue in the 2022 midterms. So while the Senate impeachment trial was going on, House Democrats were working in various committees to write the details of the $1.9 trillion package to actually put it into legislation that they could send to the Senate so they can use that process called budget reconciliation to pass it with just a simple majority.

And progressives in the House put in some things in their version of the package that we'll have to see whether they'll survive in the Senate. You know, they added the $15 minimum wage that even President Biden said he wasn't sure would survive in the Senate. And they included the $1,400 stimulus check payments, but they did not target them in a way that some moderate Democrats and Republicans have been saying they should be targeted so that they go to sort of a smaller group of Americans.

KEITH: Mara, where do things stand in selling this to the American people?

LIASSON: Well, so far, the American Rescue Plan is popular with the American people. It's popular with Democrats and Republicans. Republicans in Congress might not like it, but people want help from the federal government. You know, Joe Biden ran on this. He was the one who was going to be able to get vaccines distributed, get the pandemic under control and, most importantly, open up the economy, first and foremost, opening schools. I think there's no better symbol of life getting back to normal than schools being open.

So I think that his team in the White House understands this. That's why they're pushing so hard for something really big and really fast - because they know that he needs to get this under control by the summer, and they are willing to forgo Republican votes in order to get a big package passed fast. I think that if they could've gotten Republican votes on reconciliation - maybe three, four or five of them - and still have a package that was well over a trillion dollars, they would've done that. But I haven't talked to any Democrat who is optimistic they can get that kind of Republican buy-in.

KEITH: Yeah. Mara, I think you said something really important when you mentioned the schools. You know, I think Biden is under a ton of pressure here. And this is a high-wire act where a lot of things could go wrong, where the rollout could have glitches, where vaccines could - you know, there could be a failure on distribution or production and - you know, or there could be variants. And then you have a lot of parents who are incredibly frustrated with the situation of the schools being closed or partially closed. And I mean, I guess the question I have is, at this point, does he completely own this?

WALSH: Republicans want to make him. Yeah.

LIASSON: I think that if he doesn't own it right now, he's going to own it in a couple months. His team in the White House is acting like they own it. In other words, they don't think that he can get away with saying, oh, Trump made such a mess. And here it is, a year into my administration, and I'm still cleaning it up. That's not going to fly.

KEITH: So in terms of the American Rescue Plan and Biden's efforts to get this through Congress, where does that stand now? What are you watching for? What are the next big steps, the big tests?

WALSH: Well, the clock is ticking, and Congress is under a tight deadline. And they don't always deal well with tight deadlines.

KEITH: They don't deal well with long deadlines either, though.

WALSH: That's true. But the House will come back next week and vote on the package and then send it to the Senate. And the goal is to have the package finished and sent to President Biden ahead of the March 14 mark, which is when the current enhanced unemployment benefits will run out. So they don't want folks who are in the most need to not get the help they need.

KEITH: Yeah, that is a very big deadline that is very real to a lot of people. And we will be following this very closely. That is a wrap for today. You can find all the ways to stay connected with us by following the links in the description of this episode.

I'm Tamara Keith. I cover the White House.

WALSH: I'm Deirdre Walsh, congressional editor.

LIASSON: And I'm Mara Liasson, national political correspondent.

KEITH: And thank you for listening to the NPR POLITICS PODCAST.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE BIGTOP ORCHESTRA'S "TEETER BOARD: FOLIES BERGERE (MARCH AND TWO-STEP)")

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