Pressure mounted Thursday on Republicans still backing Donald Trump after President Joe Biden said that harrowing video evidence of the January assault on the US Capitol by Trump supporters may change “some minds” in the former president’s impeachment trial.
So far, a large majority of Republicans have stood by Trump, who is accused of inciting insurrection January 6 when a mob of his supporters ransacked the Capitol and tried to stop certification of Biden’s election victory.
That means a conviction, requiring a two-thirds majority in the Senate, is highly unlikely. Trump’s lawyers will get their chance to speak as early as today or Friday when Democratic impeachment managers wrap up their case.
The Trump team argues that the former president cannot be personally blamed for the riot and that the entire trial is unconstitutional because he has already left office.
But Democratic impeachment managers delivered blistering evidence Wednesday in the form of hours of video from security cameras, police bodycams, news footage and cell phone video shot by the rioters themselves.
Biden, trying to stop the impeachment trial from overshadowing his push for a huge economic stimulus package and a rebooted fight against Covid-19, said he “didn’t watch any of the hearing live.”
But he said he’d seen news coverage of the presentation, which showed the country’s most senior politicians fleeing to safety as crowds stoked by Trump’s rhetoric rampaged through the halls of Congress.
The mayhem left five people dead, including one woman shot after she invaded the Capitol and one policeman killed by the crowd.
– Fleeing for their lives –
The January 6 riot broke out after Trump held a rally to repeat his lie that Biden had only won due to vote-rigging and that his vice president, Mike Pence, had to find a way to stop certification of the result.
Pence, who had already stated he had no legal authority to stop certification, then became a target of the crowds’ wrath. Video shows demonstrators screaming insults and declaring Pence a traitor.
Some of the most dramatic segments, using video never before aired in public, made clear to the senators acting as the jury in Trump’s trial that their own lives had been in danger that day.
Pence is seen being hurried down back stairs to safety by security officers, along with his family.
Top Democratic senator Chuck Schumer is seen narrowly dodging a rampaging throng of pro-Trump rioters. And Senator Mitt Romney, a Republican who often opposed Trump and was turned into a hate figure by the president, is seen being steered away by a police officer just as an angry crowd approaches.
In another segment, the mob can be seen smashing into the offices of Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the House of Representatives and another frequent target of Trump’s most violent rhetoric.
“Nancy, where are you Nancy?” protesters call out as they search, not knowing that eight of her staff were barricaded behind a door in the same corridor. Pelosi herself had already been urgently whisked away.
“We know from the rioters themselves that if they had found Speaker Pelosi, they would have killed her,” said impeachment manager Stacey Plaskett, a House delegate from the US Virgin Islands.
– Republicans loyal so far –
Holed up in his luxury Mar-a-Lago club in Florida, Trump has been gone from power for three weeks.
But the trial has put the flamboyant and deeply polarizing Republican back into the centre of the national conversation — and underlined his still-powerful hold over the base of the Republican electorate.
Some Republican senators have expressed disgust with the pro-Trump riot, openly blasted Trump’s refusal to accept defeat to Biden, and acknowledged the compelling case made by the Democrats.
“The evidence that has been presented thus far is pretty damning,” Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski said.
“Of course it’s powerful,” Senator Bill Cassidy said of the chilling footage, but “how that influences final decisions remains to be seen.”
Still, it is highly unlikely Trump will be convicted as it requires a two-thirds majority, meaning 17 Republicans would need to go along with the 50 Democrats.
“I believe at the end there will not be 67 votes to find the president guilty,” Republican strategist Karl Rove told Fox News on Thursday.
But he predicted that “any Republican up for election in 2022 in a tough district or tough state is likely to see this (video) material used against them.”
Unlike Trump’s first impeachment trial a year ago, which took three weeks, this one is expected to be over within days.