Donald Trump’s defenders in the Senate have rallied around him, dismissing his impeachment trial as a waste of time and arguing his fiery speech before the US Capitol insurrection doesn’t make him responsible.
“If being held accountable means being impeached by the House and being convicted by the Senate, the answer to that is no,” said Republican Senator Roger Wicker on Monday (AEDT), making clear his belief Mr Trump should, and will be acquitted.
Asked if Congress could consider other punishment such as censure, Mr Wicker said the Democratic-led House had that option earlier but rejected it.
“That ship has sailed,” he said.
The Senate will launch the impeachment trial on Tuesday (local time) to consider the charge Mr Trump’s fighting words to protesters at a Capitol rally as well as weeks of falsehoods about a stolen and rigged presidential election provoked a mob to storm the Capitol on January 6.
Many senators including Republican leader Mitch McConnell immediately denounced the violence and blamed Mr Trump.
Following the riot, Mr Wicker said Americans “will not stand for this kind of attack on the rule of law” and without naming names, said “we must prosecute” those who undermine democracy.
But with Mr Trump now gone from the presidency, Republicans have shown little appetite for further action, such as an impeachment conviction that could lead to barring him from future office.
Those partisan divisions appear to be hardening in a sign of Mr Trump’s continuing grip on the GOP.
On Sunday, Mr Wicker described the trial as a “meaningless messaging partisan exercise”.
Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky dismissed it as a farce with “zero chance of conviction”, describing his words to protesters to “fight like hell” as “figurative” speech.
He also noted Chief Justice John Roberts had declined to preside over the impeachment proceeding because Mr Trump was no longer president.
“It is a farce, it is unconstitutional. But more than anything it’s unwise and going to divide the country,” Senator Paul said.
Last month, he forced a vote to set aside the trial as unconstitutional because Mr Trump is no longer in office, which legal experts say is disputable.
But the vote suggested the near impossibility in reaching a conviction in a Senate where Democrats hold 50 seats but a two-thirds vote – or 67 senators – would be needed.
Forty-four Republican senators sided with Senator Paul and voted to oppose holding an impeachment trial at all.
Five joined with Democrats to reject Senator Paul’s motion: Mitt Romney of Utah, Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania.