Senate Republicans: Votes to convict Trump are few -- and dwindling

Why did Chuck Schumer suddenly appear open to delaying Donald Trump’s impeachment trial a few weeks? Perhaps he has already heard what Senate Republicans told The Hill’s Alexander Bolton — that a conviction won’t happen, let alone the vote on disqualification. Now that Trump has left office and the threat of a conviction appears to have worked to shut him down his last few days in office, they no longer need to wield conviction as a threat:

Only five or six Republican senators at the most seem likely to vote for impeachment, far fewer than the number needed, GOP sources say. …

One significant development is that Trump decided not to pardon any of the individuals charged with taking part in the Capitol riot, which would have lost him more Republican support.

“I thought if he pardoned people who had been part of this invasion of the Capitol, that would have pushed the number higher because that would have said, ‘These are my guys,’” said one Republican senator, who requested anonymity to speak about how GOP senators are likely to vote.

Oddly enough, Twitter and Facebook might have saved Senate Republicans by effectively gagging Trump in the final two weeks of his presidency. Had Trump continued his social-media ranting and stirred up another demonstration (or two), this situation would look a lot different. Of course, Trump might have read the writing on the wall after several Republicans in both chambers started expressing support for impeachment, as Trump never availed himself of the traditional “bully pulpit” of the briefing room or Oval Office either.

So in that sense, most Senate Republicans might feel that they can declare mission accomplished. They used their leverage not just to shut down Trump but to make sure that Trump didn’t abuse his pardon authority to let the rioters off the hook, as some surely worried he would — especially with the QAnon base and the suspects’ attorneys vocally expecting and demanding it.

Now, they just want to move on, and delaying the trial helps:

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Thursday proposed delaying the start of the trial until mid-February. He is asking for the House impeachment managers to wait until Jan. 28 to present the article of impeachment to the Senate. He wants to give Trump’s legal team until Feb. 11 to submit its pre-trial brief.

This represents a third factor that could blunt political momentum among Republicans to convict Trump, as with each passing day his presidency recedes further and further into the past.

“For the most part there is a real strong consensus among our members that this is after the fact. He’s out of office and impeachment is a remedy to remove somebody from office so there’s the constitutional question,” the second GOP senator said.

If that’s the case, why is Schumer at least taking this request under consideration? Roll Call’s Lindsey McPherson suggests that a delay provides some mutual benefit for Schumer, but that seems a bit thin:

Delaying the trial would appear to be mutually beneficial given that Democrats had already been stressing about how to balance that with their desire to quickly confirm President Joe Biden’s executive nominees and consider additional coronavirus relief legislation.

In a potentially promising sign, Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer did not dismiss McConnell’s suggestion out of hand. …

Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin said Democrats have not coalesced around the notion of a quick trial that could last only a few days.

“You’re going to hear that theory, and you’ll also hear the theory, ‘Take it seriously, handle it in a credible fashion,’” the Illinois Democrat said.

Just a few days ago, Schumer had declared an impeachment trial to be his highest priority, even ahead of the COVID-19 relief bill that Joe Biden proposed last week. Schumer might have mistaken Senate Republicans’ leverage play for enthusiasm for conviction. Now that it’s clear that Schumer won’t have the votes for a quick conviction, he might hope that a longer and more detailed trial will either convince enough Senate Republicans to convict, or pressure them into doing so when the testimony airs out on national television.

In fact, that might be his only chance, and Schumer had better hope to have enough to overcome Senate Republicans’ concerns over 2022. They want to walk a fine line and hope to get the rabid populist base to detach itself from Trump and remain in the GOP tent. That may not be especially courageous, but it’s politically realistic.