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Bill Straub: Impeachment of Trump, as McConnell surprises with apparent approval and maneuvering

Now that President Donald J. Trump, aka Loser, has been impeached for an unprecedented second time – not the sort of dubious achievement one usually wants to include on the old resume – his ultimate fate may be left in the hands of the man who salvaged his worthless orange carcass the first time around.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch “Root-‘n-Branch” McConnell, of Louisville, you may remember, tanked the initial effort to remove Trump from office during a Senate impeachment trial a little more than a year ago. At that time, McConnell rejected efforts to call witnesses or issue subpoenas regarding Trump’s effort to essentially bribe Ukraine President Vladimir Zelenskiy into opening an investigation into the business dealings of Hunter Biden, the son of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.

Without the introduction of any real evidence, Trump was acquitted. McConnell’s sizeable thumb on the scale of justice was obviously appalling, part of his non-stop endeavor to place party over country, a due epitaph that should be etched into his gravestone at the appropriate moment.
So it seemed logical to think that ol’ Root-‘n-Branch would once again step to the plate and bat cleanup for the man he has enabled for almost four years, continuing his practice of refusing to condemn Trump’s most atrocious conduct while allowing him to operate like the petty thief he is.
It’s been an altogether embarrassing and damaging display.

The NKyTribune’s Washington columnist Bill Straub served 11 years as the Frankfort Bureau chief for The Kentucky Post. He also is the former White House/political correspondent for Scripps Howard News Service. A member of the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, he currently resides in Silver Spring, Maryland, and writes frequently about the federal government and politics. Email him at williamgstraub@gmail.com

But something changed as Mitch trudged from the on-deck circle to the batter’s box during this most recent brouhaha. From all indications, McConnell looks approvingly at permanently dismissing this national menace known as Donald J. Trump from the body politic, perhaps rendering him the first president actually expelled from office via impeachment.

So, what gives? Has Addison Mitchell McConnell suddenly recognized the error of his ways, atoned and become the statesman everyone dreamed about?

Fat chance. It’s all wrapped up in politics. Rest assured that McConnell has future Senate elections in mind. And dumping Trump at this stage may ultimately prove beneficial to the Grand Old Party.

It bears noting, first of all, that Trump really stepped in it this time. He has spent the last two months insisting the election that deprived him of a second four-year term was “rigged” and that he actually outpolled Biden, although the count showed the Democrat besting him by 7 million votes while picking up 305 electoral votes, substantially more than required.

Trump has whined and hissed about it ad nauseum, berating GOP officials who screwed up the courage to tell the president he’s all wet. He’s gone so far as to pressure the secretary of state of Georgia to find the votes necessary to put him over the top in the Peach State, a move that in and of itself is likely fodder for impeachment.

But Trump went over the top – way over the top – last week when thousands of supporters hit Washington DC hoping to convince Congress to reject the tally of the Electoral College officially making Biden the president-elect. Addressing what turned out to be a mob – leading one friend to ask “So who stayed home tending the meth lab?” – Trump incited a riot, telling his supporters, among other things, that “we are going to have to fight much harder,” calling the election “this egregious assault on our democracy” and urging the crowd to “walk down to the Capitol.”

They did and proceeded to terrorize members of Congress, force Vice President Mike Pence into hiding, trash the home of the national legislature and bully law enforcement in the most violent and vicious invasion of the Capitol since the War of 1812. Five people died, including a member of the Capitol Police force beaten to death by rioters. Some armed participants sought to take hostages. A gallows was constructed outside that magnificent building.

Among those forced to flee and find a secure spot was McConnell, who earlier drew Trump’s wrath by acknowledging that Biden was, indeed, the president-elect and, in a speech that serves as the highlight of his tenure as Republican leader, insisted there was no widespread fraud involved in the tally. He urged a peaceful transition.

It’s fair to say that sticking up for Trump under these circumstances would prove difficult, even for someone like Mitch who has spent a considerable amount of time defending the indefensible in the president’s behalf. Yet it was surprising when word began circulating that McConnell had indeed concluded that the president committed impeachable offenses and that he might actually walk off the reservation and vote to give the president the heave-ho when the opportunity presented itself.

At first glance McConnell’s position is shocking because of its potential impact on the party he represents, a consideration that has always laid heavily on his shoulders, often to the nation’s detriment. He undoubtedly recalls 1974 when the election was held in wake of the Watergate scandal, leading to the resignation of President Richard Nixon, a Republican, when the potential for impeachment and expulsion were sitting on his doorstep. Democrats gained four Senate seats that year and 49 in the House.

But it’s also true that congressional Republicans began the process of impeaching President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, for, shall we say, not sticking resolutely to his marriage vows, less than a month before the 1998 off-year elections. Neither party gained a seat in the Senate. Democrats picked up for in the House. So who knows how the voting public will react to the latest contretemps.

Republicans just lost their Senate majority. The next congressional election is two years hence and it finds the Republican Party having to defend 22 of the 34 open seats, a tall order even in the best of times, which these are not. The current fracas doesn’t help the prospects.

Then there are the corporate donors who pitch millions of dollars into GOP coffers. Given the events of the last two months an untold number are making it known that they’re not enthusiastic about opening the money spigot with a twice-impeached sociopath as the titular head of the party. Ken Langone, the billionaire co-founder of Home Depot who has been writing huge checks to the Republican Party for years, made it known this week that the ransacking of the Capitol was a “disgrace,” that he feels betrayed by Trump, and that he will support Biden when he assumes office.

Langone is not alone. You can bet McConnell has been getting an earful over the debacle.

Impeachment would also provide McConnell with an opportunity to change the party’s image before the walls start tumbling down. Currently, the Republican Party is viewed as the Trump Party and that the scandal-plagued grifters will continue to pull the political levers outside of office as he prepares for a comeback in 2024. Impeachment would to some extent at least oust Trump from his majestic status and halt any attempt to return to the White House in its tracks – conviction in the Senate would prohibit him from running again.

But there’s an issue with McConnell’s own status that the self-described Grim Reaper must face. Voicing support for Trump’s impeachment would be tantamount to ol’ Root-‘n-Branch admitting that he miscalculated, that placing his faith in a two-bit hustler with the conscience of a sewer rat over the past four years was probably not the best strategy for strengthening the Republican Party and aiding the nation. It’s obvious from his demeanor that Mitch never swooned over Donnie Boy, that he was only using the worthless cad as a dupe to further his own agenda. Now his get-along-to-go-along relationship has come back to bite him.

McConnell never admits a mistake. Never. Now, by indicating he favors impeachment, he is essentially doing so. But his reversal comes with little cost. He was just re-elected, he’s already lost the majority, he will be 79-years old next month which means this is probably his last rodeo, and he doesn’t care what anyone thinks about him, which means he’s willing to take the heat to protect his GOP colleagues, advance the party and go happily about dialing for dollars.

Regardless, any effort to fit Mitch McConnell with a statesman’s jacket is misguided. Yes, he gave a great speech about the peaceful transfer of power. Yes, he might very well vote for impeachment.

But he’s playing both sides against the middle.

How? Well, he has announced that he will not call the Senate back into session until Jan. 19, the day before Biden’s inauguration, meaning there will be no impeachment trial until Trump is unceremoniously kicked out of office. Actually, at this juncture, any effort to call lawmakers back before that date requires unanimous consent, meaning an objection from just one of the 100 senators would spell doom.

What’s more, McConnell’s office has notified Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer, of New York, that he will not invoke the emergency authorities adopted in 2004 to call lawmakers back to town because of “intervening circumstances.”

If the Jan. 19 date holds, McConnell might not even be positioned to call the shots -– the two newly-elected senators from Georgia, handing Democrats the majority, could be sworn in as early as Jan. 15, meaning Schumer, not Mitch, will be in charge. And while conviction at an impeachment trial won’t force Trump’s removal from office, it assures he will never hold that office again.

That means Mitch won’t have to face the music associated with scheduling an impeachment trial, satisfying the Trumpsters. His delay until Jan. 19 means Trump won’t be forcibly removed. And his vote will give the party some cover and open up the flow of dollars once again.

There might be some name for McConnell’s maneuvering, but it ain’t statesmanship.

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