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Politics

Pulse Newsletter: Impeaching Trump Would Take 17 Senate Republican Votes. Is Collins One Of Them?

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This week’s historic second impeachment of President Donald Trump by the U.S. House of Representatives is supported by three of Maine’s four members of Congress — and possibly the fourth.

Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins has not said whether she’ll vote to convict or acquit Trump on charges that he incited the mob that breached and ransacked the Capitol on Jan. 6. She’s taking the same position that she did after the House impeached him the first time, arguing that it’s improper to discuss her position because she’ll be a quasi-juror in the president’s upcoming trial in the Senate.

Collins’ reticence is not unique in the Republican conference, where many members have spent the past four years dodging questions about the president’s behavior, enabling him or transparently trying to draft off his cult of personality to further their own ambitions.

The political landscape within the GOP conference seemed to change when the Trump mob breached the Capitol and forced Republicans to flee through the a network of tunnels to a secure location.

Since then several Republican senators, including Collins, have blamed Trump for touching off the Capitol riot with his litany of debunked claims that the presidential election was stolen from him.

“The president does bear responsibility for working up the crowd and inciting this mob,” Collins told Maine Public last week. “It was completely irresponsible.”

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Credit J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press
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Associated Press
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., gavels in the final vote of the impeachment of President Donald Trump, for his role in inciting an angry mob to storm the Congress last week, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021.

Collins’ comment was included in the House Judiciary Committee’s report supporting Trump’s impeachment. She hasn’t said a lot since then.

Nevertheless, reports in the national press suggest a lot is happening behind the scenes in the Senate Republican conference. The most consequential came by way of the New York Times, when it reported that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Trump ally, is pleased that Democrats have moved to impeach the president because it’s a chance to expel Trump from the Republican Party forever.

If the Senate convicts Trump with a two-thirds majority, it could then move to forever bar him from seeking federal office with a simple majority vote, a relatively low threshold given that the trial is likely to take place when Democrats take control of the Senate later this month.

McConnell then sent a message to his conference on Wednesday that left open the possibility that he’s ready to convict the president.

“While the press has been full of speculation, I have not made a final decision on how I will vote and I intend to listen to the legal arguments when they are presented to the Senate,” McConnell wrote.

McConnell’s position is a huge contrast to the one he took when he worked directly with Trump’s impeachment lawyers last year to get the president acquitted of charges that he sought assistance from a foreign government in the election. It also arguably serves as cover for GOP senators like Collins who might want to punish the president, but who also might not want to be among a few of Republicans on the record for doing so.

And right now, only a few Senate Republicans have made public statements indicating that they’re ready.

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Credit Alex Brandon / Associated Press
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Associated Press
Photographers take pictures of the article of impeachment against President Donald Trump on a table before House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., signs it in an engrossment ceremony before transmission to the Senate for trial on Capitol Hill, in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021.

Utah U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney, who voted for one of the two articles of impeachment last year, has blasted the president’s conduct. So has Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Twoomey and Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski. Twoomey has said the president has committed impeachable offenses and “descended into a level of madness.” Romney has said Trump must face serious consequences.

Murkowski — apparently liberated by newly enshrined election laws in her home state that scrap the prospect of a primary challenge in 2022 — told the Anchorage Daily News, “I want him to resign. I want him out. He has caused enough damage.”

It’s important to note that none of the aforementioned Republicans have explicitly said they’re ready to convict Trump. Twoomey, for example, has questioned whether Trump can be legally impeached after he leaves office.

Also noteworthy: Seventeen of the 50 Republicans in the next Senate would need to join Democrats to convict Trump.

That might seem like a big number, especially considering that only 10 House Republicans voted to impeach him this week. Some of those Republicans fear they’ll pay a price that’s not just political.

“Many of us are altering our routines, working to get body armor, which is a reimbursable purchase that we can make,” Michigan Republican Rep. Peter Meijer told MSNBC Thursday. “It’s sad we have to get to that point. But our expectation is that someone may try to kill us.”

Death threats and harassment, as Romney experienced during his flight to D.C. last week, could very well loom for Republican Senators who vote to convict Trump.

One question they’ll likely have to answer for themselves is whether living in fear of that blowback is better than living with it for however long it might last after Trump is gone.

The Unequivocal

When it comes to Trump’s impeachment, independent U.S. Sen. Angus King and U.S. Reps. Chellie Pingree and Jared Golden are not hedging. Not one bit.

“I have no doubt that the president bears responsibility for last week’s assault on the United States Capitol, and I don’t believe there has ever been a clearer case for impeachment, removal from office, and disqualification from holding future public office,” Golden said in a statement after voting to impeach Trump. “This was not a complex debate — last Wednesday’s assault upon the nation and our democracy played out in broad daylight, in front of the entire nation. It was ugly and violent, and those responsible for the violence are guilty of a dark and bitter betrayal of the country.”

Pingree: “The impeachment of President Trump is a first step in a long process of healing in America. This President has spent years spreading dangerous lies deliberately designed to erode trust in our institutions. This is what dictators do and how fascists rise — it is not how American Presidents lead. We cannot stand united when our leader is dedicated to tearing us apart.”

King: “Let’s start with this clear and obvious fact: Donald Trump’s campaign to undermine our democratic system is the single most irresponsible act ever committed by a United States President in our history. He must be held accountable.”

The statements by Pingree and King are not surprising. Both have been repeatedly critical of the president’s conduct. But Golden’s stands out.

Golden’s district has voted for Trump twice, although the Democrat picked up more votes than the president in 2020. He has also picked his spots when criticizing the president, a pattern that often riles Democratic activists.

Golden’s impeachment statement is distinctive because it’s rare for him, but its rarity might also make it more impactful for voters who voted for him and Trump last year.

Light On Dark Money Anti-Corridor Group

The secretive group opposing Central Maine Power’s controversial transmission project is expected to turn over financial statements to the Maine Ethics Commission by the end of the month that could eventually reveal its donors.

Phyllis Gardiner, an assistant attorney general assigned to the commission, told its five-member panel Wednesday that an attorney for the group Stop the Corridor informed her that the documents were forthcoming.

Stop the Corridor in June sued the commission after it voted to require the group to turn over financial data as part of its probe seeking to determine whether the group should file as a political action committee, an act that could reveal the group’s donors.

Stop the Corridor argued that its financial records were beyond the Ethics Commission’s jurisdiction. But a Superior Court judge in December ruled that the commission can obtain the records.

The probe centers on an $85,000 donation from Stop the Corridor to another group opposing the transmission line. The probe was initiated by CMP, which has repeatedly asserted that the group is funded by fossil fuel interests that stand to lose millions of dollars if the $1 billion transmission line bringing Canadian hydropower into the regional grid is constructed.

The potential disclosure of Stop the Corridor’s donors could affect efforts by anti-corridor activists as they make a second attempt to stop the project at the ballot box.

The Maine Supreme Court last summer invalidated a referendum slated for the last election.

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