WASHINGTON (AP) – His place in the rewritten history books, President Donald Trump endured his second arraignment largely alone and silent.
For more than four years, Trump has dominated national discourse like no one before him. Yet when his legacy was set in stone on Wednesday, he was incredibly left on the sidelines.
Trump is now second to none, the only president to be twice charged with a felony or high misdemeanor, a new coda for a term defined by a deepening nation’s divisions, his failures during the worst pandemic in one century and its refusal to accept defeat at the polls.
Trump remained out of sight in a nearly empty White House as the impeachment process unfolded at the heavily fortified U.S. Capitol. There, damage from riots last week was a visible reminder of the insurgency that the president was accused of incitement.
Abandoned by some in his own party, Trump could do nothing but watch the story unfold on television. The suspension of his Twitter account deprived Trump of his most powerful means to keep Republicans in line, giving the impression that Trump had been defused and, for the first time, his hold over his adopted party was in question.
He was finally heard hours after the vote, in a subdued video that condemned the insurgency on Capitol Hill and warned his supporters of any further violence. It was a message that was largely missing a week earlier, when rioters marching on behalf of Trump descended on Capitol Hill to try to prevent Congress from certifying Biden’s victory.
“I want to be very clear: I unequivocally condemn the violence that we saw last week,” Trump said. He added that “no real supporter” of his “could ever endorse political violence”.
But that post, partially motivated to warn of legal exposure for starting the riot, went against what Trump has said throughout his tenure, including when he urged his supporters to ” fight ”for him last week. Trump did not say a word about his impeachment in the video, although he complained about his social media ban.
With only one week in Trump’s tenure, there has been no belligerent message from the White House fighting the proceedings across Pennsylvania Avenue and no organized legal response. Some congressional Republicans defended the president during the House debate on impeachment, their words conveying the same space raped by rioters a week earlier during a siege on the Citadel of Democracy that made five dead.
In the end, 10 Republicans voted for impeachment.
It was a marked change from Trump’s first impeachment. This December 2019 vote in the House, which made Trump the third president ever to be impeached, was conducted on partisan principles. The accusations then revolved around that he had used the powers of the office to pressure Ukraine to investigate a political enemy, Joe Biden, now president-elect.
At that time, the White House was criticized for failing to create the kind of robust “war room” President Bill Clinton mobilized in his own impeachment struggle. Nonetheless, Trump’s allies mounted their own pushback campaign. There were lawyers, White House messaging meetings, and a media blitz staged by allies on conservative TV, radio and websites.
Trump was acquitted in 2020 by the GOP-controlled Senate and his approval ratings were not damaged. But this time, as some members of his own party stepped back and accused him of wrongdoing, Trump was isolated and silent. A presidency centered on the bombastic statement “Only I can fix it” seemed to end with a whimper.
The third-largest Republican in the House, Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming, said there had “never been a greater betrayal” by a president. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Told colleagues in a letter that he had not decided how he would vote in an impeachment trial.
For the first time, Trump’s future looked uncertain, and what was once unthinkable – that a sufficient number of Republican senators would challenge him and vote to remove him from office – seemed at least possible, though unlikely.
But there has been no effort on the part of the White House to line up the votes in defense of the president.
The team around Trump is emptied, with the White House board office failing to establish a legal defense plan and the legislative affairs team largely abandoned. Trump leaned on Sen. Lindsey Graham, RS.C., to push Republican senators to oppose the dismissal. Graham’s spokesperson said the senator was making the calls on his own accord.
Trump and his allies believed the president’s strong popularity with lawmakers’ GOP voters would deter them from voting against him.
The president was enraged at McConnell and Cheney’s perceived disloyalty and was deeply frustrated at not being able to retaliate with his Twitter account, which has kept Republicans in line for years. Trump watched much of the day’s proceedings on television from the White House residence and his private dining room next to the Oval Office.
Shortly before his impeachment, Trump was in the East Room of the White House presenting the National Medal of the Arts to singers Toby Keith and Ricky Skaggs as well as former Associated Press photographer Nick Ut.
His main concern, beyond his legacy, was what a second indictment might do to his immediate political and financial future, according to four White House officials and Republicans close to the West Wing. They were not allowed to speak, discuss private conversations, and express themselves on condition of anonymity.
The loss of his Twitter account and fundraising lists could complicate Trump’s efforts to remain a GOP kingmaker and potentially run again in 2024. Additionally, Trump has boiled over blows to his business, including including the withdrawal of a PGA tournament from one of its golf courses. course and New York’s decision to cease dealing with his company.
It is possible that if the Senate condemns him, he will also be barred from standing again for election, dashing any hope of another presidential campaign.
A White House spokesman did not answer questions about whether anyone in the building was trying to defend Trump, who was now the subject of half of the presidential impeachments in the country’s history.
Campaign adviser Jason Miller has argued that the Democrats’ efforts will serve to galvanize the Republican base behind Trump and end up hurting Biden. He blamed the fast-paced Democrats for the silence, saying there was “no time to mount a traditional response operation.” But he promised that “the real battle will be the Senate where there will be a more traditional pushback effort.”
Reminders of the Capitol seat were everywhere as the House moved towards the roll call of impeachment.
Some doors of the Capitol were smashed and the windows were smashed. A barricade had been set up outside the building and there were new checkpoints. Hundreds of National Guard members patrolled the hallways, even sleeping on the marble floors of the same rotunda that once housed Abraham Lincoln’s coffin.
And now the Capitol is the site of more history, adding to the chapter that features Clinton, impeached 21 years ago for lying under oath about sex with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, and Andrew Johnson , impeached 151 years ago for defying Congress on reconstruction. Another entry is for Richard Nixon, who avoided impeachment by resigning during the Watergate investigation.
But Trump, the only one indicted twice, will be alone again.
Lemire reported from New York.
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