Republicans say the chances that former President Trump will be convicted in an impeachment trial are plummeting, despite lingering anger among some Republicans over his actions.
Only five or six Republican senators at the most seem likely to vote for impeachment, far fewer than the number needed, GOP sources say.
A two-thirds majority vote would be necessary for a conviction, something that would require at least 17 GOP votes if every Democrat votes to convict Trump.
Senators say a few things have moved in Trump's favor.
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.
GOP senators are also worried about a political backlash from the former president’s fervent supporters.
They have observed the angry response to House Republican Conference Chairwoman Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), who is facing calls to resign from the House GOP leadership team after voting last week to impeach Trump.
A second Republican senator said the Republican Party needs to rebuild and warned it will be tough to bring Trump’s base into the party tent ahead of the 2022 midterm elections and the 2024 presidential election if GOP senators vote in large numbers to convict Trump.
“I do think his supporters would be very upset,” the lawmaker said.
At the same time, this lawmaker warned of the dangers of the party being too beholden to Trump.
“The Republican Party is going to have to have a discussion about its future. At some point it’s going to have to become about something more than a person,” the lawmaker said.
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.
“That’s my sense of where most of our members are going to come down,” the source added.
A fourth factor is growing doubt about whether Chief Justice John Roberts will preside over a Senate trial.
Republicans say if Roberts doesn’t preside and the chair is instead occupied by Vice President Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) — who voted to convict Trump on two articles of impeachment last year — or President Pro Tempore Pat Leahy (D-Vt.), the process will appear like a partisan exercise.
“It starts losing its legitimacy,” the first Republican senator said of an impeachment trial without the chief justice in the chair.
A third Republican senator said there are “five or six, maybe” votes to convict Trump, arguing there’s no point in casting a vote that would further divide the country when the president is already out of office.
“If people like me vote no, then there are only five or six,” the senator added. “What would it do to the country?”
“I don’t want to tell my constituents you can’t vote for him, they’re grownups,” the lawmaker added.
Democrats say a major reason to hold a trial even though Trump is now a private citizen is to bar him from running for president again.
The Senate would need to vote to convict Trump on the pending article of impeachment and then hold a separate simple-majority vote to bar him from future office.
A fourth Republican senator also said the number of expected Republican votes to convict Trump will be fewer than 10.
“I’d say certainly less than 10 and I’d say five or six is probably about right,” the lawmaker said.
Republican senators say that colleagues who have publicly declared that Trump has committed impeachable offenses or have blamed him for inciting the mob that stormed the Capitol are most likely to vote to convict Trump.
Sens. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) have said they believe Trump likely committed impeachable offenses.
Sens. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) publicly blamed him for inciting the crowd.
And Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) called on him to resign from office early.
There have been reports that McConnell himself has confided to associates that he believes Trump committed impeachable offenses, and the GOP leader has not said how he would vote.