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What the Senate vote reveals about the pro-Trump base

While seven Republicans in the Senate crossed party lines to convict former President Trump, the majority of the party, including Leader McConnell who delivered a scathing rebuke of the former President and his role in the insurrection, voted to acquit him. Special Correspondent Jeff Greenfield joins to discuss what the vote reveals about the party and its potential future.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Yesterday's impeachment vote left both Republicans and Democrats trying to measure the consequences.

    Here with some thoughts is Special Correspondent Jeff Greenfield, who joins us from Santa Barbara.

    So, Jeff, yesterday we had seven Republicans vote with Democrats, very different than the first impeachment trial. Consequential?

  • Jeff Greenfield:

    Well, it may be consequential to them. The Louisiana State Republican Party immediately censured Senator Cassidy. We have to say two of those are retiring. Three of them just got reelected. Lisa Murkowski has a very strong base beyond the Republicans.

    But the real story, I think, is that 43 Republican senators in the face of this evidence, voted to acquit, along with 90 percent or more of the House Republicans. And I believe what that tells you is the pro-Trump sentiment back home is much more significant than the fact that seven Republican senators said, alright, we have to convict.

    And if you want to see a sense of that, Fox News sent out an alert right after the vote saying here are the seven Republicans who turned their backs on the president. That's a pretty strong indication, I think, that the fear of Trump's voters and what Trump might do in the year or the year ahead is really the driving fact of the Republican Party.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Somebody who did vote to acquit is Mitch McConnell. He said something that almost opened a doorway for the criminal courts now, should be where Trump finds justice.

  • Jeff Greenfield:

    Right. And I think we should remember that McConnell voted to acquit because you can't impeach and remove a former president. And it was McConnell who decided to delay the trial until he became a former president.

    But I think what you're seeing here is McConnell laying down a marker saying we as Republicans cannot take back the Senate and the House without distancing ourselves from Donald Trump. But, you know, we've seen this play before. Five years ago, there was an absolute conviction among mainstream Republicans that Donald Trump was just going to disappear by the first primary. And I think what McConnell is saying is we can't win if Donald Trump is, is defining our party.

    But again, you've got people back home who are absolutely adamant, saying we are followers of Donald Trump, not you guys in Washington. I've seen this too many times to believe that Washington insiders are going to have that much impact versus the downhome Republican Party that is solidly in Trump's corner.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Does this now put Trump behind us in terms of what President Biden is trying to set out to do?

  • Jeff Greenfield:

    I think from the president's point of view, and it's one of the reasons why we didn't get into that last-minute witness issue, is he's got a COVID epidemic or pandemic to deal with. He's got an attempt to put massive sums of money into the pockets of people back home. And he's got the thinnest majorities in the House and Senate you could possibly have. I think what Biden may be hoping for is that the traditional Republican congressional opposition to Democratic presidents which haunted Bill Clinton and Barack Obama may be different given both the public demand for more aggressive government action and the fact that there's a real epidemic out there.

    So my own feeling is that six months down the road, impeachment may be as dim a memory as it was last November for the first impeachment.

    But I do have to add this, if I might, Hari, Biden also talked about the fragility of democracy. If it weren't for a series of Republican officials back in different states and Trump-appointed judges, we might very well have seen the overturning of the 2020 election. And I think the idea that this is all going to be behind us, we're going to get back to a normal kind of politics, I think is a potentially dangerous illusion as we fight through the various normal political battles.

    I do think the specter of Donald Trump will still be very much overhanging our political process.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Jeff Greenfield joining us from Santa Barbara, California. Thanks so much.

  • Jeff Greenfield:

    Thank you, Hari.

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