‘Let’s move on’: Congress’ other pro-impeachment Republicans stay quiet

Seventeen congressional Republicans supported the second impeachment of former President Donald Trump. Unlike Liz Cheney, most of them want to move on.

Amid Cheney's ouster from House GOP leadership on Wednesday for continuing to rebut Trump’s election lies, other Republicans who deemed him guilty of inciting insurrection on Jan. 6 are taking an approach that largely spares them intra-party retribution. They stand by their anti-Trump votes and oppose Cheney’s demotion, but they're focused on strengthening their party’s message against Democratic control of Washington.

Maine Sen. Susan Collins, the only Senate Republican elected from a state that Trump lost in 2020, recently escaped censure by her state party for her vote to convict him and has dived into a bipartisan group negotiating on current issues. She said that President Joe Biden’s proposed expansions of government and the nation’s increasing debt “are the issues we should be talking about, rather than re-litigating the election.”

“I tend to focus on policy, not personalities. And I made my [impeachment] decision very clear by giving a long floor speech explaining it. And it’s time to move on to the challenges we’re facing,” Collins said. “Let’s move on.”

Getting past Trump and 2020 hasn’t come easily for Cheney. But as much as her fellow Republicans who crossed the former president would prefer to keep their focus on Biden, some recognize that their silence runs the risk of ceding Trump more power. Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), who voted to convict, said his House colleagues' Wednesday vote to evict Cheney is “going to be perceived as President Trump dictating what the House does.”

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) speaks during a press conference following a House Republican caucus meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.

Cheney stands nearly alone in her willingness to sacrifice her leadership spot to call out Trump’s false claims that he won the election, demonstrating how strong his sway remains over the GOP. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, while initially critical of Trump’s role in the Jan. 6 riots, has since worked hard to get back in the former president’s good graces.

The party's top two Senate leaders, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.), have basically stopped talking about Trump after taking a more confrontational stance toward him in the wake of the insurrection. Asked about Trump on Tuesday, Thune said only that “I don’t think re-litigating the 2020 election is a winning strategy.”

Across the Capitol, however, Cheney hasn’t been afraid to speak her mind about Trump in interviews, op-eds and leadership press conferences — including at last month’s GOP policy retreat in Orlando. A gathering supposedly centered around party unity ended up kickstarting the campaign to push her out of power.

Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) speaks during a House Committee on Foreign Affairs hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Her biggest ally among the other 16 Republicans is Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger, an Air Force veteran who wears his impeachment vote like a badge of honor and constantly needles Trump and McCarthy on Twitter. Kinzinger launched an entire PAC dedicated to targeting the pro-Trump wing of his party and protecting fellow Republicans who voted to impeach. He even put together a “Rally for Liz” fundraiser ahead of Wednesday’s ouster vote.

The House’s pro-impeachment Republicans initially kept in constant contact, and nine of them banded together to criticize Speaker Nancy Pelosi as hypocritical for supporting a challenge to a contested Iowa House race. There was talk among them of teaming up on issues in the future if another opportunity presented itself.

That moment never came.

Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.) is back to keeping her usual low profile after nearly getting hauled before the Senate as an impeachment witness. Newly elected Republicans in swing seats, such as Rep. David Valadao of California and Peter Meijer of Michigan, are staying low-key after their impeachment votes.

Rep. John Katko told local reporters he will “absolutely support” fellow New York Rep. Elise Stefanik for GOP conference chair if Cheney is removed, though he considers the Wyoming Republican a “friend.” And Rep. Tom Rice, who represents a pro-Trump district in South Carolina, has privately vented about Cheney to his colleagues, according to GOP sources.

“I'm just going to go to the meeting with an open mind and listen to what happens," said pro-impeachment Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.) when asked if he would support Cheney on Wednesday. She ultimately got ousted from the conference chairmanship in a quick voice vote.

U.S. Rep. Anthony Gonzalez (R-Ohio) is seen during a House Financial Services Committee oversight hearing in Washington, D.C.

Rep. Anthony Gonzalez (R-Ohio) — who was recently censured by his state's GOP for his impeachment vote and is already facing a Trump-endorsed primary challenger — is another of the few party voices to come to Cheney’s defense in recent days.

But mostly, Kinzinger and Cheney are on a lonely island in the congressional GOP. The other Republicans who backed impeachment generally opt to keep their heads down, reluctant to make their votes against Trump part of their political brands — especially as they see calls for censure and pro-Trump primary challenges pile up in their districts.

The defense of Cheney is as porous in the Senate as in the House, though Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) likened silencing Cheney to “cancel culture" and she has a handful of defenders. McConnell, who supports Cheney’s re-election in Wyoming, has repeatedly dodged questions about her.

Collins called Cheney a "woman of strength and character and did what she thought was right" and said she hoped the GOP will accommodate "people with varying views on President Trump." Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who twice supported Trump’s impeachment, said he’s felt some compulsion to stick his neck out for her and worries about the message Wednesday's move will send.

“It’s important for us to stand up for people who are honorable, capable people,” Romney said in an interview. “If we want to attract more people to the party, that’s not going to work if we kick people out of leadership because we disagree with them.”

Some Republicans even argue that Cheney’s constant and high-profile rebukes of Trump are actually hurting the other members who voted to impeach, likening her behavior to picking at an old wound. Republicans have complained they’re being asked about Cheney by their constituents and donors back home.

“She seems not to be able to leave it,” said Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), a former House member. “People draw this conclusion that she’s being thrown out of the party. She’s not. But she’s asked for and received a position of leadership that, unfortunately, requires you to give up some of your autonomy to be the face of the caucus.”

And watching the consequences that Cheney suffered gives sympathetic Republicans little incentive to speak out. One House GOP lawmaker who voted to certify the election results, granted anonymity to candidly discuss the internal fire fight, said: "This whole discussion is certainly hurting the impeachment people, because they want to move forward and talk about their agenda for 2022.”

“This keeps putting them back in [trouble] with their base back home,” this Republican added. “And so if anything, Liz is hurting the impeachment folks the most.”

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) walks with reporters as in the basement of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.

The situation is more dire for the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach the president than the seven GOP senators who voted for conviction. Though all those House members must face voters next year, just Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) is up in 2022 among Senate Republicans who supported Trump’s conviction.

Murkowski will certainly face an unpleasant challenge from Trump strategists who have filled out the political team of challenger Kelly Tshibaka. But Alaska’s election laws have been changed to ranked-choice voting, easing her path to reelection.

Others will sleep even easier. Romney isn’t up for reelection until 2024 and Collins, Cassidy and Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) won new six-year terms in November. Sens. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Richard Burr (R-N.C.) are retiring.

Burr shook his head when asked if he even thinks about Trump anymore, saying no one in North Carolina asks him about impeachment. The former Intelligence Committee chair added that it’s not even worth responding to Trump these days.

“It’s you guys that are starting the stories on Trump,” Burr told a reporter with a chuckle on Tuesday. “He got more press yesterday than the president.”

Olivia Beavers contributed to this report.

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The real post-Trump GOP divide: House vs. Senate

Technically they belong to the same party. But on a growing number of issues, House and Senate Republicans might as well live on different political planets.

And much of the intraparty strain revolves around the aftermath of Donald Trump’s presidency.

The Senate GOP is firmly behind Alaskan Lisa Murkowski’s reelection bid even after she voted to convict the former president of inciting an insurrection. But across the Capitol, House Republicans are largely leaving Ohio Rep. Anthony Gonzalez on his own following his impeachment vote as Trump endorses his primary challenger.

Even that division goes deeper than Trump, with the National Republican Senatorial Committee largely backing incumbents while the National Republican Congressional Committee doesn’t get involved in primary races. But Trump has magnified that disagreement over whether to defend embattled incumbents by vowing to exact revenge against Republicans who have crossed him.

Hugging Trump has become priority number one for most House Republicans, with feting the former president in Mar-a-Lago becoming a rite of passage among their leaders. GOP senators, by contrast, are trying to chart a different path forward — one built on policy rather than Trump's personality — figuring that will make their party’s brand more effective than attaching itself to one man. Don’t expect Mitch McConnell to show up in Florida any time soon.

“It's important that we not be a personality-based party,” said Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.), who has urged his party to move on from Trump, at least in the short term. “Durability as a political party is based around a set of ideas.”

Retorted Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.), who is mulling a Senate run in Alabama and led challenges to the election on Jan. 6: “Our more liberal, establishment brethren in the Senate have not been faring very well. Those were the only ones that lost in 2020.”

The emerging schism is bigger than House and Senate Republicans’ increasingly divergent approaches to the former president since his loss to Biden and his second impeachment. House and Senate Republicans are taking divergent stances toward President Joe Biden and some of his priorities, even as they unite in opposition to his coronavirus bill.

Even before Biden’s inauguration, the House-Senate GOP split was beginning to unfold. More than 100 House Republicans signed an amicus brief in support of throwing out November’s election results as Trump pushed a baseless narrative of voter fraud, and a similar number challenged the certification of the election. In the Senate, no one supported the brief and just eight GOP senators challenged Biden’s election in Congress.

Veterans of both chambers chalk it up to the disparate effects of the House's two-year terms in gerrymandered districts and the Senate's statewide electorates and staggered six-year terms. Those factors are exacerbated by the hyper-loyalty demanded by Trump and his hardcore supporters, as well as the fact that the Senate GOP needs to win Senate races in swing states like Nevada, Arizona, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania next year.

“What it takes to win in a general election in many Senate seats is just different. It’s a more diverse electorate. Ours tend to be more homogeneous,” said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), former head of the NRCC.

“The House is more sensitive to the immediate situation. And the Senate sort of takes a little bit of the longer view,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a former chair of the NRSC.

Republicans have found at least one area where they can rally together in the post-Trump era: countering the more liberal elements of the Biden agenda. But they got there from different places, as Senate Republicans actually met with Biden to see if they could work together just a few weeks ago.

In addition to the Covid relief package, the GOP is expected to mostly stay united in its opposition to Democratic legislation on LGBTQ rights, election laws and police reform.

But beneath the surface of that unity lies more discord, including some over Biden-backed goals. Senate Republicans are open to cutting a deal on raising the minimum wage and are warmer toward earmarks, in addition to some presidential nominees, than House Republicans would like. House Republicans are mulling taking a strong position against earmarks and have little interest in raising the minimum wage, one of the hottest debates in Washington right now.

“You will always have a handful of Republicans that vote to raise the minimum wage, but it’s only a handful,” said Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), noting that more House GOP members tend to live in districts where the cost of living is cheaper. “Broadly speaking, there is belief among Republicans we shouldn’t get into this on the federal level.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday that raising the minimum wage is “worth discussing.” He also dryly dismissed Trump’s suggestion that the former president propelled McConnell to his reelection in 2020: “I want to thank him for the 15-point margin I had in 2014 as well.”

And when it comes to his incumbent who voted against Trump during the impeachment trial, McConnell said in a recent interview that “Absolutely, we’re all behind Sen. Murkowski.”

McConnell’s counterpart in the House, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, has declined to answer repeated questions about whether he thinks the GOP should defend incumbents like Gonzalez who voted to impeach Trump.

Gonzalez, however, seemed unruffled by the likely lack of help from his party: “I’m going to run my race,” he said. “I don’t worry about what other people do.”

McCarthy also wouldn't say whether he would help the reelection campaign of his deputy, GOP Conference Chair Liz Cheney, whose vote to remove Trump from office has helped draw a primary challenge: “Liz hasn’t asked me" to step in, he said.

While McCarthy holds off, McConnell has gone out of his way to defend Cheney — even though she’s a House member and there’s no Senate race in Wyoming this cycle.

The House GOP’s campaign arm has historically not gotten involved in primary races, even on behalf of dues-paying incumbents. The thinking is that it could create bad blood if they pick the wrong candidate. (In recent years, though, some rank-and-file Republicans have grown more comfortable playing in primaries, while leaders and other members have intervened in open races to help elect more women and minorities.)

NRSC Chair Rick Scott (R-Fla.) said he only learned this week that House Republicans don’t have the same policy of protecting incumbents. He said since the NRSC asks Republicans to all pitch in, “we ought to be helping people that are our colleagues.”

As he walked to a Republican lunch Tuesday, Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) reflected on the cultural differences between senators and House members. Nowadays in the Senate, he has lunch with his 49 colleagues three times a week. As a three-term House member, Cramer remembered being jammed in a room with 200 of his colleagues, eating his breakfast on his lap and waiting for his turn to speak for a minute.

He said the distinctions between those party meetings explain a lot about the divide between the two GOP conferences.

“That’s just not conducive to big problem solving,” he said of rowdy House conference meetings. “So you’re driven more to populism, quite honestly.”

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McConnell’s next chapter: Guiding the post-Trump GOP

Mitch McConnell voted to acquit Donald Trump, then publicly torched him — encapsulating the dilemma of the man who now must guide a GOP riven by infighting over whether it's the party of Trump or the center-right party he wants them to be.

McConnell is the de facto leader of the GOP for at least the next two years, as Trump remains exiled in Florida with no real public platform. And though McConnell is done talking about the former president after giving his most critical remarks ever about Trump on Saturday, he’s well aware that they may be on a collision course.

McConnell needs to pick up just one Senate seat to become majority leader again, though he's facing perhaps even bigger political headaches than in the Tea Party era. But McConnell made clear in a Saturday evening interview that he will not hesitate to wade into future primary races if a Trump-backed candidate — like, say, Kelli Ward in Arizona or the ex-president's daughter-in-law Lara in North Carolina — threatens his bid to retake the majority.

“My goal is, in every way possible, to have nominees representing the Republican Party who can win in November," McConnell said by telephone. "Some of them may be people the former president likes. Some of them may not be. The only thing I care about is electability."

The Kentuckian made clear that "I’m not predicting the president would support people who couldn't win. But I do think electability — not who supports who — is the critical point.”

The Senate GOP has largely followed McConnell’s guidance over the past five years as Trump’s hold over the party grew more intense. McConnell didn’t comment on the tweets, and so, neither did most of his Republicans.

His job has become even trickier in a unique 50-vote minority. Yet trying to guide Republicans after a presidential loss is not new for McConnell: After former President Barack Obama's victories, McConnell shaped Republicans into an occasionally brutal, often effective opposition force to Obama's agenda.

Now the 78-year-old has a similar veto power over some of President Joe Biden’s legislative platform. His willingness to dive into tough primary fights, trying to root out the type of candidates that plagued the GOP in 2010 and 2012, is a potent weapon in his shadow battle against Trump. But there's no guarantee he can win it.

"To the degree that there’s a titular leader for the party," it's McConnell, said GOP whip Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.). Trump has threatened Thune with a primary challenge, making the South Dakotan one of several in McConnell's conference who could face Trump-inspired challenges in deep-red states.

But though McConnell excoriated Trump on Saturday for a “disgraceful dereliction of duty” during the Jan. 6 insurrection, afterward he quickly reverted to type and avoided the former president's controversies. During the interview, McConnell declined to address Democratic criticisms that his acquittal/condemnation move was an attempt to have it both ways when it comes to Trump.

And he did not elaborate on Saturday comments that appeared to hint Trump may face criminal prosecution.

“I’ve said all I need to say about that," was where McConnell left it.

McConnell also declined to say if, should Trump seek the White House in 2024, he would stand in opposition: “I’m focused on ‘22.”

Comments like that are intended as guideposts for his members, who are already beginning to trash Biden’s agenda as “far left." It's a strategy that allows Republicans to mostly ignore Trump for a few months, at least.

“We’ll focus on what the Biden agenda looks like,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a top McConnell deputy. “That will create some cohesion among the loyal opposition.”

But not everyone listens to the party leader. Just look at Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), who challenged the November election results despite McConnell’s warnings not to force the issue. Or even Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who plans to meet with Trump soon to discuss the future of the party.

Then there’s about a half-dozen senators who look to be mulling presidential runs, many under the Trump mantle.

“I don’t know what happens to the party as a whole in terms of the folks deeply committed to President Trump,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), who is close to McConnell. “But I hope they stick with us.”

Across the Capitol, Trump’s die-hard supporters think GOP senators are making things harder, particularly the Republican leader. Twice now McConnell has openly savaged Trump for spreading electoral conspiracy theories and ginning up the mob that stormed the Capitol.

McConnell's acquittal vote isn't mollifying Trump supporters who are growing weary of his rhetorical flourishes about the former president.

“A lot of people are frustrated with his comments. I’m not going to sugarcoat it,” said Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), the head of the hard-line House Freedom Caucus.

Some House Republicans argued that McConnell is on equal footing with their leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy, even though the minority party is essentially irrelevant in the House. McCarthy “leads a lot more of us” than McConnell, as Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) put it.

Banks chairs the conservative Republican Study Committee, which has already huddled with potential presidential hopefuls such as Mike Pompeo. And Banks argued that with multiple voices competing to claim the party’s mantle ahead of 2024, the GOP has no single leader right now.

“At this moment, we have many leaders,” Banks said. “The vacuum has been filled by many voices.”

“Frankly, our party will largely be guided by how we respond to what the Democrats are going to do,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), a member of GOP leadership. “One person doesn’t necessarily lead that when you don’t have the White House.”

Some on the right say Trump’s influence in the GOP isn’t fading just because he is out of office, thanks to his draw on the campaign trail and ability to grab headlines.

“The fact he is no longer in the White House does not mean he is not the leader of the movement he started four or five years ago,” Biggs said.

McConnell and Biggs could very well find themselves on the opposite ends of the spectrum next year in Senate races like the one in Arizona, where a GOP chaired by Ward is struggling to win tough races in what was once a red state. Plus, McConnell said the Senate GOP will stand strongly behind all of its incumbents, including Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the lone Republican voting to convict Trump who faces reelection in 2022.

When asked who is running the party right now, Murkowski answered: “As much as one can be, Sen. McConnell.” McConnell just won reelection, giving him six years to plot a course for the Senate GOP.

Unlike the Senate, many House members are elected in noncompetitive, gerrymandered districts. That's produced a decidedly pro-Trump GOP conference over the years, with more than 120 House Republicans voting to challenge the election results even after last month's deadly riots.

By contrast, just eight Senate Republicans voted to challenge the election results.

Still, 10 House Republicans — including GOP Conference Chairwoman Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) — voted to impeach Trump. Pro-Trump Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) even campaigned against Cheney last month in Wyoming, where he couldn’t resist taunting McConnell as a member of the “establishment” who is trying to “screw our fellow Americans for generations.”

McConnell has defended Cheney and on Saturday even indicated he may even get involved in her re-election campaign.

“The future of the party will be determined in places like Wyoming in ‘22,” McConnell said.

Trump leaves the GOP at a crossroads: It’s hard to imagine the party's next two years will be pretty given its divisions over Trump’s impeachment, his agenda and how to deal with his extra-legal challenges to the election. Soon after Trump's acquittal, state parties began hammering Senate Republicans who voted to convict.

But becoming majority leader is a numbers game, and McConnell has a solid start with 50 seats. From that perspective, 2022 doesn’t look so bad to him. Even with all that Trump has put the party through, as far as raw power in Congress goes, McConnell has seen worse.

“The difference between now and 2009 is the difference between 40 and 50,” he said. “I was there in 2009. I know what it looks like after you got clobbered. We didn't get clobbered. We lost the White House.”

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McConnell lies low ahead of Trump trial

Kevin McCarthy is hugging former President Donald Trump as tightly as he can. Liz Cheney voted to impeach him. But Mitch McConnell isn’t making any sudden movements as House Republicans tear each other apart in Trump's wake.

The Senate minority leader is deferring a final verdict on Trump, even with the opportunity to do so via the president’s forthcoming impeachment trial. McConnell’s strategy reflects the consensus of his fellow Senate Republicans, who have watched uneasily as the House minority leader and conference chair staked out polarizing positions on Trump’s conduct.

Two weeks ago, McConnell publicly castigated Trump by blaming him, in part, for feeding “lies” to the mob that invaded the Capitol, while privately signaling to associates that he was open to conviction. But then he sided with Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) to find Trump’s impeachment trial unconstitutional — indicating that while he might criticize Trump at the conclusion of the process, he likely won’t vote to convict.

McConnell has done little to hide his annoyance with the president, but allies say he is extremely unlikely to make a further break with Trump now. In fact, since his speech assigning blame to Trump, he’s said nothing to his colleagues about Trump other than referring to his contacts with the former president’s legal team, said one senator who attends meetings with McConnell.

“What we do talk about is that he’s spoken to the president’s attorneys. So he’s not in direct conversations with the president,” the senator said. The Jan. 19 speech “was his one outlet … he was very frustrated, that was why he did that one floor speech.”

Those comments, coming from a man who spent four years avoiding direct criticism of Trump, were remarkable in part because they were so uncharacteristically passionate and blunt.

Then on Monday, in a rare intervention in House business, McConnell labeled Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) a “cancer” on the party for spreading conspiracy theories and defended Cheney even as pro-Trump Republicans seek to oust her from her leadership position. But asked Tuesday about whether he should have condemned Trump’s conspiracy theories earlier, McConnell reverted to type, saying only, “We’re going to an impeachment trial next week, and we’re going to listen to what the lawyers have to say.”

“I’m going to listen to the arguments. I think that’s what we ought to do. That’s what I said before it started. That’s still my view. The issue on which we already voted is an interesting constitutional question. I think we ought to listen to the lawyers argue the question,” McConnell said about whether he was still keeping an open mind.

Though McConnell’s criticisms of Trump two weeks ago will always be viewed by Trump’s supporters as a betrayal, it’s become increasingly clear he will not attempt to lead his party into barring Trump from seeking future office. His position that Trump’s trial is not constitutional is as good an indicator as any.

“He probably has frustration — we all have at times — with people’s behavior,” said Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.). “But I think he studied and read the Constitution on that vote, like 45 of us did. I wish the other five had, but they didn’t.”

“What he said is one thing, but then you come to reality and gather more evidence and information,” Shelby said, reconciling McConnell’s searing criticisms of Trump with his vote against the trial’s constitutionality.

Notably, McConnell declined to hold the trial in the immediate aftermath of the House’s impeachment vote. He believed doing so would short-circuit Trump’s due process for the trial. But in delaying the trial until after Trump left office, he also helped steer the GOP toward its dominant argument.

A Republican leadership aide described a “palpable sense of relief” within the party that the GOP had coalesced around the constitutionality question. That allows members to acquit Trump on a process argument rather than judge the merits of whether Trump incited an insurrection.

Two weeks ago in a party conference call shortly after McConnell’s speech, multiple senators raised the prospect that Trump’s trial and conviction could be unconstitutional. That call became a turning point — it showed that few Republicans are comfortable even weighing the possible conviction of Trump.

Then McConnell invited constitutional scholar Jonathan Turley, who is currently arguing against the constitutionality of the trial, to a Senate GOP lunch last week. A few minutes later, just five GOP senators voted against Paul’s motion. McConnell was not one of them.

McConnell “basically told our members that this is an issue where they're going to be able to vote their conscience. It’s the best you can hope to do under circumstances like this,” said Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.), who earlier had raised Trump’s ire by downplaying the chances of his election challenge’s success in Congress. “That's where I think most of our members would like to have him land.”

Cheney’s increasingly tenuous position in the GOP is a good indicator for what would come next if McConnell were to convict Trump. And he’s close to getting his old job back, needing to pick up just one seat to become majority leader again. Further friction with Trump is unlikely to help him achieve that goal.

“Senator McConnell has been very emphatic about his views about what happened that day. That doesn’t extend to the other issues we’ve talked about, like the constitutionality and the wisdom of setting a new precedent” of convicting a former president, said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a McConnell ally. “The president got 70 million-plus votes. Those people are going to vote in 2022 hopefully, so people are trying to navigate an honorable approach.”

McConnell and the GOP largely allowed Trump to make his baseless election fraud claims for weeks in an effort to hold the party together ahead of Georgia’s special elections — an effort that was devastatingly unsuccessful.

Still, even if he doesn’t vote to convict, McConnell is sending unmistakable signs about where he thinks the GOP should head in the post-Trump era: exorcising the far-right extremists from the party and embracing mainstream Republicans.

And whether intentional or not, McConnell’s rare decision to wade into internal House GOP politics painted a sharp contrast with McCarthy, who has only expressed tepid support for Cheney and has yet to formally reprimand Greene. McCarthy may meet with Greene Tuesday evening, while House Republicans will determine Cheney’s fate Wednesday afternoon.

McConnell said Tuesday that he enjoys a “good working relationship” with McCarthy but felt the need to express himself about “that particular new member of the House” — he did not use her name — and Democrats’ efforts to paint the GOP as Greene’s party.

The two minority leaders have also split in their approach to Trump, a reflection of their differing conferences. McCarthy, whom Trump has fondly called “My Kevin,” trekked to Mar-a-Lago last week to make amends with the disgraced ex-president and emerged from that meeting making clear that Trump would be integral to the GOP’s efforts to win back the House.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) listen as U.S. President Donald Trump speaks while he signs H.R. 748, the CARES Act in the Oval Office of the White House on March 27, 2020 in Washington, DC. Earlier on Friday, the U.S. House of Representatives approved the $2 trillion stimulus bill that lawmakers hope will battle the the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Erin Schaff-Pool/Getty Images)

Meanwhile, McConnell — who is approaching a tough Senate map in 2022 — hasn’t talked to Trump since late last year, when McConnell recognized Biden as the election winner. And while McCarthy still challenged the election results even after the deadly Capitol riots, McConnell delivered a withering floor speech on Jan. 6, warning that voting to overturn the election results would send the U.S. political system into a “death spiral.”

McCarthy and McConnell’s offices both declined to answer questions about whether McCarthy was given a heads up about the Kentucky Republican’s statement defending Cheney. Cheney’s office, however, was in the loop about McConnell’s remarks, according to sources.

McConnell’s current posture is in some ways a return to form for a GOP leader that tried to stay as far away from clashing with Trump as possible for four years. His inscrutable facial expressions and public and private comments are a feature for him — not a bug.

“I don’t know what to make of him. Honestly,” said Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) of McConnell’s stance on impeachment. “Mitch is a person of few words anyway and he hasn’t really talked about his position extensively — at all, that I remember.”

Marianne LeVine contributed to this report.

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Senate Republicans shun House GOP bid to overturn the election

Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy this week joined 125 House GOP colleagues in support of an effort to subvert the presidential election. Most Senate Republicans weren’t going anywhere near it.

Not a single GOP senator signed a “friend of the court” brief for the long-shot Texas lawsuit to throw out other states' results in a bid to keep President Donald Trump in power. And there was no coordinated effort to get Republicans on board, according to interviews with more than a half-dozen Republican senators before the Supreme Court rejected the case Friday night.

“Are they rolling one around here? I haven’t heard that. I haven’t heard anything about it here,” said Sen. Deb Fischer of Nebraska.

“They signed onto an amicus brief in the House. There’s no version of that in the Senate,” said Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida. “Amicus briefs can be important, but on a matter of this magnitude, I think the Supreme Court is going to make its decision whether or not it’s going to take the case based on the Constitution.”

While some had hedged on whether they supported the lawsuit, and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas had even offered to argue the case, a serious Senate companion to House Republicans' jaw-dropping effort never emerged. Most GOP senators didn't see the point in joining what was widely known to be a doomed effort.

The high court dismissed the suit in a brief order saying Texas had not demonstrated a "judicially cognizable interest" in how other states conducted their elections.

Some Senate Republicans actively criticized the effort. Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska said it looked like “a fella begging for a pardon filed a PR stunt rather than a lawsuit,” a reference to the federal probe of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who spearheaded the push. Sen. John Cornyn of Texas said the Senate GOP’s distance from an effort that was so popular in the House “reflects skepticism about the legal theory about whether one state or a group of states can challenge state elections.”

“I'm surprised,” added Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. “Even more so, I was really disappointed that this is continuing in this way.”

The divide over the lawsuit marked just the latest example of how House and Senate Republicans have, at times, taken different approaches to Trump’s brazen effort to overturn an election that he lost. Yet the split screen between the two chambers was hardly surprising.

For instance, House members in gerrymandered districts are far more fearful of a 2022 primary challenge if they don’t go with Trump than the senators who serve entire states in six-year terms.

Senators also tend to be more careful with their words. Many of them on Friday chose not to explicitly attack the lawsuit or the president’s strategy even as they declined to embrace it.

“To me the key is to let the cases play out in the courts. If there’s a path, that’s the path,” said Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina, who just won a six-year term running as a loyal Trump ally after earlier breaks with the president.

And Sen. Mike Braun of Indiana declined to rule out eventually signing onto an amicus brief supporting Trump’s effort: “I just haven’t made my mind up yet."

The House, meanwhile, is filled with conservative bomb throwers who have had no reservations about echoing Trump’s baseless claims of voter fraud. This is the same band of conservatives who once stormed a secure facility inside the Capitol to protest the House impeachment proceedings.

Rep. Mike Johnson of Louisiana led the effort to encourage his GOP colleagues to lend their name to the amicus brief, telling Republicans in an email: Trump is “anxiously awaiting the final list.”

Initially, 106 lawmakers were listed on the brief, but 20 were left off due to a “clerical error,” according to Johnson. The next day, Johnson tweeted out the additional names — one by one — to thank them. McCarthy was on the list, just a day after refusing to comment on whether he would support the amicus brief.

“I’m never surprised by the House of Representatives,” said retiring Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee. He told MSNBC’s Chuck Todd that he’s “having a hard time figuring out the basis for that lawsuit.”

But this time, the effort to show support for Trump is more than just a stunt: It could undermine voters’ faith in democracy, with implications for many years to come.

“I definitely appreciate the things that Cornyn and Sasse are saying. That’s important,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) “I don’t want to make it sound as if none of them are saying the right things. But it just feels like a snowball right now and somehow, some way we’ve got to stop it.”

The Texas lawsuit isn’t the only place where Trump’s House allies have been lining up to publicly show their loyalty to the president while Senate Republicans have exercised more caution.

Several House Republicans, including Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama, have vowed to challenge the election results when Congress certifies the Electoral College votes on Jan. 6. Conservatives are still trying to recruit an ally in the Senate, which would be required to force deliberation on the matter. So far, no Senate Republicans have stepped up, though Sens. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Rand Paul of Kentucky aren’t ruling it out.

Privately, Senate Republicans say they will ultimately shut down any such challenge in Congress if they have to.

The campaign to appease Trump has also been playing out during House Republican Conference meetings in recent weeks. Rep. Alex Mooney of West Virginia, whose seat will be affected by redistricting next cycle, introduced a resolution this week to condemn any lawmakers who call on Trump to “prematurely” concede the election.

And earlier this month, conservative Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas confronted Republican Conference Chair Liz Cheney of Wyoming during a private conference call over her statement about the election. Cheney had said that if Trump’s campaign cannot prove voter fraud, he should respect “the sanctity of our electoral process.”

Before the House GOP’s internal leadership elections, Gohmert had asked each of the candidates whether they think Trump should concede the election. The top GOP leaders all said they supported Trump’s move to let the legal process play out.

Meanwhile, a group of 27 House Republicans — led by freshman Rep. Lance Gooden of Texas — sent a letter to Trump this week urging him to appoint a special counsel to investigate voter fraud allegations.

Further incentivizing their behavior, Trump has publicly lauded lawmakers who have supported his bid to overturn the election — and lashed out at those who dared to challenge him.

Trump praised Brooks and Gooden on Twitter — something Gooden’s office was eager to point out in an email blast. And Trump has taken swipes at Cheney and others, while also demanding to see a list of the “RINO” Republicans who have acknowledged Joe Biden’s victory. Many of them serve in the Senate.

Still, it’s not like Senate Republicans have turned into huge Trump critics since he lost the election. Many Senate Republicans haven’t recognized Biden as president and are refusing to comment on his Cabinet picks.

But aside from figures like Cruz and Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who have praised Trump's strategy, there’s simply not as much enthusiasm in the Senate GOP for joining efforts to overturn an election.

“Is there an amicus?” said Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, the No. 3 GOP leader. “I didn't see it.”

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