WASHINGTON (AP) — Seldom has Mitch McConnell signaled so little about such a consequential vote.
While many expect the Senate's top Republican to back acquitting former President Donald Trump of inciting rioters who assaulted the Capitol last month, no one is really sure. The Washington political universe and the world beyond will collectively hold its breath when the Senate impeachment trial roll call reaches the Kentuckian's name.
Over 36 years in the Senate, the measured McConnell has earned a reputation for inexpressiveness in the service of caution. This time, the suspense over how he'll vote underscores how much is at stake for McConnell and his party, though it seems extremely unlikely that 17 GOP senators will join all 50 Democrats to convict Trump.
“The overwhelming number of Republican voters don’t want Trump convicted, so that means any political leader has to tread carefully,” said John Feehery, a former top congressional GOP aide. While Feehery noted that McConnell was clearly outraged over the attack, he said, “He’s trying to keep his party together.”
A vote to acquit by McConnell — the chamber's most influential Republican and longest-serving GOP leader ever — would leave the GOP's factions locked in their struggle to define itself in the post-Trump presidency. A guilty vote could do more to roil GOP waters by signaling an attempt to yank the party away from a figure still revered by most of its voters.
Either way, McConnell's decision could influence the party's short- and long-term election prospects and affect the political clout and legacy of both Trump and the Senate minority leader.
Just minutes after the Democratic-led House impeached Trump on Jan. 13 for inciting insurrection, McConnell flashed a blinking yellow light. He wrote to his GOP colleagues that he’d “not made a...