The Never-Before-Seen Violent Footage From The Capitol Is Horrifying. So Why Are Republicans Ignoring It?
Former U.S. President Donald Trump’s Senate impeachment trial is underway, and this week, House managers of the trial brought forth new and disturbing video footage of the January 6 attack on the US Capitol. "From the very beginning, the people around Donald Trump wanted him to take command," said House impeachment manager David Cicilline. But, according to Cicilline, he did "nothing" to protect the lawmakers inside the building. The rioters “were listening to him. He could have demanded them to leave. But he didn't."
Then, security camera footage from inside the Capitol showed a very different picture of what happened that day. House managers played back the shocking footage of far right rioters smashing the windows and forcing their way into the building for the Senate floor on Wednesday. Capitol security camera footage showed former Vice President Mike Pence and his family being escorted down a flight of stairs by Secret Service as the right-wing invaders called for his death.
The video was time-stamped 2:26 PM, just two minutes after Trump tweeted that Pence “didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution,” by overturning the election results, The New York Times reports. Meanwhile, the crowd can be heard on video shouting about finding Pence and hanging him, as one person says, “He’s a total treasonous pig.”
Other footage showed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s aides barricading themselves in an office moments before Trump’s mob attempted to break down the door. Rioters are heard asking where they could find Pelosi, as some shouted, “We’re looking for you!” House impeachment manager Stacey Plaskett, a Democratic delegate from the Virgin Islands noted that the man photographed at Pelosi’s desk was carrying a 950,000-volt stun gun walking stick.
“They were within 100 feet of where the vice president was sheltering with his family, and they were just feet away from the doors of this chamber where many of you remained at that time,” Plaskett told the Senate. In a scathing indictment of the former president, she added, “Again, that was a mob sent by the president of the United States to stop the certification of an election.”
Despite the footage painting a very clear picture of the events of January 6, many Senate Republicans are still divided over whether to break ranks with Trump, as they look ahead to the 2022 midterms and the future of the party. On the first day of the trial, only six Republicans joined the 50 Democrats who voted to affirm the Senate was within its constitutional right to try the former president for inciting an insurrection.
Several GOP senators stated that while the footage presented to them was chilling, they still wouldn’t vote to convict Trump, according to a tweet from CNN Congressional Correspondent Manu Raju. Top Republicans, including the former president’s loyal supporter Texas Sen. Ted Cruz said that while the footage was “powerful and emotional… There was very little said about how specific conduct of the president’s satisfies the legal standard” of convicting him. Likewise, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has not said whether he would vote to convict Trump and encouraged other Republicans to vote their conscience, even if they don’t believe the trial is constitutional, Bloomberg reports.
But this all begs the question: What would constitute an impeachable offense, if not a sitting president inciting deadly violence against lawmakers at the US Capitol? The answer is perhaps twofold.
Republican lawmakers for months leading up to and following the 2020 U.S. presidential election pushed conspiracy theories that it was rigged or fraudulent. Six Senate Republicans, including Cruz and Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley, challenged Arizona’s election results — even after pro-Trump extremists broke into the Capitol. Meanwhile, 121 House Republicans also supported the objection.
This makes one thing clear: If Senate Republicans — who also have blood on their hands for supporting Trump’s narrative of a fraudulent election — voted to convict him at this impeachment trial, they would also be accountable for their role in inciting violence against their colleagues.
Moreover, the entire party is being asked to decide whether they will continue to support and weaponize Trumpism in its pursuit of legislative and executive power moving forward. As University of Chicago political science professor William Howell told NBC News, “If what we see is that Republicans basically across the board vote to acquit, then we conclude two things: populism will continue to maintain a grip on the party and the relevance of that distinction fades away a bit.” Republican senators refusing to convict Trump still see their loyalty to him as necessary to gaining support and victories in future elections.
While a Senate vote to acquit Trump, which is expected to happen, would mean that he could run again in the 2024 election, the reality is perhaps even more grim: It would also set a dangerous precedent for future similar acts of violence against institutions of democracy to occur with no accountability.