Will impeachment even be a blip in 2022 battle for Senate control?

NRSC Chairman Rick Scott says midterms will focus on job creation

NRSC Chairman Rick Scott believes the midterms will focus on other issues besides impeachment. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
NRSC Chairman Rick Scott believes the midterms will focus on other issues besides impeachment. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted February 13, 2021 at 4:19pm, Updated at 6:05pm

Former President Donald Trump’s historic second impeachment has dominated recent headlines, but neither party expects the votes cast Saturday by senators from battleground states to be a major factor in the fight for Senate control next year.

Seven Republican senators crossed party lines and joined all 50 members of the Democratic Conference in voting to convict Trump for inciting the rioters who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 to stop Congress from confirming Joe Biden’s presidential victory. But that was 10 short of the two-thirds majority, or 67 votes, required by the Constitution. Forty-three Republicans voted to acquit Trump.

Two GOP senators in competitive races voted to acquit Trump. Just one Senate Republican up for reelection in 2022, Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski, voted to convict the former president. Two other Republicans in states with competitive Senate races who opted not to run for reelection, Pennsylvania’s Patrick J. Toomey and North Carolina’s Richard M. Burr, also voted to convict. 

Former GOP Rep. Mark Walker, who is running for Burr’s seat in North Carolina, tweeted Saturday, “Wrong vote, Sen. Burr. I am running to replace Richard Burr because North Carolina needs a true conservative champion as their next senator.” The tweet included a link to Walker’s campaign website and his announcement video.

With the midterms more than 20 months away, some party operatives don’t believe the high-profile impeachment trial will be an issue on the campaign trail next year. That was the case with Trump’s first impeachment at the start of 2020, which by November had been overshadowed by the coronavirus pandemic, an economic crisis and a national reckoning over social justice. 

“We’ll see what happens,” National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Rick Scott told CQ Roll Call on Friday when asked if impeachment could be an issue in the midterms. 

“I think the election is going to be about issues,” the Florida Republican said. “I think the Biden administration is doing so many things that are killing jobs that it’s all going to be about job creation.”

A spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, Stewart Boss, said the 43 Republicans who voted to acquit Trump “ignored the overwhelming evidence and once again put their own self-serving politics ahead of our democracy.”

A primary problem?

The more immediate political impact could be felt by Republicans in primaries — particularly Murkowski, who has been known to clash with Trump. The former president won Alaska by 10 points in November, and he has already vowed to campaign against Murkowski in 2022. Murkowski won a third full term in 2016 by 15 points, the same as Trump’s margin in Alaksa that year.

“This is really about what we stand for. And if I can't say what I believe that our president should stand for, then why should I ask Alaskans to stand with me?” Murkowski told Politico after her vote.

“This was consequential on many levels,” she added. “I cannot allow my vote, the significance of my vote, to be devalued by whether or not I feel that this is helpful for my political ambitions.”

Murkowski noted as she walked to her hideaway office in the Capitol that her office is located near where rioters broke through windows to enter the building. She recalled hearing a Capitol Police officer vomiting nearby on Jan. 6 after being hit by pepper spray.

“I’m sure that there are many Alaskans that are very dissatisfied with my vote. And I’m sure that there are many Alaskans that are proud of my vote,” Murkowski said.

Murkowski is no stranger to primary challenges. In 2010, she lost the GOP nomination to a tea party challenger and waged a successful write-in campaign to win reelection. She could also benefit from a new voting system in Alaska, under which all candidates, regardless of party, compete in one primary, and the top four vote-getters advance to a ranked-choice general election. 

It’s also not clear if Trump will continue to wield the same influence in GOP primaries as he did before the Jan. 6 attack. 

Asked about Trump’s former United Nations ambassador, Nikki Haley, telling Politico that his actions disqualified him from being elected again, North Dakota GOP Sen. Kevin Cramer, a staunch Trump ally who voted to acquit, said Friday that the former president has “made it pretty difficult to gain a lot of support.” 

“Now, as you can tell, there’s some support that will never leave,” Cramer told reporters. “But I think that is a shrinking population, and probably shrinks a little bit after this week."

Cramer said impeachment could be an issue in some upcoming campaigns, but noted, “It’s different for every senator or every member, depending on where they live.”

Trump has signaled that he will remain active in politics.

“Our historic, patriotic and beautiful movement to Make America Great Again has only just begun,” he said in a Saturday statement after he was acquitted. “In the months ahead I have much to share with you, and I look forward to continuing our incredible journey together to achieve American greatness for all of our people.”

Party lines

Aside from Murkwoski’s vote, the other senators up for reelection in the states that could host competitive Senate races according to Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales voted with their respective parties. 

That includes Democrats Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, Mark Kelly of Arizona, and Raphael Warnock of Georgia, who all voted to convict. Biden carried all four states, but he carried Georgia and Arizona by less than half a point, meaning Kelly and Warnock are top GOP targets in 2022. The two senators are running for full terms after winning special elections last cycle. 

“January 6th was a dark day for our country,” Kelly said in a statement. “There has to be accountability for the attack on our democracy to uphold the rule of law and make it clear that it cannot happen again.”

Warnock, a pastor, told reporters at the Capitol after the vote, “There are these moments that define who we are. This was a moral moment for those of us in that chamber [who] have a rare privilege of standing up for our republic. And we failed to meet that moral test.”

Biden also carried Wisconsin, where GOP Sen. Ron Johnson is up for reelection, by less than 1 point. Johnson, who voted Saturday to acquit Trump, has not yet said whether he will run for a third term. But the Democrat who has already launched a bid for his Senate seat slammed Johnson’s vote. 

“The trial may be over, but we won’t forget this,” Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson said. Nelson’s campaign launched a billboard earlier this week accusing Johnson of treason and calling on him to resign.

Florida GOP Sen. Marco Rubio also voted to acquit Trump. The Sunshine State has been a perennial electoral battleground, and Trump won it by 3 points in 2020, expanding on his winning margin in 2016.

The Jan. 6 attack and the House vote to impeach Trump took place while he was still in office, but Rubio said he voted not to convict largely because Trump is no longer in office, and he worried about the precedent of impeaching a former president.

“I voted to acquit former President Trump because I will not allow my anger over the criminal attack of January 6th nor the political intimidation from the left to lead me into supporting a dangerous constitutional precedent,” Rubio said in a statement. “The election is over. A new President is in the White House and a new Congress has been sworn in. Let history, and if necessary the courts, judge the events of the past.”

Chris Cioffi contributed to this report.

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