“In eight years in Congress, I probably had a hundred votes that I could have gone either way, and I maybe second-guessed a little bit,” Rep. Tom Rice, the South Carolina Republican who was censured by his state party for his vote, said in an interview. “This is not one of them.”
As the Senate gears up for his second impeachment trial starting Tuesday, Trump still remains a polarizing and dominant force in his party. The pro-Trump wing of the House Republican Conference is still the most sizable bloc, while a large contingent of top Senate Republicans are eager to move past the Trump-era and all the controversies that followed, even as they are likely to acquit him.
Some top Senate Republicans agree.
“I think our party has to be embracing solutions,” Senate Minority Whip John Thune, the No. 2 Republican in the chamber, told CNN Monday when asked about Cheney’s comments. “I think if we want to speak to the issues that people in this country care about, the longer we’re tied to a personality — a cult of personality — I just don’t think that’s a good durable model for the future. That’s a debate we are going to be having among Republicans both here and around the country.”
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the Alaska Republican who may vote to convict Trump, said in a brief interview: “I think we’re in a place where Donald Trump is gone — and in terms of his role in party, that has yet to be determined. But I have not embraced the party of Donald Trump. I’m looking for the Republican Party.”
Yet Trump allies like Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, have long argued that Trump’s support is paramount to winning back the House and Senate in 2022, and House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy made a trek to Trump’s South Florida golf resort to make amends with the former President. In the Senate, so far just five GOP senators have indicated they could convict Trump in his impeachment trial — far short of 17 Republicans who would at least be needed to reach the 67 votes to convict the former President and then later bar him from ever serving in office again.
Asked if backlash from the right is weighing on Republican senators as they decide how to vote, Texas Sen. John Cornyn said: “I don’t know if I’d say it weighs on us, but we’re aware of that in the political context.”
Other GOP senators were cryptic when asked about Cheney’s remarks.
After expressing his concerns about the constitutionality of the impeachment trial, GOP Sen. Roy Blunt was asked about Cheney’s comments about the party not embracing Trump. Instead, he pointed to how the trial is not constitutional in his view.
“Well, embracing your view of the Constitution doesn’t mean you’re embracing any individual if that’s your legitimate view,” said Blunt, who is up for reelection next year in Missouri. “It’s my legitimate view and that’s the only person I can speak for.”
Caught in the middle are a band of House Republicans who defied their party and stood up to Trump, voting to impeach him on a charge of inciting the deadly January 6 insurrection. Many are now facing the threats of Trump-inspired primary challengers following their vote to impeach.
Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, a Washington state Republican who also voted to impeach, when asked if she had any regrets about her impeachment vote, said, “Heck no.”
“When push comes to shove, I’m gonna stand with the Constitution, which is why I actually I’m at peace with it,” Herrera Beutler said. “Because that’s what I said I’d do in the first place.”
The congresswoman said she’s “not worried” about a potential primary challenger
“There’s a lot of Republicans who disagreed with me on it, and I totally respect that,” Herrera Beutler said. “They don’t expect you to agree with them on everything, but they want to be able to trust you.”
Rep. Peter Meijer of Michigan, a freshman Republican, did not hesitate when asked if he regrets his impeachment vote, saying, “Not for a second. Not for a second.”
“It was the right thing to do,” Meijer said, adding that he had a town hall with constituents, some of whom expressed disappointment in the way he voted on impeachment. “I regret that that is how they feel.”
Other GOP impeachment backers also echoed that sentiment, including Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger, Michigan Rep. Fred Upton and Ohio Rep. Anthony Gonzalez — all of whom defended their votes.
“Can I say that’s a dumb question?” said Rep. Dan Newhouse, a Republican of Washington, when asked if he has any regrets about his vote after getting backlash from Trump supporters. “I do not regret it.”
CNN’s Ted Barrett contributed to this report.