Merkley: Senate somber at Trump trial as violent video aired
Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley says the video replay of the violence that engulfed the Capitol on Jan. 6 — some footage of which was previously unseen — prompted senators to be somber at the second impeachment trial of Donald Trump.
The violence delayed, but ultimately did not deter, both houses of Congress from certifying the victory of Democrat Joe Biden over Republican incumbent Trump for the presidency. Biden led by 7 million popular votes, and won the state electoral votes, 306-232.
Merkley spoke to Oregon reporters on a conference call just before the third day of the trial on Thursday, Feb. 11.
He and his colleagues watched a video presentation the day before by the House managers in support of the House's latest impeachment of Trump on grounds that Trump incited an insurrection, which resulted in five deaths and more than 140 injuries at the Capitol.
Merkley, like most senators, gathered in the Senate chamber on Jan. 6 as the electoral-vote certification began in the House chamber. Then thousands came from a rally Trump spoke to south of the White House, overpowered Capitol police and broke into the Capitol.
Merkley said it was one thing to be in the Senate chamber, but quite another for the senators to see the sequence of events that led to the breach from outside — events many of them had not seen before.
"It was a huge calamity," he said. "But it's also possible, when you realize how close the protesters were to the members of the House and Senate — that there were armed individuals inside the Capitol who could have barged into the chamber and started shooting and killing a lot of members of Congress or their staffs — I don't think most senators have realized how close we were to that higher level of disaster."
The footage showed officers being overpowered by the protesters, sprayed with chemical irritants, and speared by protesters using flagpoles. One was crushed in a doorway, howling in pain; another was beaten with a fire extinguisher. Protesters yelled obscenities at the police, shouted "hang the vice president" and "kill all the traitors," set up a noose outside the Capitol, and invaded the House and Senate chambers.
Capitol Police officer Eugene Goodman, who is Black, faced down a white mob and directed Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, a Republican, to safety. He and others will be awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.
A laptop computer was stolen from Merkley's office. It was retrieved in the Capitol and dusted for fingerprints. An aide said Thursday that while the investigation continues, several people have been arrested and charged in connection with the break-in.
Decisive or not?
Democrat Merkley said the showing of the video left many Republicans visibly shaken. But he also said he does not know whether it will be enough for them to convict Trump. Only five Republicans voted with Democrats to start the trial, and only six voted on its first day to conclude it was constitutional. If all 50 Democrats vote to convict, 17 Republicans will have to join them for the required two-thirds majority.
"I think many of them are wrestling with this because the case was so powerfully laid out," he said.
"A number of colleagues are deeply troubled. They know this is a moment in history when they would like to do the right thing. But they feel the right thing may be in conflict with the political imperative of where their electoral base sits."
Merkley said the trial is not impeding the work of Congress. House committees have begun work on Biden's proposed $1.9 trillion pandemic recovery plan, and Merkley said the Senate hopes to take it up by the time current unemployment benefit extensions end in mid-March.
Merkley said it is clear to him that Trump fulfilled three steps toward inciting an insurrection: Raising a "big lie" about a "stolen election," generating anger among his supporters, and urging them to march on the Capitol the day Congress certified the election results. He also said that even though Trump pledged to go with the protesters — Trump stayed in the White House — Trump never attempted to stop them.
"The president, who was monitoring the situation very closely, did nothing," Merkley said. "He did not say stand down, he did not say leave the premises, he did not say protect the police officers, he did not say cease and desist. He continued tweeting what could be constituted as approval."
Hours later, Trump did broadcast a video praising the protesters but urging everyone to go home. Merkley said that was too little, too late.
"When domestic enemies physically assaulted the Capitol, the president chose not to defend the government of the United States of America," Merkley said. "To me, that is an extraordinary breach of oath with no parallel example in the history of our country."
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