Senator Mitch McConnell now finds himself squarely in the middle of an unfolding debate within the Republican party over its posture toward former president Donald Trump — and what impeachment could mean for their prospects at the ballot box.
In an unusually direct speech ahead of the inauguration, McConnell took a hard position on the January 6th Capitol riot and pinned some blame on Trump.
"They were provoked by the president and other powerful people," the Kentucky lawmaker said of the mob that overtook the seat of power in Washington.
But the senator's reported preference for purging Trump from the party is not shared by many fellow Republicans back home. Top officials with the Boone County Republican Party announced they will back a resolution demanding that McConnell stand by the former president and condemn the impeachment effort.
Opponents argue convicting Trump risks a backlash from the party's base that could put Republican efforts to retake the Senate in 2022 in jeopardy. Polls conducted before the transfer of power Wednesday showed a decisive majority of Republican voters opposed removing Trump from office, and Kentucky is among the states that remained solidly in Trump country in the November elections.
Add to the list of naysayers prominent senator and former presidential candidate Rand Paul, who is already throwing cold water on the incoming administration's stated goal of bringing the country together. In an interview on Fox News, the libertarian-leaning lawmakers said he heard something other than outreach in President Biden's first remarks to the country.
"If you read his speech and listen to it carefully, much of it is thinly-veiled innuendo calling us white supremacists, calling us racists, calling us every name in the book, calling us people that don't tell the truth," he said.
The noted Trump ally on foreign policy also took aim at Biden's flurry of executive orders reversing key Trump initiatives, arguing they will hurt job growth, and warned of any moves backing a Trump conviction in the Senate.
"I didn't see much there that was going to help the country," Paul remarked. "But more than anything, if (Biden) thinks he's going to bring the country together by impeaching a former president, I don't know what he's smoking because really he's just going to divide the country further."
For his part, Sen. Mitch McConnell issued a formal congratulations to President Biden, saying, "Our country deserves for both sides, both parties, to find common ground for the common good everywhere that we can and disagree respectfully where we must."
So far, Biden has left the impeachment matter to the Senate to sort out.