GOP senators downplay significance of Jan. 6 panel

(The Hill) – Senate Republicans are downplaying the impact of House hearings on Jan. 6, which shed new light on former President Donald Trump’s actions to incite a crowd to storm the Capitol in the purpose of preventing certification of Joe Biden’s victory.

Senate Republicans are generally confident the damaging revelations won’t have much of an impact on the midterm elections, citing economic factors such as inflation as far more important in moving voters.

But Republican senators are less sure what the testimony before the committee, which received heavy media coverage, means for Trump’s viability as the 2024 presidential candidate.

There are signs that Trump’s popularity among Republican voters is waning, but GOP lawmakers are reluctant to discount his chances of winning in 2024 given he defied predictions in 2016.

“To the extent that there are people who haven’t made up their minds or don’t have an opinion one way or the other, maybe something will come out of it that will change that,” he said. said Senate Minority Whip John Thune (RS.D.) said when asked what impact he thought the Jan. 6 hearings might have on voters. “But it seems that right now it’s mostly about rehashing ground.”

“There are so many assumptions around this right now. Who knows if he races again,” he added.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who along with Thune has urged his GOP colleagues in the Senate not to support objections to the Electoral College count, told reporters last week that he wasn’t focusing on the House hearings.

“I’m focused on what we’re doing in the Senate, and I think the most important thing we’re doing right now is the veterans bill and the issue [going] moving forward on these violent crimes that we have witnessed,” he said, referring to negotiations on a gun safety bill.

Yet McConnell also said in December that it would be important to learn more about what triggered the January 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol.

“I think fact-finding is interesting. We are all going to watch it,” he said six months ago. “It was a horrific event, and I think what they’re looking to find out is something the public needs to know.”

Many Senate Republicans are skeptical that the hearings will affect Trump’s popularity with the base, which is a key reason they avoid commenting on what Trump knew and did before and during the attack.

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (RW.Va.), an adviser to McConnell’s management team, said she followed some of the hearings but “didn’t learn anything too new.”

“Yeah, they’re important, but I’m not sure that’s going to change anyone’s mind,” she said.

Asked what it means for Trump if he runs for president in 2024, Capito replied, “Let me outrun 2022.”

Recent polls show Trump’s support among Republican voters is declining, though he remains a formidable political powerhouse.

An NBC News poll last month found Republican voters are beginning to view their party as more important than Trump himself. The survey by Hart Research Associates and Public Opinion Strategies found that 58% of Republicans described themselves as bigger GOP supporters than Trump, down from 38% just before the 2020 election.

Political experts say Republican lawmakers shouldn’t ignore the impact of the hearings on swing voters.

“The hearings aren’t likely to move the needle among Republicans, but GOP senators should be concerned about independent voters. These people are often swayed by new information, and there has been very graphic testimony here and this group of voters could change enough to make a difference in the next election,” said Darrell West, director of governance studies. at the Brookings Institution.

“Trump has taken a hit in the country as a whole, and even among Republicans his numbers have gone down a bit,” West said.

“It may not be enough to deny him the nomination if there are a lot of people, but if he finds himself in a one-on-one primary battle, his declining fortunes could be problematic,” said he added.

Democrats believe Trump’s efforts to undermine the 2020 election results will be a problem midterm and into 2024, especially if he’s on the ballot.

“I think people watching this really see it as an ongoing criminal plot. Not just January 6, but we’re definitely seeing it in Michigan that they’re trying to replace poll workers and do things to really create chaos in the vote so that people don’t have any confidence in the vote,” a said Senator Debbie Stabenow. (D-Mich.), chair of the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee.

But Republicans say the testimony doesn’t seem to be breaking through with voters at home.

“Nobody ever told me about it at home,” said Sen. Kevin Cramer (RN.D.). “I don’t know if I know anyone who watched it. Nobody ever raised it as a problem.

Cramer said he couldn’t speculate what the hearings mean for Trump’s political future because “to be honest, it’s not a very high priority in my life or in the life of anyone in my universe. “.

“Most people see it as a made-for-TV production based on something that’s not really a very high priority given what’s going on in the world,” he said. “I haven’t really watched the news reports about it.”

Sen. Mike Rounds (RS.D.) said he watched the first day of hearings and parts of the second day.

“I think they did a very nice production. They spent their time efficiently,” he said, but added that they “didn’t tell me anything that I didn’t already know.”

Senator Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), one of seven Republican senators who voted to convict Trump in his second impeachment trial for inciting insurrection, said Republicans who did not support creating the panel “essentially say it’s a rehash of everything there.”

“I’m sure there are many who paid no attention to it, and then there are those who were absolutely and perhaps traumatized by the events of January 6th and so they were stuck there at all. following that and through the impeachment process,” she said.

Murkowski said various senators were trying to get in touch with senior Trump administration officials to end the Jan. 6 violence, and it was interesting to hear more about the events surrounding that day. But she’s not sure if that makes much of a difference to Trump’s political future.

She said she would have thought immediately after Jan. 6 that Trump’s influence in the Republican Party would be severely diminished, but “a year later, he clearly has a level of political influence that hasn’t diminished. in many areas”.

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