Senate Republicans are cringing at former President Donald Trump’s plans to speak on Jan. 6, openly fretting he’s trying to pull their party back into debating his false election claims.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.). “I guess it depends on what he’s going to say. But early assumptions are that it’s going to be an aggressive statement. I just don’t think it’s a good idea.”
Then there’s Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), who wants to “stay focused on congressional activities.” And Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), who voted to convict Trump over his role in the Jan. 6 attack, said the event isn’t a “terribly good idea,” but added, “What am I going to do about it?”
And those were the members who decided to even talk about it. While Trump plans to defend the rioters who attacked the U.S. Capitol nearly a year ago at a press conference Thursday, Senate Republicans largely prefer to ignore him, still seeing scant purpose in provoking a prickly Trump, even a year after he’s left office. In interviews Tuesday, several declined to comment and instead said their attention is on moving forward.
Senate Republicans’ opting not to discuss Trump’s latest grievances highlights the ongoing tension within the GOP over how much attention to give to the former president, especially as he continues to falsely state that the 2020 election was stolen. While many Senate Republicans condemned Trump in the immediate aftermath of the Jan. 6 attack — when pro-Trump rioters stormed the Capitol — he still holds substantial sway over the party, particularly in GOP primaries.
“It’s a free country and you’re entitled to say whatever you want to say subject to some limitations, but I think the country has moved on,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas.). “I think that’s where we ought to focus our efforts, is on getting things done for the American people and not re-litigating issues that have already been decided.”
In addition to talking about the 2020 election, Trump is also expected to decry the House select committee’s investigation into Jan. 6. Thursday’s press conference is widely viewed as Trump’s effort to counter-program a series of events Democrats are holding to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the attack.
However, House Republicans continue to take a more friendly tack towards Trump then their Senate colleagues. On Fox News on Monday night, Laura Ingraham asked Reps. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Jim Banks (R-Ind.) if it was “smart” for Trump to do a speech on Jan 6.
“I welcome it. President Trump has important things to say,” Banks said. “I’m looking forward to hearing what President Trump has to say.”
Most Senate Republicans voted to acquit Trump in the impeachment trial centered on his role in the Capitol attack and most also voted to block a bipartisan Jan. 6 commission from being established. House Democrats instead set up a select committee to probe the circumstances around the attack.
President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris are both scheduled to deliver remarks at the U.S. Capitol that day. Meanwhile, many Senate Republicans are expected to be out of town for Georgia GOP Sen. Johnny Isakson’s funeral.
Few Senate Republicans see an upside in talking about Trump, the 2020 election and his role in the Jan. 6 attack.
“There’s no benefit on commenting,” said Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.). “So I’m not going to comment.”
For many, ignoring him is often the path of least resistance. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has repeatedly declined to engage in questions about Trump, merely saying he’s focused on the future. When asked about Trump’s press conference, McConnell said Tuesday: “It’ll be interesting to see what he has to say.” And Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), the No. 4 GOP leader, said Tuesday he hadn’t given much thought to the press conference.
“He’s going to do what he’s going to do and … I think that most of us want to make sure that something like that never happens again,” said Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.).