Why Bill Cassidy Broke With Senate Republicans and Backed Trump’s Trial

Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana did not just vote this week with Democrats to proceed with the impeachment trial of former President Donald J. Trump — he also effectively shamed his fellow Republican senators by voicing, and acting on, what many of them were surely thinking.

Mr. Cassidy blistered Mr. Trump’s lawyers as “disorganized” and seemingly “embarrassed by their arguments,” explaining that their poor performance and the compelling case by the Democratic House impeachment managers had persuaded him to break from his party’s attempt to dismiss the proceedings on constitutional grounds.

“If I’m an impartial juror, and one side is doing a great job, and the other side is doing a terrible job, on the issue at hand, as an impartial juror, I’m going to vote for the side that did the good job,” he told reporters on Tuesday. He did, though, emphasize on Wednesday that his view on constitutionality did not “predict my vote on anything else,” namely whether to convict Mr. Trump, saying only that he had an “open mind.”

By becoming the only Senate Republican to switch his position from the one he held last month on a similar question about the constitutionality of holding an impeachment trial for a person no longer in public office, however, Mr. Cassidy delighted Louisiana Democrats, angered Republicans in his home state and presented himself as a one-man testimony of why Mr. Trump’s eventual acquittal is all but inevitable.

“There is literally nothing that the Trump lawyers could do to change any of these other Republicans’ minds,” said Senator Brian Schatz, a Hawaii Democrat. “They couldn’t have tanked it on purpose any worse than they did, and they still only lost one.”

That Mr. Cassidy was that sole senator to be lost, joining the five Republicans who also sided with Democrats in January on the constitutionality of the trial, may have seemed surprising at first glance. After all, he has been a fairly reliable conservative vote since being elected to the Senate in 2014, and Louisiana just handed Mr. Trump a 19-percentage-point victory over President Biden.

Yet Mr. Cassidy, a 63-year-old physician, also has an iconoclastic streak and can be quirky. A devoted fan of his alma mater’s football program, Mr. Cassidy can rattle off the precise number of Louisiana State University football players who have left college early to be drafted into the N.F.L.

The Trump Impeachment ›

What You Need to Know

    • A trial is being held to decide whether former President Donald J. Trump is guilty of inciting a deadly mob of his supporters when they stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, violently breaching security measures and sending lawmakers into hiding as they met to certify President Biden’s victory.
    • The House voted 232 to 197 to approve a single article of impeachment, accusing Mr. Trump of “inciting violence against the government of the United States” in his quest to overturn the election results. Ten Republicans joined the Democrats in voting to impeach him.
    • To convict Mr. Trump, the Senate would need a two-thirds majority to be in agreement. This means at least 17 Republican senators would have to vote with Senate Democrats to convict.
    • A conviction seems unlikely. Last month, only five Republicans in the Senate sided with Democrats in beating back a Republican attempt to dismiss the charges because Mr. Trump is no longer in office. Only 27 senators say they are undecided about whether to convict Mr. Trump.
    • If the Senate convicts Mr. Trump, finding him guilty of “inciting violence against the government of the United States,” senators could then vote on whether to bar him from holding future office. That vote would only require a simple majority, and if it came down to party lines, Democrats would prevail with Vice President Kamala Harris casting the tiebreaking vote.
    • If the Senate does not convict Mr. Trump, the former president could be eligible to run for public office once again. Public opinion surveys show that he remains by far the most popular national figure in the Republican Party.

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