McConnell’s vote had been closely watched since he’s been very critical of Trump’s role in inciting the Jan. 6 riot and his wife, former Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, resigned from the Administration in the aftermath of the attack that killed at least five people, including a Capitol Police officer.
In a speech on Jan. 19, McConnell, R-Ky., said Trump “provoked” the mob that tried to use “fear and violence” to stop the Joint Session of Congress from certifying President-elect Joe Biden‘s win on Jan. 6.
“The mob was fed lies,” McConnell at the time. “They were provoked by the president and other powerful people.”
McConnell alerted colleagues of his decision Saturday morning by email before the Senate convened for what is expected to be the final day of Trump’s trial for “incitement of insurrection.”
McConnell gave an early signal of where he stood when he joined the majority of Republican senators earlier this week to vote that the trial was unconstitutional because Trump is no longer president. In that vote, just six GOP senators joined with Democrats to allow the trial to proceed.
Conviction was always going to be an uphill climb since 17 GOP senators would need to join all 50 Democrats to meet the supermajority threshold. If McConnell had decided to vote to convict he may have brought more of his colleagues over, but without his support, Trump is all-but-certain headed for a second acquittal.
McConnell voted once before to acquit Trump in his first impeachment trial a year ago related to abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.