December 1, 2023

If Donald Trump runs for president for a third term, Republicans on Capitol Hill will have to deal with all the things they hoped were gone forever—having to constantly answer for his tweets, worrying about being targeted by his tweets, and return to the parade of chaos that characterized his administration.

But there’s another potential twist that, at least so far, most Senate Republicans don’t even want to consider: Trump running and then being impeached for his behavior on Jan. 6. This would give the nation a modern political first – a major party candidate with a realistic chance of winning the nomination while facing a felony criminal charge.

Republican senators say that so far, they haven’t given the idea much thought — at least not that they’re willing to admit — and declined to say whether an indictment for violating the law would preclude a person seeking to be constitutionally charged with enforcing the nation’s laws.

“You talk about affairs. Wait for things to happen and then we’ll talk, okay?’ Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama told HuffPost this week.

“Wow, I don’t know. I don’t know what the rules are,” said Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio. “I just haven’t thought about it.”

The possibility is not as far-fetched as it may sound. Trump has seemingly announced his plans to run again, widely hinted at his supporters will be happy with his decision.

At the same time, signs emerged that the Justice Department is moving further than it had thought with its investigation into the Jan. 6 attempted coup and Trump’s role in it. On July 26, the Washington Post reported that Trump was under investigation for possible crimes related to January 6 and CNN reported recently that Trump’s lawyers had been in contact with the Justice Department about the investigation and had warned Trump that he might be indicted.

“You talk about affairs. Wait for things to happen and then we’ll talk, okay?’

– Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.)

“Trump’s legal team has warned him that charges are possible,” CNN reported, citing unnamed sources.

As for Portman’s question of whether an indictment arrest would be against the rules, there is nothing in the official rules of the Republican Party that mentions impeachment or charges, nor to the party’s latest platform approved in 2016.

This is different from even House Republicans rules, which specifically say party members must resign their committee seats if indicted. In other words, an indictment could force a ranking House Republican to resign from the top-level House Budget Committee, but has no formal impact on who might run for the party’s presidential nomination.

Of the GOP senators who had an opinion on what should happen if Trump steps down as an impeachable nominee, sentiment ran the gamut.

Sen. Rick Scott (Fla.), who heads the National Republican Senatorial Campaign tasked with taking back the chamber for the GOP, said the call on whether to run was Trump’s.

“This is a choice for President Trump to make and for the voters to decide,” he told HuffPost.

Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.), a 2016 presidential candidate, said an indictment would amount to merely criminalizing political dissent.

“I think prosecuting someone for their political beliefs or positions is not appropriate in a democracy,” he said. “Whether you think the governor should approve the voters or the Secretary of State or the state legislature is like a political opinion.”

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the Alaska Republican in a re-election battle against a Trump-backed opponent, said talk of a Trump accuser running “was talking about scenarios much further down the line.”

However, when asked if she thought an indictment would be disparaging, Murkowski said, “Definitely.”


– Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), on whether she believed an indictment would disqualify Trump from running for president again

Marco Rubio of Florida, another Republican presidential candidate whom Trump defeated in 2016, declined to comment, saying, “I don’t do any of that for-profit stuff.”

GOP leaders have also been silent on the question. The office of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) declined to comment, though McConnell has hinted in the past that Trump might not be a problem for the Democratic Party because he will have “Usual field” of potential candidates for 2024.

A request for comment to the office of House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy was not returned.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who is running for president in 2020, said if Republicans want to embrace an impeached presidential candidate "no one can stop them."
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who is running for president in 2020, said if Republicans want to embrace an impeached presidential candidate “no one can stop them.”

Tom Williams via Getty Images

However, a former Democratic presidential candidate had an opinion. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), one of the last of the 2020 Democratic candidates to drop out before President Joe Biden won the party’s nomination, said no formal impeachment should be required to disqualify Trump.

“Trump should be ostracized by the American voters, who, at this point, should be horrified by everything that’s come out,” he said.

“If Republicans want to embrace a person accused of treasonous acts against the United States of America, then no one can stop them,” Warren added.

“The Republicans have come so far that the American people — and that includes Democrats, Republicans and independents — said, ‘No, we’re not going there with you.’

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