Opinion: Megan Dewhirst

An Acquittal, A Vacation, and A Trillion Dollar Stimulus Package. The past two weeks in US Politics…

(Cover Image: Gage Skidmore from Wikimedia Commons)

The impeachment trial already feels like years ago, especially in the time vortex that is the ongoing COVID-19 lockdown.

However, in the past two weeks the impeachment trial came to a close, Texas froze over as their Senator - Ted Cruz - flew to Cancun, and Biden continued to push ahead with his $1.9 trillion COVID-19 stimulus package.

Last week, Donald Trump’s impeachment trial was concluded in the Senate and Trump was found not guilty of inciting insurrection at the US Capitol in January. Interestingly enough, this was the shortest impeachment trial in US history.

However, despite its brief nature and predictability, the impeachment trial set a precedent, in that a former President was trialled - the only sticking point being that Trump was not convicted and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell justified his acquittal vote by claiming that former presidents were not eligible for impeachment trials.

This leaves a grey area around the precedent and Trump’s acquittal could allow Presidents with large majorities in the Senate to abuse their power in the latter months and days of their presidency and go unchallenged when they leave office.

Image: The White House from Wikimedia Commons

So, what does Trump’s acquittal mean?

For Trump, this means that the majority of Republicans remained by his side, and because of this loyalty the former President is still eligible to run for President in 2024. Those who did not stay loyal to Trump may face an uphill battle in their next electoral races, as they are receiving strong criticism from Trump’s large base.

However, Trump’s image is now associated with the angry mob at the front doors of the Capitol and the emotional display that the Democrats produced in the Senate hearing shall not be forgotten so quickly. So, independent voters and moderates may be put off voting for him a second time.

In terms of the Republican Party, only seven members broke rank and voted to convict Trump - this is unsurprising as many Republican’s Senate seats would be up for grabs in the near future.

However, those who did vote to convict trump, alongside Mitt Romney who voted to convict Trump in the first impeachment trial, were Susan Collins, Ben Sasse and Bill Cassidy. All of whom were recently re-elected and have a six-year term ahead of them. Pat Toomey and Richard Burr, who also broke rank, are retiring. This is no coincidence, as most Republican Senators feared their Senate position would be very unstable if they sided with the prosecution.

However, even those who voted for acquittal may not be safe. On the 17th of February, Trump launched a personal attack on Mitch McConnell, vowing that if Republican Senators are to stay with Mitch, they shall not win again. Seeing that Trump’s words carry real meaning in his base following, it will be interesting to watch the dynamics of the Republican Party play out.

The Senate Returns to Business

With the impeachment trial over and the Senate losing three days to it, it has been back to business, confirming administration appointments and dealing with legislative business. Currently, the COVID-19 stimulus package (the ‘American Rescue Plan’) is still making its way through Congress as the Democrats plan to pass the deal by the end of the month.

It is a huge spending package, and at $1.9 trillion the Republicans are pressing harshly against the bill, claiming it is unreasonably large and includes Democratic priorities unrelated to the pandemic, such as funds for local governments and a $15 minimum wage.

Biden, however, maintains committed to pushing this bill through with his slim majority in the Senate, outlining that the US needs to ‘act big’ in order to help those most affected by the economic and public health crisis.

Texas Freezes and Ted Cruz Flees

Ted Cruz has landed in hot water as temperatures in Texas dropped to -18C this week. As millions in Texas faced huge water shortages and were told to boil contaminated water and snow, Texan Senator Ted Cruz took a family trip to Cancun, Mexico.

On the 18th of February, he was questioned by the press at Cancun Airport, where he expressed that the vacation was for his daughters, but he returned from Cancun because it ‘didn’t feel right’. So far, Senator Cruz has not apologised for leaving Texas in a state of emergency, with power blackouts and burst water pipes. He had, however, said it was a ‘mistake’.

Image: Aaron Burden from Unsplash

Cruz has been under intense scrutiny from the press and Democratic opposition, outlining the disregard towards his duty in the face of crisis. Others were angered at Cruz’s use of his daughters as deflection, and others still pointed out the irresponsibility of vacation travel during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This scrutiny will certainly hurt the Senator, especially amid rumours that he may be contemplating another presidential bid in 2024.

As we look forward to March, the changing political landscape, especially in the Republican Party, will be interesting to watch unfold. Whilst commentators focus on Biden’s handling of the pandemic and the economy as the determining factors of his approval ratings, the President will continue to push through COVID-19 stimulus packages.