(NPR) – Following Saturday’s vote acquitting former President Donald Trump, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., excoriated Trump for his actions on the day of the attack on the U.S. Capitol, calling them a “disgraceful dereliction of duty.”
But he said ultimately, he did not vote to convict the former president because of constitutional concerns.
“There’s no question, none, that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day,” McConnell said shortly after the 57-43 Senate vote that ended in the former president’s acquittal.
“The people who stormed this building believed they were acting on the wishes and instructions of their president,” he said, “and having that belief was a foreseeable consequence of the growing crescendo of false statements, conspiracy theories and reckless hyperbole which the defeated president kept shouting into the largest megaphone on planet Earth.”
McConnell rebuked Trump for his actions after the insurrection as well.
“He did not do his job. He didn’t take steps so federal law could be faithfully executed and order restored,” he continued.
“No. Instead, according to public reports, he watched television happily — happily — as the chaos unfolded,” he said. “Even after it was clear to any reasonable observer that Vice President Pence was in serious danger.”
But McConnell said that the process of impeachment and conviction is a “limited tool” and that he believes Trump is not “constitutionally eligible for conviction.”
“The Constitution gives us a particular role. This body is not invited to act as the nation’s overarching moral tribunal,” he said.
He said that the text of the question of constitutionality is “legitimately ambiguous” and that he “respects” his colleagues for reaching either the conclusion to acquit or convict.
Seven Republicans broke ranks with their party in voting for a conviction.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer acknowledged the group in separate remarks after the vote, saying, “I salute those Republican patriots who did the right thing. It wasn’t easy. We know that.”
The New York Democrat called Trump’s actions on Jan. 6 a “textbook example” of an impeachable offense.
“Let it live on in infamy, a stain on Donald John Trump that can never, never be washed away,” he said.