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 Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

After years of holding their tongues, a few Republicans have started to separate themselves from President Trump and his possible political collapse, focusing on his carelessness with the virus.

Why it matters: A senior Republican official told me this is less about shaping this election, and more about preparing for the aftermath.

Most notably, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in Kentucky on Thursday: "I haven't been to the White House since August the 6th."

  • "I personally didn't feel that they were approaching the protection from this illness in the same way that I thought was appropriate for the Senate [masks and distancing] ... I think we've shown that ... we can function safely." Video.

Also this week, in her sole face-to-face debate, embattled Sen. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.), pressed repeatedly, wouldn't say whether she's proud of her support for Trump, CNN reported.

Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C), who's in one of the closest Senate races, acknowledged in an interview with WRAL TV that he erred in going without a mask at a White House reception that has been linked to a cluster of cases, including his own.

  • "It's just another experience that tells me: Even when you think you're in a safe setting, you should always wear a mask," Tillis said.

Between the lines: Some top Republicans poured cold water on the idea that there's any point in Senate Republicans trying some dramatic new distancing.

  • But Politico noted: "Trump is simply too consumed by the resident chaos all around his West Wing in the closing weeks of his own reelection campaign to carry out punitive measures against GOP disloyalists."
  • And one experienced Republican consultant told me this may only be the beginning: "There will be a lot of finger points & backstabbing in next several weeks."

The bottom line, from Hans Nichols: Most Republican consultants fear that the White House is gone — they're pinning their hopes on the Senate. The last week has only made that clearer.


Jonathan Swan and Alayna Treene contributed reporting.

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Go deeper

Jan 15, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Democrats call on Schumer for speedy Trump impeachment trial

Incoming Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Democrats are in a dilemma of their own making, and now they want incoming Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to wrap up President Trump's impeachment trial as fast as possible, two sources familiar with the discussions tell Axios.

Why it matters: The party wanted to hold the president accountable for helping incite last week's Capitol attack but the actual mechanism for doing so — a Senate trial — is a balky tool that will inhibit President-elect Joe Biden from launching his effort to heal the country and its economy.

Updated Jan 13, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Trump becomes first president to be impeached twice

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The House voted 232-197 to impeach President Trump for “incitement of insurrection" after a violent pro-Trump mob breached the U.S. Capitol last week while Congress met to count the Electoral College vote.

Why it matters: Trump is now the only president in history to have been impeached twice — his first impeachment happened just over a year ago in December of 2019. He has just one week left in his term before President-elect Biden is sworn-in on Jan. 20.

Jan 15, 2021 - Politics & Policy

⏱️ Impeachment tick-tock

Chief Justice John Roberts swears in senators for President Trump's first impeachment. Photo: Senate Television via Getty Images

Here’s your guide to President Trump’s second impeachment trial. Remember, his first began almost exactly a year ago, on Jan. 16, 2020.

The state of play: Assuming the House sends the article of impeachment to the Senate on or before Jan. 19 (the day the Senate returns from recess):