Many expect the Senate's top Republican will back acquitting former President Donald Trump of a charge of inciting rioters who assaulted the Capitol last month, but no one is really sure how McConnell will vote. The Washington political universe and the world beyond will hold their collective breath when the Senate impeachment trial roll call reaches the Kentuckian's name.
Over 36 years in the Senate, the measured McConnell has earned a reputation for inexpressiveness in the service of caution. This time, the suspense over how he'll vote underscores how much is at stake for McConnell and his party, though it seems extremely unlikely that 17 GOP senators will join all 50 Democrats to convict Trump.
"The overwhelming number of Republican voters don't want Trump convicted, so that means any political leader has to tread carefully," said John Feehery, a former top congressional GOP aide. While Feehery noted that McConnell was clearly outraged over the attack, he said the senator is "trying to keep his party together."
McConnell is the chamber's most influential Republican and the longest-serving GOP leader ever, and a vote to acquit would leave the party locked in its struggle to define itself in the post-Trump presidency. A guilty vote could do more to roil GOP waters by signaling an attempt to yank the party away from a figure still revered by most of its voters.
Either way, McConnell's decision could influence the party's short- and long-term election prospects and affect the political clout and legacy of both Trump and the Senate minority leader.
Just minutes after the Democratic-led House impeached Trump on Jan. 13 for inciting insurrection, McConnell wrote to his GOP colleagues that he had "not made a final decision" about how he would vote at the Senate trial.
It was an eye-opening departure from his quick opposition when the House impeached Trump in December 2019 for trying to force Ukraine to send the then-president political dirt on campaign rival Joe Biden and other Democrats.
McConnell also told associates he thought Trump perpetrated impeachable offenses and saw the moment as a chance to distance the GOP from the damage the tumultuous Trump could inflict on it, a Republican strategist told The Associated Press at the time, speaking on condition of anonymity to describe private conversations.