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GOP's Murkowski describes Trump's actions as 'unlawful'

Murkowski described Trump's actions as "unlawful," and described his impeachment as "appropriate." Will other Republicans agree?
Image: Senators Debate Health Care Bill On Capitol Hill
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 27: U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) gets on an elevator at the U.S. Capitol before all-night voting July 27, 2017 in Washington, DC. Senate Republicans are working to pass a stripped-down, or skinny repeal version of Obamacare reform, with repealing individual and employer mandates and the tax on medical devices being considered. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

When an impeachment article reached the floor of the U.S. House this week, 10 Republicans agreed with the Democratic majority: Donald Trump deserved to be impeached for "incitement of insurrection." As the matter shifted to the U.S. Senate, among the central questions was whether GOP members would follow suit and vote to convict Trump.

For now, zero Republican senators have announced plans to vote with Democrats on this, but Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) -- who last week became the first Republican to call for Trump's resignation -- issued a statement late yesterday that included this notable paragraph:

"For months, the President has perpetrated false rhetoric that the election was stolen and rigged, even after dozens of courts ruled against these claims. When he was not able to persuade the courts or elected officials, he launched a pressure campaign against his own Vice President, urging him to take actions that he had no authority to do. On the day of the riots, President Trump's words incited violence, which led to the injury and deaths of Americans -- including a Capitol Police officer -- the desecration of the Capitol, and briefly interfered with the government's ability to ensure a peaceful transfer of power. Such unlawful actions cannot go without consequence and the House has responded swiftly, and I believe, appropriately, with impeachment."

The Alaska Republican did not say how she intended to vote in an upcoming impeachment trial, vowing to "listen carefully and consider the arguments of both sides." But the fact that she described Trump's actions as "unlawful," and described his impeachment as "appropriate," suggests she's leaning in a certain direction.

Murkowski, however, is just one member. Once the Senate is a 50-50 chamber, 17 Senate Republicans would have to vote against Trump to convict him. How realistic is that?

NBC News reported this week that Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who voted against Trump in his first impeachment ordeal, is currently seen as "the most likely Republican to support conviction" now. Murkowski certainly appears to be leaning in the same direction, and Sens. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), and Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) also appear to be possible "yes" votes on conviction.

"After those five," NBC News' report added, "it gets trickier."

The Washington Post published an informal whip count, based on senators' public comments, and it found 40 senators voicing support for convicting Trump, 19 who are open to it, 21 who are unknown, and 20 who are opposed. (The tally includes Georgia's Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, though the senators-elect haven't yet been sworn in.)

I won't pretend to know what's likely to happen, but the New York Times reported this past weekend, "While it seemed unlikely that 17 Senate Republicans would join Democrats for the two-thirds necessary for conviction, the anger at Mr. Trump was so palpable that [GOP] leaders said privately it was not out of the question."

What's more, as we discussed yesterday, Axios reported this week that Mitch McConnell himself "would be more likely than not to vote to convict Trump" -- a move that would make it far easier for other GOP senators to do the same -- and the Kentucky Republican confirmed in writing a day later that he's at least considering voting to convict Trump, a far cry from the position he took during Trump's first impeachment.

Watch this space.