Burr Found His Backbone. The NCGOP Isn’t Happy.

Also: Raleigh's elections are probably getting delayed

Mon., Feb. 15, 2021

Today’s PRIMER will be short and sweet, on account of me not wanting to spend Valentine’s Day evening working. We’ve got another day of clouds and (possible) rain to look forward to — yay! — with highs in the mid-40s.

One Fun Thing

Have you ever wondered what’s on the radio right now in, say, Tirana, Albania? How about Tomsk, Russia? Or Sand Point, Alaska? Terra Santa PA, Brazil? The Falkland Islands? Kumasi, Ghana? Like, an instant window into literally any culture anywhere on the planet — big cities, small towns, mountain villages, island outposts, scratchy AM hinterlands?

Let me introduce you to my new favorite site on the internet: Radio Garden. It’s sort of like Google Earth, but with radio stations. You zoom in where you want to go, click, and listen. I meant to check it out for five minutes this weekend and ended up losing several hours.

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1. Burr Turns on Trump, NCGOP Turns on Burr

On Saturday, the Senate acquitted Donald Trump in his second impeachment trial in 13 months. The result was a foregone conclusion. No matter how airtight their case that Trump incited the fatal Jan. 6 riot— and it was, as Mitch McConnell admitted — nothing the House managers said or did would have persuaded 17 Republicans to declare the former president guilty.

Republicans used two arguments to justify their decision:

  • The trial was unconstitutional because Trump was a “private citizen.”

  • House managers “rushed” the impeachment.

Neither holds up to more than a moment’s scrutiny, of course. But that’s not the point. The point of “process” arguments is to thread the needle: you acquit Trump, so you don’t offend the base, but you don’t endorse his conspiracies and rhetoric, so you don’t offend the fundraisers. To put it more bluntly, it’s legalistic cover for moral cowardice.

Many — like Sen. Thom Tillis — tried to have it both ways. As Tillis said in a statement:

  • “It is important to note that a not guilty verdict is not the same as being declared innocent. President Trump is most certainly not the victim here; his words and actions were reckless and he shares responsibility for the disgrace that occurred on January 6.” (N&O)

  • “No president is above the law or immune from criminal prosecution, and that includes former President Trump.” (NYT)

  • To recap: Tillis is implying that Trump should be criminally prosecuted, but convicting him in an impeachment trial was a bridge too far. Hmm.

Saturday’s impeachment climax had two surprises.

Surprise 1: House managers asked to call witnesses — a request the Senate approved, for a moment upending the wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am trial and threatening to drag it out for weeks. And then, just as quickly, Democrats — having an uncanny ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory — capitulated in exchange for absolutely nothing.

  • On Friday night, Republican Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler issued a statement corroborating a CNN story about a phone call between Trump and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy — who, by the way, comes out of this looking like the world’s biggest tool, but that’s for another day — during the riot, in which Trump effectively refuses to call off the insurrectionists.

  • On Saturday morning, House managers decided they wanted to call her to testify. Senate Dems went along.

  • But then: “During the Senate break after the witness vote Saturday, Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) twice came into the managers’ room off the Senate floor, according to multiple Democratic sources. Coons pressed House Democrats to relent, saying their quest for witnesses would cost them Republican votes to convict and maybe even some Democrats.” (Politico)

  • The issue is that, like kindergarteners, senators did not want to miss their scheduled recess this week. Or, as Coons said, “People want to get home for Valentine’s Day.”

  • They entered Herrera Beutler’s statement into the record instead.

  • This reaction, from House manager Jamie Raskin, hits the nail on the head:

Surprise 2: Seven Republicans voted to convict Trump. Last month, in a sort of test vote, five Republicans — Mitt Romney, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Ben Sasse, and Pat Toomey — had signaled that they were open to convicting Trump, or at least they thought the trial was constitutional. But after hearing arguments, they were joined by Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and — out of nowhere — Richard Burr of North Carolina.

Cassidy explained his decision in a brief video.

Burr issued a lengthier statement:

When this process started, I believed that it was unconstitutional to impeach a president who was no longer in office. I still believe that to be the case. However, the Senate is an institution based on precedent, and given that the majority in the Senate voted to proceed with this trial, the question of constitutionality is now established precedent. As an impartial juror, my role is now to determine whether House managers have sufficiently made the case for the article of impeachment against President Trump.

I have listened to the arguments presented by both sides and considered the facts. The facts are clear.

The President promoted unfounded conspiracy theories to cast doubt on the integrity of a free and fair election because he did not like the results. As Congress met to certify the election results, the President directed his supporters to go to the Capitol to disrupt the lawful proceedings required by the Constitution. When the crowd became violent, the President used his office to first inflame the situation instead of immediately calling for an end to the assault.

As I said on January 6th, the President bears responsibility for these tragic events. The evidence is compelling that President Trump is guilty of inciting an insurrection against a coequal branch of government and that the charge rises to the level of high Crimes and Misdemeanors. Therefore, I have voted to convict.

I do not make this decision lightly, but I believe it is necessary. 

By what he did and by what he did not do, President Trump violated his oath of office to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.

Something to note about the Republicans who voted to convict:

  • Burr and Toomey are retiring.

  • Sasse, Cassidy, and Collins won’t be up for reelection until 2026.

  • Alaska has an unusual voting system — a jungle primary, with ranked-choice voting beginning in 2022 — so winning hard-core Trump voters might not be Murkowski’s biggest concern. She could probably run as an independent and win.

  • Romney, 73, will be up for reelection in 2024. I have no idea if he’ll run again, but if he does, he’ll have more difficulty in the primary than the general. Romney’s not well-liked among Utah Republicans but is pretty popular among the state’s Dems.


The cynic in me can’t help but wonder if Burr would have voted as he did if he was going to face Republican primary voters next year or if Trump’s law enforcement apparatus were still probing Burr’s fortuitous stock trades. But neither of those things are happening, and Burr, 65, is apparently unwilling to allow his legacy to be defined by fealty to Trump.

So now the North Carolina Republican Party wants to censure Burr.

  • “Members of the NC GOP’s central committee will hold an emergency meeting Monday night to vote on censuring Burr, the party’s spokesman Tim Wigginton confirmed Sunday evening.” (N&O)

  • The censure is meaningless — that is, beyond underlining how pointless the state party has become.

Former Rep. Mark Walker, who is running to succeed Burr, couldn’t denounce him fast enough.

Sen. Lindsey Graham used Burr’s vote to rekindle talk of Lara Trump’s run.

  • “My friend Richard Burr just made Lara Trump almost the certain nominee for the Senate seat in North Carolina to replace him if she runs,” he told Fox News.

  • “If she runs” is doing a lot of work in that sentence. And if she does run, it’s a bit rich to declare someone who doesn’t live here and isn’t known here and has no real assets save for the last name she married into “almost the certain nominee.”

2. Local Elections Are Probably Getting Delayed

You heard it here first — a month ago. But, as the kids say, shit just got real. The census is late, which means this fall’s municipal elections probably aren’t going to happen. Some of them, anyway. Maybe. It’s complicated. To review:

  • State law requires cities to redraw their districts by July 21 so that candidates for office can file ahead of this fall’s elections.

  • However, the Census Bureau won’t release the data they need to do that until Sept. 30.

  • While the General Assembly can push back the deadline, that still won’t give 35 cities and towns with elections this fall enough time to redraw their lines and hold public hearings before the October primaries and November general election.

  • “It’s not the first time Census delays have forced local elections to be delayed. Similar problems in the 1990 Census meant the legislature passed a law allowing many towns to postpone their 1991 elections until the scheduled primary election date in 1992.”

  • “Gerry Cohen, a retired staff attorney for the legislature who oversaw redistricting matters, said on Twitter Friday that the same approach could be used this year. He’s unsure, however, if the delay would be necessary for all cities and towns that use district systems — or just the ones where the district seats are only elected by residents of that district.” (Charlotte Observer)

What that means: Raleigh elects candidates by the district, meaning only residents of District A vote for the council member who represents District A. Durham, however, has citywide elections for its three ward seats, so all city residents vote for the council members from Wards 1, 2, and 3.

  • In theory, you could hold Durham’s election without redrawing the districts, with the only potential hangup being the council members’ residency requirements.

  • Raleigh could not. It’s unclear whether it can or would run the at-large council seats and mayor’s race as a standalone election. That wouldn’t make logistical sense, but the alternative is giving officials several months in office that voters didn’t grant them.