U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy broke with the Republican party in visceral terms Saturday, voting with just six other members of his party to convict Donald Trump on charges of incitement of insurrection and declaring he was putting the Constitution over the former president.
The blowback from Republicans back home was swift and dramatic. The state GOP took the remarkable step of censuring the Baton Rouge Republican hours after his vote to convict. Several Republican elected officials condemned the senator, who was a reliable conservative vote during his first six-year term that began in 2014, voting with Trump 89% of the time.
The schism between Cassidy and his own party made clear that the allegiances among many Louisiana Republicans still lay with the former president, and not their senior U.S. senator.
“Our Constitution and our country is more important than any one person,” Cassidy said in a brief video released after the vote. “I voted to convict President Trump because he is guilty.”
Cassidy joined six other Republicans in voting with all Democrats to convict Trump, leaving Democrats well short of the two-thirds threshold needed to convict. Still, they touted the vote as the most bipartisan impeachment vote in U.S. history. The historic impeachment trial centered around Trump’s role in inciting a mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 to interrupt the certification of President Joe Biden’s electors. Five people died in the riot.
Louisiana’s other senator, John Kennedy of Madisonville, who is up for re-election in 2022, voted to acquit Trump, criticizing the impeachment proceedings as “political sport.” Kennedy had also voted earlier this week not to move forward with the trial on the basis that it was unconstitutional to convict a former president; Cassidy broke with most members of his party on that vote as well.
“The merits of the Democrats’ case were not even close,” Kennedy said. “The Democrats afforded the president no due process in the House — no hearings, no investigation, no right to be heard, no defense. No one is above the law, but no one is beneath it.”
Both Kennedy and Cassidy were Democrats for years -- the Democratic party for years dominated Louisiana politics -- before switching to the GOP as Republicans cemented their political power in the state.
Almost immediately after his vote to convict, Louisiana Republicans blasted Cassidy. Attorney General Jeff Landry said the vote was “extremely disappointing,” calling the impeachment trial unconstitutional. He said Cassidy fell into a “trap laid by Democrats to have Republicans attack Republicans.”
Mike Bayham, the secretary of the LAGOP, said he hopes the Legislature will revamp the state’s election system to hold closed primaries, which he believes will result in more reliable Republican candidates. Currently, all candidates for office appear on the same ballot regardless of party, in what's known as a jungle primary.
“Bill Cassidy is a senator without a party as of today,” he said.
LAGOP Chairman Louis Gurvich said the party condemns Cassidy’s vote.
“Fortunately, clearer heads prevailed and President Trump has been acquitted of the impeachment charge filed against him,” Gurvich said.
State Rep. Blake Miguez, of Erath, the head of the House GOP delegation, said Cassidy “no longer represents the majority of people in Louisiana” who voted him into office. “Don’t expect a warm welcome when you come home to Louisiana!” he tweeted.
Trump won Louisiana easily in both 2016 and 2020, and commands considerable influence over Louisiana Republicans. State lawmakers routinely follow his lead on policy issues. Trump tried to help unseat Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards in 2019 by stumping for businessman Eddie Rispone, but Edwards emerged victorious in a close race.
Cassidy’s vote is the latest indication that he is striking a more independent path after winning re-election to his second six-year term in November, a contest he won easily in the jungle primary. He won his first term in 2014 by unseating Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu, in large part by hammering her for voting with then-President Barack Obama.
A doctor who previously worked in the state’s charity hospital system, Cassidy made a name for himself during Trump’s tenure by helping lead a GOP effort to reform the nation’s health care system. The effort failed, but it raised his profile as a policy wonk who became the Trump administration’s go-to senator for health care issues.
Since being re-elected, Cassidy has been more willing than any Louisiana Republican in Congress to break with the party line. He was the first to acknowledge Trump lost the election, in late November, and was the only member of the delegation to refuse to object to a state’s electoral votes as Trump pushed unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud.
He also has joined with a group of more moderate Republicans seeking to make bipartisan deals with the Biden administration. He and nine other Republican senators met with Biden recently to discuss a COVID relief package.
After voting earlier in the week to allow the impeachment trial to proceed, Cassidy said putting Trump above the Constitution is "not conservatism. That is not Republicanism."