Signaling a continued break with President Trump the day before he leaves office, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blamed Mr. Trump in part for the assault on the U.S. Capitol earlier this month, saying the pro-Trump mob that overran the building was "provoked by the president and other powerful people."
In a speech on the Senate floor, McConnell noted the Senate was convening for the first time since voting to accept the election results following the attacks on January 6, which resulted in the deaths of five people. Congress met that day to tally the Electoral College votes for President-elect Joe Biden, a count that was interrupted by the riots that afternoon. Despite the ransacking of the Capitol earlier that day, more than 100 Republican lawmakers still voted to object to the Electoral College results of Arizona and Pennsylvania when Congress reconvened hours after the assault.
"The mob was fed lies. They were provoked by the president and other powerful people. And they tried to use fear and violence to stop a specific proceeding of the first branch of the federal government which they did not like," said McConnell, who had urged his Republican colleagues to vote to affirm Mr. Biden's victory in keeping with the tradition of a peaceful transfer of power.
Earlier on January 6, Mr. Trump had addressed his supporters in a rally near the White House, urging them to "fight like hell" to overturn the election results. Mr. Trump had repeatedly spread lies about the election and falsely claimed that there was mass voter fraud, a conspiracy theory shared by many of his supporters in Congress.
McConnell also said it was time to "move forward," arguing that the election "did not hand any side a mandate for sweeping ideological change."
"Americans elected a closely divided Senate, a closely divided House, and a presidential candidate who said he'd represent everyone," McConnell said.
Following November's elections, Democrats maintained a slim majority in the House, and are poised to have a razor-thin grasp on power in the Senate. Three new Democratic senators are expected to be sworn in on Wednesday, giving Democrats a 50-50 majority, with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris breaking any tie. This means that any significant legislation will have to garner strong Republican support in order to pass in the Senate, unless Democrats vote to abolish the filibuster.
In his speech on the Senate floor, incoming Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said the Senate will have three priorities once Mr. Biden is inaugurated: the impeachment trial of Mr. Trump, confirming Mr. Biden's cabinet nominees, and passing needed COVID-19 relief. Although Mr. Trump is departing the White House tomorrow, the Senate is expected to take up the impeachment article against him after he leaves office.
The House voted to impeach Mr. Trump on charges of "incitement of insurrection" on January 13, exactly one week after the attack on the Capitol. The vote was bipartisan, with 10 Republicans joining all Democrats in impeaching Mr. Trump.
Sixty-seven votes are needed in the Senate to convict Mr. Trump, and it is unclear whether so many Republicans would join their Democratic colleagues on this issue. Several Republicans have suggested that impeaching Mr. Trump after he leaves office is unconstitutional. McConnell said last week that he had not decided whether he would vote to convict Mr. Trump.
If Mr. Trump is convicted, then Congress will be able to vote on whether to bar him from ever seeking elected office again.
The House has yet to send the article of impeachment to the Senate, a necessary step before the Senate can hold a trial.