WASHINGTON, D.C. — South Dakota’s two U.S. senators are staying mum on whether they’ll vote to convict former President Donald Trump over charges he incited a riotous insurrection at the U.S. capitol a month ago, but they’ve both acknowledged Democratic managers have at times made compelling cases against Trump in their ongoing impeachment trial.
While Sens. John Thune and Mike Rounds, both Republican, voted against the constitutionality of the U.S. Senate impeaching a former office holder, they’ve yet to publicly state their intention to vote to acquit the 45th president, who is now residing in Florida.
Earlier this week, Thune, the second-most powerful Senate Republican, told Capitol Hill reporters that Democratic House managers arguing before the gathered senators “were making a very effective presentation.”
Thursday, Rounds raised serious questions about Trump’s conduct on Jan. 6, in an interview with Sioux Falls radio host Greg Belfrage.
“Why didn’t he (Trump) as commander-in-chief take actions to try to assist (on Jan. 6)?” asked Rounds. “It was his vice president that was under attack.”
Neither office has provided any indication of how the senators will vote. A spokeswoman for Thune said the senator would release a statement following the trial’s completion, which could come as early as this weekend.
But their willingness to at least entertain Democrats’ impeachment claims has found them hovering politically between congressional loyalists of the former president and more maverick-minded lawmakers, such as neighboring Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney and Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse.
While South Dakotans overwhelmingly elected Trump by double-digits (garnering nearly 62% of the vote in South Dakota, compared with just over 35% for President Joe Biden), the mood among the GOP in South Dakota toward the former president has not been entirely rosy, either.
Following the storming of the Capitol on Jan. 6, which briefly delayed the Electoral College certification of Biden’s victory, state Senate President Pro Tempore Lee Schoenbeck, a Watertown Republican, took to social media to lambast Republican U.S. Sens. Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz, as well as others who planned to raise objections over the Electoral College vote, as “traitors.”
In an opinion column published by CNN earlier this week, former U.S. Sen. Larry Pressler, a South Dakota Republican, argued Republican senators who voted to object against the Senate’s trial were “hiding behind a procedural question in order to avoid a vote that would upset Trump’s most loyal supporters.”
And former Republican lawmaker Ed Olson, who served 16 years representing Mitchell, S.D., in the Legislature, told Forum News Service he believed the trial was an “exercise in nothingness” given that Republicans weren't likely to convict, but he didn’t mince words about Trump.
“I think he should’ve been impeached after Ukraine,” Olson said by phone Friday. “Maybe the Republican Party can save itself, but I think they’re in trouble.”
A number of South Dakota Republicans, perhaps the vast majority, either stand by the president or oppose impeachment.
The state’s top Republican official, Gov. Kristi Noem, who tweeted in November that Trump was fighting “rigged election systems,” said in a recent television interview that the Capitol siege made her “sick to my stomach,” but added, “there are important things Congress could be spending its time on.”
And the state’s lone congressman, Rep. Dusty Johnson, voted against impeachment, calling it “an act sure to divide our country.”
Still, eyes will be watching the South Dakota senators' votes.
While Thune drew the ire in December of Trump, who tweeted out the senior senator needed a primary challenge, there are other political opponents for the three-term senator, including the state’s Democratic Party who says they hope to mount a challenge to Thune in 2022, something no Democrat did in 2010.
“If Thune does not vote to impeach the former president, that makes it easier for a Democratic candidate to decide to run,” said Nikki Gronli, vice chair of the South Dakota Democratic Party. “That puts a fire in the belly of someone to say, ‘Yes, I’m going to take him on.’”
On Friday, Thune reportedly told Capitol Hill press that he was open to censuring the former president.