Pennsylvania Republicans have voted to rebuke Sen. Pat Toomey but stopped short of a formal censure, two weeks after Toomey was one of just seven Republicans who voted to convict Donald Trump in the former president’s impeachment trial.
The narrow GOP vote Monday, after technical problems derailed the effort last week, crystallized some of the anger at Toomey and reflected Trump’s tight grip as he positions himself as the party’s dominant force in the coming years.
But it also showed fissures, as some Trump supporters were left furious that the party didn’t approve a censure of Toomey.
“We are outraged that Senator Toomey took part in an impeachment process that facilitated Democrats’ tireless obsession with partisan political retribution,” read a statement approved by the Pennsylvania Republican Party in a vote of state committee members. The statement was one of two options they voted on; the other included a formal censure of Toomey.
The Inquirer obtained copies of the two competing statements Republicans voted on and the final tally, though they were not made public or released as of late Tuesday afternoon. The state GOP’s Twitter account has been dormant since Feb. 13, when it posted a statement from chairman Lawrence Tabas expressing “disappointment” in Toomey’s impeachment vote.
Toomey’s office declined to comment on the vote to rebuke the senator.
“Democrats used impeachment as a political weapon, which set a dangerous precedent in America, and Senator Toomey did not stand in their way,” the winning GOP statement said. “We oppose the Senator’s actions in the strongest terms, but we have faith that the voters will properly address public officials who do not satisfactorily represent the best interests of this nation.”
The statement instead went on to take the unusual step of censuring four Pennsylvania Democrats: Gov. Tom Wolf, Attorney General Josh Shapiro, former Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar, and former Health Secretary Rachel Levine, criticizing their handling of the 2020 election, the response to the coronavirus, and other matters.
“This body has concluded that censure action should be reserved for those who work every day to destroy the most exceptional nation in the world,” the Republican statement said in targeting the Democrats.
While the censures and admonitions are symbolic, especially since Toomey isn’t seeking reelection, it was especially unusual for the GOP to censure Democrats, who would have no reason to expect support from the Republican political apparatus.
Pennsylvania Democrats saw the Republican message as an opening.
“With tonight’s vote to rebuke Senator Toomey, Pennsylvania Republicans have sent a loud and clear message: they are the party of Donald Trump, QAnon, anti-American extremists and the Big Lie — and dissent will never be tolerated,” state Democratic Party chairwoman Nancy Patton Mills said in a statement. ”If you are turned off by the chaos and extremism of the GOP, we invite you to join our fight for a better Pennsylvania.”
Inside the Pennsylvania Republican Party, the vote against Toomey, a staunch fiscal conservative who voted with Trump about 85% of the time, sent a signal about the GOP’s outlook as it faces Trump’s defeat and competitive races for governor and Senate in 2022.
The vote was 128-124 in favor of a statement that did not censure Toomey, with 13 abstentions. Party members had to choose between one statement that censured Toomey and one that admonished him. Both versions included a censure of Democrats. There was no option for voting against criticizing Toomey.
Some Republicans were furious that the party didn’t go as far in punishing Toomey as state parties did in North Carolina and Louisiana, where GOP senators also voted to convict.
“There are going to be more pissed off Republicans now,” said Mike McMullen, a GOP committeeman from Allegheny County who favored a censure.
He pointed out that Trump himself on Sunday called out Republicans who voted to convict, and scoffed at the idea of the state party focusing on Democrats.
“He’s the leader of the Republican Party, like it or not,” McMullen said. While the online vote was private, McMullen said he would seek a roll-call vote and look to 2022 party elections to target committee members who opposed censure. “There’s a group out there, and we’re coming after your ass,” he said.
Other Republicans argued that it would be divisive and counterproductive to penalize Toomey, who has been a leading national voice for fiscal conservatism, including by writing key pieces of Trump’s signature tax bill.
“If forced to choose between Sen. Toomey and Trump, I stand with Sen. Toomey,” John McBlain, a state committee member from Delaware County and former county council member, wrote to Tabas when the issue first arose last month. “Such action would only inevitably lead to many, many, many more similar votes to condemn other Republican elected and party officials.”
Toomey has defended his impeachment vote and the process that led to it.
“President Trump summoned thousands of people to Washington, D.C., inflamed their passions by repeating disproven allegations about widespread fraud,” Toomey said after the Feb. 13 impeachment vote. “He urged that mob to march on the Capitol for the explicit purpose of preventing Congress and the vice president from formally certifying the results of the presidential election. He did all this to hold on to power despite having legitimately lost.”
Toomey was one of 57 senators who voted to convict Trump but was in the distinct minority among Republicans.
The online vote Monday finalized a long-running process that began with censure resolutions from a wide range of county Republican organizations and was expected to include a statewide vote by Republican State Committee members last Wednesday. But when that Zoom meeting ran into technical problems, the GOP had to try again Monday.
Tabas urged the party to support the statement that would admonish but not formally censure Toomey.
“Let’s get this done, put it behind us and let’s work together to make our PAGOP a better, more inclusive organization that cannot be defeated,” Tabas wrote in an email to state party members Monday afternoon, before the vote.
The debate over the competing statements was closed to the public. Tabas and the state Republican Party have not responded to repeated messages seeking comment.