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Pa. Republicans had a marathon meeting about censuring Pat Toomey but left without resolution

Some county Republican parties censured Toomey for voting to convict Donald Trump in his impeachment trial, but others in the GOP argue the move is too divisive.

Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.) on Capitol Hill during the second impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump.
Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.) on Capitol Hill during the second impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump.Read moreSusan Walsh / AP

Pennsylvania Republicans met for more than five hours Wednesday evening to decide on censuring Pat Toomey — but came away with nothing resolved.

Around 11:30 p.m., long after the virtual meeting that began around 6:30, the meeting broke up without ever getting to a vote on censuring Toomey for being one of just seven GOP senators who voted to convict Donald Trump in his second impeachment trial. Several people who attended said the meeting, with more than 200 people involved online, was plagued by technical glitches and trouble tabulating an initial vote, though they declined to discuss the specifics of what they voted on.

State party officials said it could take several days to finalize that initial vote, according to people in the meeting, though would not elaborate on the substance of what was discussed, following instructions from party leaders. It was unclear when the debate would resume.

“I can talk about the outcome, and there was no outcome,” said Joe DiSarro, a state committee member from Allegheny County. “We’re waiting to vote.”

The “censure vote didn’t even come up yet,” said DiSarro, who opposes penalizing the senator.

Toomey spoke to the gathered GOP committee members, and two vocal Trump supporters, U.S. Reps. Mike Kelly and Glenn “GT” Thompson, also addressed the group to argue against a censure resolution, according to people in the meeting, which was not open to the public. The party also discussed issuing statements critical of the state’s top Democrats, including Gov. Tom Wolf, Attorney General Josh Shapiro and former Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar.

A number of county parties across the state have already passed resolutions condemning Toomey’s vote to convict Trump, who remains deeply popular with Republican voters. It appeared momentum was building toward a censure by the larger Republican State Committee. But others argued that the party should instead unite behind common goals, like winning this year’s campaigns for state Supreme Court, and have urged against reprimanding a conservative senator who isn’t even seeking reelection.

Toomey’s vote to convict Trump of inciting the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection through months of lies about a stolen election has roiled the party since an impeachment trial that many Republicans saw as unconstitutional and unfair.

Ahead of the meeting, Bill Bretz, chairman of the Westmoreland County Republicans, said that a potential censure seemed like the most likely topic of discussion, but that it was unclear if there would be enough support to approve it.

“Pennsylvania is a pretty diverse place and I don’t know that people necessarily agree with Senator Toomey, but they may disagree on whether a censure resolution makes sense,” he said.

Republican state chairman Lawrence Tabas and the state party itself have not returned numerous messages about Toomey, the impeachment vote, and Wednesday’s meeting.

After an initial burst of censure resolutions, some Republicans called before the meeting for taking a less drastic approach — or for simply moving on.

“I would prefer making a statement versus a resolution,” said Martha Breene, chair of the Venango County GOP. “I’m not at all happy [Toomey] did it … but on the other hand, it’s past and we have very important judgeship races coming.”

Breene said a statement could praise the good Trump did as president and express dissatisfaction with Toomey. “We don’t see Democrats shooting one another down,” she said.

» READ MORE: The push to punish Pat Toomey points to a future tied to Trump for Pennsylvania Republicans

Any vote would be purely symbolic, especially since Toomey has said he is leaving public office when his term ends after 2022. But it could send a signal as Republicans plot their path forward after Trump’s presidency, and as the party grapples with how much of a role Trump, and loyalty to Trump, will define it in the coming years. The policies and tenor Republicans rally around will shape nationally watched gubernatorial and Senate contests in 2022.

Some of the other Republican senators who voted to convict Trump, including those from North Carolina and Louisiana, have also faced backlash.

Toomey has said his vote was to convict a president who “summoned thousands of people to Washington, D.C., inflamed their passions by repeating disproven allegations about widespread fraud, and then urged them to march on the Capitol.”

“A lawless attempt to retain power by a president was one of the founders’ greatest fears,” Toomey said after the impeachment vote.

But polls show a large share of Republican voters believe Trump’s false claims that fraud caused his defeat. Others argue it was unconstitutional to try a former president. (Numerous constitutional scholars, including prominent conservatives, have said the trial was constitutional.)

The York County Republican Committee passed a resolution that condemned Toomey’s “failure to defend the Constitution and the freedoms it guarantees.” The Westmoreland County GOP censured Toomey for supporting “a purely self-serving, vindictive and punitive action by those with establishment political objectives.”

» READ MORE: Pat Toomey's retirement makes the 2022 elections in Pennsylvania a total free-for-all

But several Republicans said that while they disagree with Toomey’s vote, they realize it’s viewed differently in different parts of the state. Some said their vote could depend on the exact wording of any resolution or censure.

“If the resolution presented was more of a rebuke of his entire body of work, I don’t know that I would support that,” said Bretz, of Westmoreland County.

Toomey, a senator since 2011, has been leading voice of conservative fiscal policies for decades in Washington, and voted with Trump about 85% of the time. He wrote much of Trump’s signature tax bill and supported nearly all of the former president’s policies, including his conservative judicial appointments. At times, however, Toomey criticized Trump’s personal conduct.

Some Republicans acknowledged a censure was likely to be less palatable in certain parts of the state. In Chester County, for example, where Toomey ran relatively strongly in his 2016 reelection bid and where Trump lost badly, the county GOP twice postponed meetings to discuss a censure resolution, including on Tuesday night.

“We have a very diverse party and a very diverse state and I’ve been around long enough to understand the dynamics of the various counties,” said Jeff Piccola, chairman of the York County GOP, one of the first to pass a censure.

“I would hope after tonight the entire state GOP would move on,” he added.

» READ MORE: Almost 19,000 Pennsylvania voters have left the Republican Party since the Capitol attack

Some Republicans argued that condemning their most prominent elected official was a recipe for losing support and exiling Republicans who support the party but also disagree with Trump’s behavior. Some 19,000 Republicans have left the party since the Jan. 6 attack

“This is a loser. We need every Republican we can get,” DiSarro said before the meeting. “How many Republicans can we lose and expect to win elections?”

Writing on the website Broad + Liberty, a former Toomey political aide, Josh Novotney, recounted the senator’s long conservative voting record, arguing that the censure push sounds like progressive “cancel culture.”

“I understand being upset over Senator Toomey’s vote to convict President Trump,” Novotney wrote. “But translating that disappointment into a censure is not what will move the conservative movement or the Republican Party forward in the state of Pennsylvania or nationally.”

Staff writers Andrew Seidman and Chris Brennan contributed to this article.