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Will the Louisiana Republican Party censure Senator Bill Cassidy for impeachment vote?

Greg Hilburn
Monroe News-Star

Leadership of the Louisiana Republican Party is considering how far it should go in voicing its condemnation of U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy's vote this week in favor to move forward with the impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump.

The state party issued a blistering rebuke of their senior GOP senator immediately after Cassidy joined five other Republicans and all 50 Democrats Tuesday in voting to uphold the trial as constitutional, but members are discussing whether to censure him.

"My phone has been blowing up since it happened," said Mike Bayham, secretary of the state GOP and a member of its executive committee, in an interview with USA Today Network. "This thing has hit a nerve. This is a big vote."

Wayne Ryan, co-chairman of Trump's 2016 Louisiana election team, sent out a mass email calling for the state party to censure Cassidy and call for his resignation, saying he "no longer represents the vast majority of Louisiana voters regardless of party."

Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., leaves the chamber at the close of the first day of the impeachment trial of former President Trump, as the Republican joined Democrats by voting for the trial to continue, at the Capitol in Washington, Feb. 9, 2021. Cassidy said he voted the way he did because Democratic impeachment managers deftly presented their case — and Trump's lawyers didn't.

On Wednesday, Cassidy's home parish East Baton Rouge Republican Parish Executive Committee voted unanimously to censure him.

Censure is a formal rebuke, but it would be largely symbolic and not impact Cassidy's ability to conduct his duties in office.

But Bayham said he believes the executive committee of the Republican State Central Committee will wait to see whether Cassidy's procedural vote to continue the trial is followed by a vote to convict the former president before meeting to discuss censure.

Tuesday's vote was procedural and ruled that the trial is constitutional. Those opposed believe the Constitution prevents the Senate from conducting a trial on a private citizen. 

"The prudent thing is to wait and see how it plays out," Bayham said. "I know some local committees are taking action, but censuring our senior senator shouldn't be a knee-jerk reaction.

"But if Sen. Cassidy votes to convict I don't know how the party wouldn't take some kind of action. I hope it doesn't come to that."

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Cassidy has called himself an impartial juror and emphasized his first vote isn't a signal of whether he will vote to acquit or convict.

So far Cassidy has continued to face the heat for his vote, telling reporters on Capitol Hill Wednesday he considers his vote a decision to choose "Constitution and country over party."

Cassidy was elected to a second, six-year term in a landslide primary victory on Nov. 3 with 59% of the vote, even more than Trump's 58% total in Louisiana.

He also voted with Trump 89% of the time during the former president's four-year term, according to the political website FiveThirtyEight.

But the backlash on Cassidy's impeachment vote has been fierce.

Louisiana Republican Party Chairman Louis Gurvich, who attended Cassidy's Nov. 3 victory party in Baton Rouge, declined to answer the question about whether the party will censure Cassidy.

In a text to USA Today Network, Gurvich referred to the party's initial statement: "I don't have anything to add," he said in the text.

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"The Republican Party of Louisiana is profoundly disappointed by Sen. Bill Cassidy's vote on the constitutionality of the impeachment trial now underway against former president, now private citizen, Donald J. Trump," the party's said in its statement."

But not all Republicans consider Cassidy's vote a betrayal.

Michael DiResto, a member of the Republican State Central Committee but not the executive committee, described Cassidy's vote as "courageous."

“The attacks on Sen. Cassidy by some Louisiana Republicans are mind boggling," DiResto said in an email. "I’m not a legal scholar, so I don’t know the right answer here, but I very much doubt that some of the folks attacking the senator are either.

"What I do know, based on the attacks he’s now enduring, is that his vote was courageous, and for that he should be thanked and commended, not condemned."

Bayham said the next executive committee meeting is scheduled April 17, "but we can schedule a (special) meeting in March to take appropriate action if need be," he said.

Greg Hilburn covers state politics for the USA TODAY Network of Louisiana. Follow him on Twitter @GregHilburn1.