Ben Sasse, Republican who voted to convict Trump, to depart Congress

  • In Politics
  • 2022-10-07 14:00:17Z
  • By The Guardian
Photograph: Tasos Katopodis/AFP/Getty Images
Photograph: Tasos Katopodis/AFP/Getty Images  

Another Republican who stood up to Donald Trump is on his way out of Congress, with the news that Nebraska senator Ben Sasse is set to leave Capitol Hill to become president of the University of Florida.

Of the 10 House Republicans and seven senators who voted to convict Trump at his second impeachment trial, for inciting the January 6 Capitol attack, only two congressmen and four senators are on course to return after November's midterm elections.

High-profile casualties include Liz Cheney, the Wyoming congresswoman and House January 6 committee vice-chair who lost her primary to a Trump-backed challenger in August.

Like Cheney, Sasse, 50, has been thought a possible contender for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024, a notional contest still dominated by Trump. Sasse does not have to face voters again until 2026.

But on Thursday Rahul Patel, a member of the University of Florida's board of trustees, told the Tampa Bay Times the college needed "a visionary, an innovator and big thinker who would differentiate us from others - a leader who is transformational. The committee unanimously felt Ben Sasse is a transformational leader."

Sasse decried "Washington partisanship" and called the University of Florida "the most interesting university in America right now".

A university president before he entered politics, at Midland in Nebraska, Sasse will be the sole candidate interviewed for the University of Florida position, in November.

If Sasse resigns as a senator, the Nebraska governor - the Republican Pete Ricketts, or a likely GOP successor if Sasse resigns in January - will appoint Sasse's replacement. The Senate is split 50-50 and controlled by Democrats through the vote of the vice-president, Kamala Harris.

Sasse first emerged as a critic of Trump and his effect on US politics when the billionaire ran for the White House in 2016.

Sasse called him a "megalomaniac strongman" and said he would not vote for him - or his opponent, Hillary Clinton.

Sasse's wife, Melissa, said her husband had "a need for competition. Also he's an idiot."

From 2017 to 2021, however, Sasse voted with Trump more than 85% of the time. He also voted to acquit in Trump's first impeachment trial, for blackmailing Ukraine for political dirt.

Nevertheless, in November 2020 he claimed: "I've never been on the Trump train."

In February 2021, Sasse said he had voted to convict Trump over the Capitol attack because he had "promised to speak out when a president - even of my own party - exceeds his or her powers".

Such words earned Sasse his share of Trumpian abuse, including a nickname, "Liddle Ben Sasse".

In 2018, Sasse wrote a book, Them, in which he lamented political polarisation.

He wrote: "We are in a period of unprecedented upheaval. Community is collapsing, anxiety is building, and we're distracting ourselves with artificial political hatreds."

"That can't endure. And if it does, America won't."

On Thursday, the Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin had a suggestion for what Sasse might do next, from his university office in Florida.

"Why not join Liz Cheney to campaign against GOP election liars/deniers. It might even impress his new employers. Otherwise his Senate career has been a total nothing burger."


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