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Senate acquits Trump, ending impeachment saga

The Senate on Wednesday acquitted President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden to nominate Linda Thomas-Greenfield for UN ambassador: reports Scranton dedicates 'Joe Biden Way' to honor president-elect Kasich: Republicans 'either in complete lockstep' or 'afraid' of Trump MORE on two impeachment charges surrounding his dealings with Ukraine, ending the historic, months-long battle over the president’s fitness to remain in office and leaving his fate to the voters who will head to the polls just nine months from now.

The outcome was never in doubt. With Congress and the country both bitterly divided over the provocative president, lawmakers in the GOP-controlled Senate voted virtually along party lines — 48-52 and 47-53 — to sink the two articles, which both fell far short of the 67 votes Democrats needed to convict Trump and remove him from office.

The stunner of the day was Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyDemocrats brush off calls for Biden to play hardball on Cabinet picks Hogan 'embarrassed that more people' in the GOP 'aren't speaking up' against Trump Democrats gear up for last oversight showdown with Trump MORE, the 2012 GOP presidential nominee from Utah who broke with his party and voted to convict Trump of abuse of power. A handful of Democrats who had been seen as potential swing votes all stuck with their party.

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The long-term impact of the impeachment saga remains an open question — and won’t really be answered until November’s elections. Both sides have launched a furious messaging campaign to win the battle for public sentiment.

“No matter what the senators have the courage or not to do, he will be impeached forever,” Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiUS economy hurtles toward 'COVID cliff' with programs set to expire Democrats gear up for last oversight showdown with Trump Divided citizenry and government — a call to action for common ground MORE (D-Calif.) said heading into the votes.

“He will be acquitted forever beginning today,” White House counselor Kellyanne ConwayKellyanne Elizabeth ConwayWomen set to take key roles in Biden administration Lara Trump mulling 2022 Senate run in North Carolina: report Press: Where is Jim Baker when we need him? MORE countered on Wednesday.

Democrats maintain Trump withheld millions of dollars in security aid for Ukraine for the sole purpose of coercing the country’s leaders to find dirt on his political rivals. In seeking foreign help in a U.S. election, they charged, the president abused his power, then obstructed Congress as Democrats sought to investigate the affair.

With polls showing roughly 50 percent of the country supporting Trump’s removal, Democrats are hoping Trump’s acquittal is just a temporary victory.

Trump, for his part, has accused Democrats of conducting a politically motivated “witch hunt” designed to overturn his 2016 victory. After the verdicts, he appeared poised to go on the attack a day after delivering a State of the Union address remarkable mostly for underscoring the deep partisan tensions in Washington.

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Trump’s GOP allies have been energized by the process, driving the president’s approval rating to 49 percent this week — the highest since he took office, according to Gallup’s surveys.

The president also gloated this week as the Democratic Party’s caucuses in Iowa descended into chaos and ended in a muddled result that suggests a long primary battle to come.

“The president has his highest approval rating since he’s been in office. I can tell you as a poll watcher ... every one of our people in tough races is in better shape today than they were before the impeachment trial started,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTop aide: Biden expected to visit Georgia in push to boost Ossoff, Warnock Democrats brush off calls for Biden to play hardball on Cabinet picks Richmond says GOP 'reluctant to stand up and tell the emperor he wears no clothes' MORE (R-Ky.) said after the votes.

Yet Democrats are equally as confident that impeachment will shift the landscape in their favor, citing their own polls indicating that a majority of voters back Trump’s removal.

“Donald Trump will do a victory lap today ... but history and the truth are right behind them and they are going to overtake them,” Rep. Katherine ClarkKatherine Marlea ClarkHouse Democrats pick Aguilar as No. 6 leader in next Congress Nominated for another Speaker term, Pelosi says it's her last Katherine Clark secures No. 4 leadership spot for House Democrats MORE (D-Mass.), vice chair of the House Democratic Caucus, said a few hours before the Senate votes.

“President Trump corruptly abused his power by soliciting foreign interference in an American election solely for his personal political gain,” said Rep. Hakeem JeffriesHakeem Sekou JeffriesHouse Democrats pick Aguilar as No. 6 leader in next Congress Nominated for another Speaker term, Pelosi says it's her last Katherine Clark secures No. 4 leadership spot for House Democrats MORE (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus. “We have proved that decisively.”

The impeachment battle was full of historic firsts and rife with dramatic twists.

Trump is just the third president to be impeached in the country’s history — following Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonWomen set to take key roles in Biden administration Biden's great challenge: Build an economy for long-term prosperity and security Biden faces politically thorny decision on Trump prosecutions MORE in 1998 — but the first to be targeted during his first term. Like Trump, both Johnson and Clinton survived removal by the Senate; unlike Trump, neither of them had to face voters afterward.

The debate also marked the first presidential impeachment featuring a House and Senate controlled by different parties — a dynamic that gave rise to career-headlining battles between Trump, Pelosi and McConnell while stoking the flames of what many experts have deemed the most sectarian and acrimonious of the three impeachment fights.

The facts underlying Trump’s impeachment are not seriously contested. Trump and his allies pressed Ukrainian leaders to open two investigations that might have helped him politically: the first into Hunter Biden, the son of former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden to nominate Linda Thomas-Greenfield for UN ambassador: reports Scranton dedicates 'Joe Biden Way' to honor president-elect Kasich: Republicans 'either in complete lockstep' or 'afraid' of Trump MORE, a 2020 presidential hopeful; the second into debunked theories that Kyiv, not Moscow, meddled in the 2016 election.

At the same time, the administration temporarily delayed $391 million in aid to Ukraine, which is fighting Russian-backed separatists in the eastern parts of the country.

Throughout the Senate trial, Trump’s lawyers leaned on several arguments in the president’s defense. First, they rejected the notion that Trump had abused his power, saying the president was merely fighting corruption in Ukraine, in general, not specifically targeting his political opponents. They also asserted that, even if Trump did abuse his power and obstruct Congress, that conduct wouldn’t be impeachable since neither constitutes a technical crime.

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Most of Trump’s Senate allies adopted that defense — but not all of them.

In a blow to White House talking points, Sen. Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderDemocrats gear up for last oversight showdown with Trump Trump nominee's long road to Fed may be dead end GOP lawmaker patience runs thin with Trump tactics MORE (R-Tenn.), who is close to McConnell, said House managers “proved” Trump held up the aid, in part, to get Ukraine to investigate the Bidens. The behavior was “inappropriate,” according to Alexander, but not impeachable.

There were others. Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanDemocrats brush off calls for Biden to play hardball on Cabinet picks Leadership changes at top cyber agency raise national security concerns Senate passes bill to secure internet-connected devices against cyber vulnerabilities MORE (R-Ohio) called Trump’s behavior “wrong and inappropriate”; Sen. Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstThe Memo: Trump plows ahead with efforts to overturn election More conservatives break with Trump over election claims Peggy Noonan: 'Bogus dispute' by Trump 'doing real damage' MORE (R-Iowa) acknowledged that Trump “may have acted in the wrong manner”; and Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsTeam Trump offering 'fire hose' of conspiracy Kool-Aid for supporters Democrats brush off calls for Biden to play hardball on Cabinet picks Hogan 'embarrassed that more people' in the GOP 'aren't speaking up' against Trump MORE (R-Maine) said Trump’s request to Ukrainian leaders was “just improper,” urging him to apologize for actions the president has characterized as “perfect.”

In the end, however, all of them voted to acquit Trump of any wrongdoing.

“In the actual articles of impeachment, there are no accusations that the president broke the law,” Collins told CBS Tuesday.

The Senate trial brought more immediate political consequences: With the final votes delayed until Wednesday, the four Democratic senators running for president were grounded in Washington for much of Monday, the day of the Iowa caucuses.

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The 2020 hopefuls made a final two-day sprint across the state over the weekend but were sidelined on the trail for nearly three weeks as the Senate sat through opening statements, questions and procedural fights.

Despite Trump’s acquittal Wednesday, the investigation into the Ukraine saga might not be over.

Rep. Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerBarr sparks DOJ firestorm with election probes memo Marijuana stocks see boost after Harris debate comments Jewish lawmakers targeted by anti-Semitic tweets ahead of election: ADL MORE (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said Wednesday that Democrats would “likely” subpoena for the testimony of John BoltonJohn BoltonPressure grows from GOP for Trump to recognize Biden election win Sunday shows - Virus surge dominates ahead of fraught Thanksgiving holiday Bolton calls on GOP leadership to label Trump's behavior 'inexcusable' MORE, Trump’s former national security adviser, whom Republicans had blocked from appearing as part of the Senate trial.

Bolton’s forthcoming book includes first-hand allegations of the president telling him directly that he was withholding aid to Ukraine to secure investigations into his Democratic rivals — a direct contradiction of Trump’s defense — creating plenty of interest among Democrats to have him tell his story under oath.

Pelosi, meanwhile, is dismissing the notion that Trump was truly acquitted, accusing McConnell of tipping the scales in favor of the president in a way that makes the outcome invalid.

“There can be no acquittal without a trial, and there is no trial without witnesses, documents and evidence,” she said after the votes. “By suppressing the evidence and rejecting the most basic elements of a fair judicial process, the Republican Senate made themselves willing accomplices to the president’s cover-up.”

--Morgan Chalfant contributed to this report.