Trump nears acquittal as spotlight shines on undecideds
The Senate battle for impeachment has boiled down to a fight over the votes of a handful of centrists who could give either President Trump or his Democratic opponents a victory heading into the general election.
The votes of three Democrats and two Republicans appear to be in play: Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Doug Jones (D-Ala.), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Mitt Romney (R-Utah).
If the GOP holds together and a Democrat votes to acquit Trump, it would hand the White House a ready-made point to underscore its argument that the House engaged in a partisan impeachment.
No Republicans in the House backed impeachment, while two Democrats voted against it. One of those Democrats — Rep. Jefferson Van Drew (N.J.) — then switched parties and became a Republican.
If a Republican votes to convict Trump, it would give an argument to Democrats — one strengthened if every Democrat votes to remove Trump from office.
Here’s a look at the five senators.
Manchin represents a state where Trump is heavily popular. The president defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton in West Virginia by 42 points.
In a Monday floor speech, Manchin said he was undecided and offered contradictory signs about how he would vote. He also urged his colleagues to censure Trump, a proposal that had some bipartisan support during Clinton’s 1999 impeachment trial but ultimately failed.
“I do believe a bipartisan majority of this body would vote to censure President Trump for his actions in this matter. Censure would allow this body to unite across party lines, and as an equal branch of government to formally denounce the president’s actions and hold him accountable,” Manchin said.
Censure is a non-starter with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
Manchin said that Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was not a perfect call but also warned that removing Trump from office would “not only further divide our deeply divided nation” but also “poison our already toxic political atmosphere.”
Trump was impeached on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress related to his efforts to get Ukraine to investigate a political opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, a top Democratic candidate for that party’s presidential nomination.
Manchin has broken with his party on other tough votes such as Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation, but he also voted to uphold ObamaCare.
“It’s a tough one, guys, it’s a tough one,” he told reporters Monday afternoon as he hustled toward his office.
Jones is viewed as the Senate’s most vulnerable incumbent and is generally expected to lose reelection in Alabama, a solid Republican state that gave Trump a 28-point margin of victory in 2016.
But that could mean he has little to lose by voting to convict Trump.
Jones has repeatedly pushed back on questions about the political impact of his impeachment vote, arguing that the solemnity of his constitutional duty outweighs any political calculations.
On Monday, he didn’t seem fired up either way about the upcoming vote. Asked to react to the House impeachment managers’ and Trump’s lawyers’ closing arguments, Jones said, “I don’t think they persuaded anybody, unfortunately.”
“If it did, we would be having deliberations and we’re not having deliberations,” he added.
Sinema has made an effort to portray herself as independent from the Senate Democratic Conference and stays aloof from colleagues and reporters.
She asked an incisive question of Trump’s lawyers during the trial, indicating she’s taking a skeptical view of the White House’s defense.
During the question-and-answer round, Sinema asked why the administration did not notify Congress when it withheld Ukrainian security assistance if the action was being done for a legitimate desire to change Ukraine’s anti-corruption practices.
Trump won Arizona in the 2016 election, but it has been trending toward Democrats — something reflected in Sinema’s election victory in 2018.
Thomas Volgy, a political science professor at the University of Arizona, says he doesn’t see any political benefit for Sinema in voting against Trump’s conviction, noting that independent voters in Arizona tend to favor Trump’s impeachment even though they haven’t specifically weighed in on the question of removing the president from office.
Volgy, the former Democratic mayor of Tucson, also warned of a potential backlash from Democratic voters if Sinema supported Trump’s acquittal.
“I don’t see why it would make sense to support the Republican side. I see no political advantage,” he said.
Collins faces a tough race in a state where Clinton won the popular vote in 2016, although Trump was able to pick up one of Maine’s three electoral votes.
She has held up the 1999 Clinton impeachment trial as an important precedent and noted in a recent New York Times interview that she voted to acquit him, possibly foreshadowing her vote in the Trump trial.
“I, too, was furious at President Clinton and felt that he had lied under oath, but it didn’t reach the constitutional test of high crimes and misdemeanors, and was not sufficient to overturn an election and throw him out of office,” she told the Times.
Collins has worked closely with Manchin in the past and they consider themselves the founders of the “Common Sense Caucus.” She is a likely candidate to support his censure resolution.
Collins faces a tough election opponent in Democratic Speaker of the statehouse Sara Gideon and will need strong turnout from the GOP base. That’s a good reason for her not to vote to convict Trump on Wednesday.
Romney has been one of the most outspoken GOP critics of Trump, but Utah is a solidly Republican state.
Romney has criticized Trump’s conduct and last week pushed for subpoenas of new witnesses and documents that House impeachment managers called for to bolster their case against Trump. But that’s as far as he’s expected to go.
The Utah senator’s regular criticisms of Trump are starting to grate on some of his colleagues who see them as stemming from a “guttural dislike of the president,” in the words of one Republican senator.
The criticisms may also not be playing well with some officeholders in Utah.
A state lawmaker, Rep. Tim Quinn, a Republican, last week introduced a bill that would allow Utah to hold a recall election to remove a U.S. senator from office, though Quinn says it’s not targeted at Romney.