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Romney breaks ranks with GOP, will vote to convict Trump

Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyGrassley to vote against Tanden nomination The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by The AIDS Institute - Ahead: One-shot vax, easing restrictions, fiscal help Haley isolated after Trump fallout MORE (R-Utah) said he would vote to convict President TrumpDonald TrumpDonald Trump Jr. calls Bruce Springsteen's dropped charges 'liberal privilege' Schiff sees challenges for intel committee, community in Trump's shadow McConnell says he'd back Trump as 2024 GOP nominee MORE on the impeachment charge of abuse of power, describing his actions as an "appalling abuse of public trust."

In a stunning break with his party, Romney became the first Republican to say that he would find Trump guilty of an impeachment charge, with his remarks coming just hours before the Senate was set to vote.

“The grave question the Constitution tasks senators to answer is whether the president committed an act so extreme and egregious that it rises to the level of a high crime and misdemeanor. Yes, he did,” Romney said in remarks on the Senate floor.

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Not a single GOP senator was in attendance for Romney's somber remarks on the floor and only a few Democrats were on hand in the chamber.

Romney, his party's presidential nominee in 2012, argued that Trump delayed funding for Ukraine, an American ally at war with Russia, for his own “personal” and “political” benefit.

“The president is guilty of an appalling abuse of public trust. What he did was not perfect. No, it was a flagrant assault of our electoral rights, our national security and our fundamental values,” he said.

Romney appeared to choke up as he stood for a long moment before delivering his verdict. He acknowledged it was a very difficult decision.

“I swore an oath before God to exercise impartial justice. I am profoundly religious. My faith is at the heart of who I am. I take an oath before God as enormously consequential,” he said.

His announcement surprised colleagues, who were expecting him to vote to acquit the president on both articles of impeachment after two other moderates, Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsHouse passes sweeping protections for LGBTQ people Grassley to vote against Tanden nomination Klain on Manchin's objection to Neera Tanden: He 'doesn't answer to us at the White House' MORE (R-Maine) and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiWashington Post denounces abuse of reporter Grassley to vote against Tanden nomination Mean tweets may take down Biden nominee MORE (R-Alaska), announced they would oppose the impeachment articles.

The vote firmly establishes Romney as the most independent senator and Trump’s chief critic in the Senate Republican conference.  

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It also gives Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiMinimum wage setback revives progressive calls to nix Senate filibuster House Democrats to keep minimum wage hike in COVID-19 relief bill for Friday vote Schiff sees challenges for intel committee, community in Trump's shadow MORE (D-Calif.) and Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerHillicon Valley: Biden signs order on chips | Hearing on media misinformation | Facebook's deal with Australia | CIA nominee on SolarWinds House Rules release new text of COVID-19 relief bill Budowsky: Cruz goes to Cancun, AOC goes to Texas MORE (D-N.Y.) a major symbolic victory in the wake of Trump’s State of the Union address, in which he appeared completely unchastened by the House’s impeachment vote and Senate trial.

Romney’s vote undercuts the Republican arguments that the impeachment effort was a purely partisan exercise — or “political toy,” in the words of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMinimum wage setback revives progressive calls to nix Senate filibuster Schiff sees challenges for intel committee, community in Trump's shadow McConnell says he'd back Trump as 2024 GOP nominee MORE (R-Ky.).

He will be the first senator in American history to vote to remove a president from his own party from office.

The vote sparked an immediate backlash from Trump’s allies.

Donald Trump, Jr., the president’s eldest son, called for Romney to be expelled from the Senate GOP conference.

But that idea isn’t going to get traction with Republican senators.

Sen. Lamar AlexanderLamar AlexanderCongress addressed surprise medical bills, but the issue is not resolved Trump renominates Judy Shelton in last-ditch bid to reshape Fed Senate swears-in six new lawmakers as 117th Congress convenes MORE (R-Tenn.) said, “every senator has a right to vote how he or she feels,” while Sen. Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyBlack Caucus members lobby Biden to tap Shalanda Young for OMB head On The Money: Senate panels postpone Tanden meetings in negative sign | Biden signs supply chain order after 'positive' meeting with lawmakers Passage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act is the first step to heal our democracy MORE (R-Ala.), one of the Senate’s most senior lawmakers, said “the party ought to be a big umbrella.”

Romney pushed last week to extend Trump’s impeachment trial, delivering a forceful argument at a Senate GOP lunch meeting in favor of a motion to subpoena additional witnesses and documents.

After The New York Times reported that former national security adviser John BoltonJohn BoltonTrump offered North Korea's Kim a ride home on Air Force One: report Key impeachment figure Pence sticks to sidelines Bolton lawyer: Trump impeachment trial is constitutional MORE claimed in an unpublished manuscript that Trump explicitly linked military aid for Ukraine to an investigation of former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden 'disappointed' in Senate parliamentarian ruling but 'respects' decision Taylor Swift celebrates House passage of Equality Act Donald Trump Jr. calls Bruce Springsteen's dropped charges 'liberal privilege' MORE, Romney said, “It is increasingly apparent that it would be important” for the Senate to hear from him as a witness.

“I think it’s increasingly likely that other Republicans will join those of us who think we should hear from John Bolton,” he said.

Romney said Wednesday afternoon that one of the reasons he pushed hard for Bolton was the hope that he would be able to provide more information to fairly weight the House prosecutors’ arguments.

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“I hoped that what he might say could raise reasonable doubt and thus remove from me the awful obligation to vote for impeachment,” he said.

In the end, however, only Collins voted with Romney and all 47 Senate Democrats to consider subpoenas for new evidence, which GOP leaders warned could extend the trial for weeks.

Romney had signaled to colleagues in private conversations that he would vote against Trump’s removal Wednesday, according to a Senate GOP aide not connected with Romney’s office. That fueled a general expectation within the Republican conference that not a single GOP senator would break ranks on the final vote.

But the Utah senator has had a rocky relationship with Trump.

He urged fellow Republicans in a scorching March 2016 speech not to nominate Trump for the presidency, calling him a “con man, a fake” and “a phony, a fraud.”

That may have hurt his persuasiveness with some GOP colleagues during the debate over witnesses. One Republican senator said there is a view within the conference that Romney’s arguments were motivated by a “guttural dislike of the president.”

Romney, who is 72, is less susceptible to political pressure from home than many of his colleagues, but a vote to convict Trump is a risky move even in Utah, where Trump is less popular than in other GOP strongholds. 

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He acknowledged he would likely face strong pushback at home for the vote.

“I’m aware there are people in my party and in my state who will strenuously disapprove of my decision and in some quarters I will be vehemently denounced. I’m sure to hear abuse from the president and his supporters,” he said.

Yet, he argued he had no choice but to vote his conscience.

“Does anyone seriously believe that I would consent to these consequences other than from an inescapable conviction that my oath before God demanded of me?” he added.

A Morning Consult poll published last month showed that Romney’s approval rating among Republicans in Utah had slipped in the last three months of 2019 compared to the prior quarter.

A UtahPolicy.com poll published in October showed Romney with a 46 percent approval rating and 51 percent disapproval rating.

Yet a more recent poll showed that Romney remains strong at home, despite his regular criticisms of Trump.

A Deseret News-Hinckley Institute of Politics poll published earlier this week showed that 53 percent of Utah voters surveyed gave Trump a positive job approval rating and 52 percent rated Romney favorably.

—Updated at 3:25 p.m.