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Just five GOP senators vote Trump impeachment trial is constitutional

The Senate sent a strong signal Tuesday that there are not nearly enough votes to convict President TrumpDonald TrumpUS, South Korea reach agreement on cost-sharing for troops Graham: Trump can make GOP bigger, stronger, or he 'could destroy it' Biden nominates female generals whose promotions were reportedly delayed under Trump MORE in an impeachment trial when only five GOP senators rejected an effort by Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulWhite House open to reforming war powers amid bipartisan push House approves George Floyd Justice in Policing Act Bipartisan group of senators introduces bill to rein in Biden's war powers MORE (R-Ky.) to declare the looming trial unconstitutional. 

The Senate voted 55-45 to set aside Paul's motion, with all but five GOP senators siding with Paul. GOP Sens. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyGraham: Trump can make GOP bigger, stronger, or he 'could destroy it' Democratic centrists flex power on Biden legislation Ron Johnson grinds Senate to halt, irritating many MORE (Utah), Ben SasseBen SasseIs nonpartisan effectiveness still possible? Senators introduce bill creating technology partnerships to compete with China Garland's AG nomination delayed by GOP roadblocks MORE (Neb.), Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsSenate rejects Sanders minimum wage hike Murkowski votes with Senate panel to advance Haaland nomination OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Interior reverses Trump policy that it says restricted science | Collins to back Haaland's Interior nomination | Republicans press Biden environment nominee on Obama-era policy MORE (Maine), Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiGOP senator defends Cheney, Murkowski after Trump rebuke Trump promises to travel to Alaska to campaign against Murkowski GOP votes in unison against COVID-19 relief bill MORE (Alaska) and Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeySasse rebuked by Nebraska Republican Party over impeachment vote Philly GOP commissioner on censures: 'I would suggest they censure Republican elected officials who are lying' Toomey censured by several Pennsylvania county GOP committees over impeachment vote MORE (Pa.) voted with Democrats to table Paul's point of order.

The vote is the clearest sign yet that Trump is heading toward a second acquittal and offers an early insight into which Republicans are lining up behind an argument that his second impeachment trial isn't constitutional.

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Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneGOP votes in unison against COVID-19 relief bill Senate holds longest vote in history as Democrats scramble to save relief bill Biden gets involved to help break Senate logjam MORE (S.D.), the No. 2 GOP senator, said he thought the vote was "indicative" of where Republicans are but it doesn't "bind" them into voting a particular way on conviction.

Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanSchumer insists Democrats unified after chaotic coronavirus debate GOP votes in unison against COVID-19 relief bill Senate approves sweeping coronavirus measure in partisan vote MORE (R-Ohio), who voted against tabling Paul's effort, said he didn't think the vote was about whether or not the trial was constitutional but if there should be a discussion. The vote effectively pigeonholed Paul.

Portman added that he thought Tuesday's vote and the eventual question of acquittal or conviction are a "totally different issue."

Trump will be the first president to undergo a trial after leaving office, but the Senate previously held an impeachment trial for a Cabinet official after they left office.

Paul, speaking ahead of the vote, warned that he wanted to force his colleagues to go on the record.

"If we are going to put every politician in jail, are we going to impeach every politician who has used the words 'fight' figuratively in a speech? Shame," he said, accusing Democrats of being "deranged by their hatred" of Trump.

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"I want this body on record. Every last person here," Paul added.

Several GOP senators said heading into the vote that they hadn't made a decision on how they would vote, hadn't talked to Paul or, until they saw Tuesday's Senate floor schedule, didn't know he would force the vote.

"Until I read my notice from the leader this morning I didn't know there was a chance it was going to happen," said Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntBiden gets involved to help break Senate logjam Top Republican: 'Outrageous' to extend National Guard deployment at Capitol Five takeaways from dramatic Capitol security hearing MORE (R-Mo.)

Though some GOP senators have said they are waiting to hear presentations during the trial, a growing number appear to be latching onto the argument that the trial, which will start next month, is not constitutional.

Legal professor Jonathan Turley attended a closed-door GOP lunch where senators discussed the strategy.

Sen. Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstSenate inches toward COVID-19 vote after marathon session Republicans demand arms embargo on Iran after militia strikes in Iraq Republicans blast Pentagon policy nominee over tweets, Iran nuclear deal MORE (R-Iowa) said in a statement Monday night that while Trump "exhibited poor leadership and holds some responsibility" for the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6, that her "concern right now is that the president is no longer in office."

"Congress would be opening itself to a dangerous standard of using impeachment as a tool for political revenge against a private citizen, and the only remedy at this point is to strip the convicted of their ability to run for future office — a move that would undoubtedly strip millions of voters of their ability to choose a candidate in the next election," she added.

Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDemocrats near pressure point on nixing filibuster  We need a voting rights workaround Biden takes victory lap after Senate passes coronavirus relief package MORE (Ky.), who has previously said that Trump "provoked" and "fed lies" to his supporters before they assaulted the Capitol, voted against against tabling Paul's effort. McConnell has said he's undecided on whether he will vote to convict the former president.

Both Romney and Murkowski said on Tuesday before the vote that they believed the trial was constitutional.

"My review of it has led me to conclude that it is constitutional in recognizing that impeachment is not solely about removing a president, it is also a matter of political consequence," Murkowski said.

Romney added that "the preponderance of opinion with regards to the constitutionality of a trial of impeachment of a former president is saying that it is a constitutional process."

Toomey declined to comment to reporters after the vote, but indicated in a statement that his vote does not mean he will convict Trump at the end of the trial.

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“When President Trump’s impeachment trial begins on February 9th, I will again fulfill my responsibility to consider the arguments made by his lawyers and the House managers," he said.

Collins said she had been speaking with constitutional scholars.

"[I] concluded that the text of the constitution, the purpose of the provision, and Senate precedent all meant that the trial should go forward, especially since the House acted while the president was still in office," Collins said.

Democrats have panned the GOP push to deem Trump's trial unconstitutional, arguing that Republicans are trying to avoid having to make a decision on if Trump's rhetoric met the bar for conviction.

"Some of my Republican colleagues have latched onto a fringe legal theory that the Senate does not have the constitutional power to hold a trial because Donald Trump is no longer in office," said Senate Majority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerManchin firm on support for filibuster, mulls making it 'a little bit more painful' to use Biden takes victory lap after Senate passes coronavirus relief package Lawmakers demand changes after National Guard troops at Capitol sickened from tainted food MORE (D-N.Y.).

"This argument has been roundly debunked by constitutional scholars from the left, right and center. It defies precedent, historic practice, and basic common sense," he added.

—Updated at 5:38 p.m.