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Senate GOP signals it's likely to acquit Trump for second time

Senate Republicans seem ready to hand former President TrumpDonald TrumpKushner lands book deal, slated for release in 2022 Biden moves to undo Trump trade legacy with EU deal Progressives rave over Harrison's start at DNC MORE his second acquittal in an impeachment trial in a little more than a year after just five GOP senators on Tuesday rejected a motion that the trial was unconstitutional. 

Most GOP senators haven’t formally announced how they will vote on convicting Trump, and, in a shift from 2020, most are not rushing to defend him after a mob, egged on by the then-president, sacked the Capitol.

But Tuesday’s vote, which sidelined the effort from Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulRand Paul does not support a national minimum wage increase — and it's important to understand why Fauci to Chelsea Clinton: The 'phenomenal amount of hostility' I face is 'astounding' GOP's attacks on Fauci at center of pandemic message MORE (R-Ky.), sends a clear signal to everyone in Washington that the trial is highly unlikely to end with a Trump conviction vote.

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At least 17 GOP votes to convict would be needed to reach the two-thirds majority.

“I can’t see how you get 17. I think that that was a test vote,” said Sen. John BoozmanJohn Nichols BoozmanSenate GOP opens door to earmarks Arkansas governor quietly bucking GOP's dive into culture wars Trump allies line up ahead of potentially bruising primaries MORE (R-Ark.) after 44 GOP senators sided with Paul. 

While it is possible senators could change their minds, few think that is likely. 

Sen. Mike RoundsMike RoundsTrump, midterms fuel GOP's effort to quash Jan. 6 commission Senate GOP blocks legislation on Jan. 6 commission Senate votes to advance China bill after Schumer strikes deal MORE (R-S.D.) said the Tuesday vote was a “pretty good indication” that most Republicans don’t believe the trial is constitutional. 

“It would really surprise me if any of those individuals decided that it was appropriate to move forward with an impeachment,” Rounds said. 

Sen. James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeOvernight Defense: Biden participates in NATO summit | White House backs 2002 AUMF repeal | Top general says no plans for airstrikes to help Afghan forces after withdrawal Top Republican proposes leaving 1,000 US troops in Afghanistan into next year The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Citizens' Climate Lobby - Biden floats infrastructure, tax concessions to GOP MORE (R-Okla.) said the vote was a “good indication” of where the final vote on convicting Trump would end up, while Paul declared the chances that Trump would become the first president to be found guilty “dead on arrival.” 

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The vote comes as Republicans have been increasingly signaling they view the impeachment trial as unconstitutional. Trump will be the first president to have a trial after leaving office, but the Senate previously held a trial for a Cabinet official who was no longer in office. 

“We're now being asked to convict a president who's been impeached and he's no longer in office. To me, this lacks legitimacy as I read the Constitution,” said Sen. John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoJudge halts Biden pause on new public lands oil leasing GOP senator: I want to make Biden a 'one-half-term president' Biden land management pick faces GOP scrutiny over decades-old tree spiking case MORE (Wyo.), the No. 3 GOP senator. 

Sen. Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstOvernight Defense: Pentagon details military construction projects getting .2B restored from wall funds | Biden chooses former commander to lead Navy | Bill seeks to boost visa program for Afghans who helped US Meghan McCain: Harris 'sounded like a moron' discussing immigration Senate bill would add visas, remove hurdles to program for Afghans who helped US MORE (R-Iowa) said in a statement that while Trump’s rhetoric on Jan. 6 showed “poor leadership,” she was also concerned that “the president is no longer in office” and Congress could be “opening itself to a dangerous standard.”  

Asked about the upcoming trial, Ernst told reporters that Tuesday’s vote shows “they’ve got a long ways to go to prove it.” 

Barrasso and Ernst joined with every other member of GOP leadership to vote against tabling Paul’s efforts to deem the impeachment trial unconstitutional. 

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOn The Money: Schumer to trigger reconciliation process on Wednesday | Four states emerge as test case for cutting off jobless benefits GOP senator: I want to make Biden a 'one-half-term president' McConnell presses for 'actual consequences' in disclosure of tax data MORE (R-Ky.), who said last week that Trump “provoked” the mob, supported Paul’s efforts. 

Some Republicans cautioned against mapping the vote total on Paul’s effort as a direct correlation of what the breakdown will be on the final vote on convicting Trump. 

Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneSanders won't vote for bipartisan infrastructure deal Bipartisan infrastructure deal takes fire from left and right McConnell warns he's willing to intervene in 2022 GOP primaries MORE (R-S.D.) called Tuesday’s vote “indicative of where a lot of people’s heads are” but stressed that he didn’t think it binded anyone into voting to acquit Trump at the end of the trial. 

“I think most of us thought that the threshold issue of whether or not you can remove, as the Constitution suggests, somebody who's no longer in office ... from a constitutional standpoint, it's on really shaky ground,” Thune said. 

Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanHillicon Valley: Big Tech critic Lina Khan named chair of the FTC | Lawmakers urge Biden to be tough on cyber during summit with Putin | TSA working on additional security regulations following Colonial Pipeline hack Senators introducing B bill to help narrow digital divide How Biden can get the infrastructure bill through Congress MORE (R-Ohio), who voted against tabling Paul, said he wasn’t voting to say a trial would not be constitutional but was voting to say the issue should be discussed. Tuesday’s vote effectively pigeonholed Paul. 

“I mean, I've the same position Mitch McConnell has. He didn't do that to be tabled either, even though he wants to have, you know, a fulsome discussion,” Portman said. 

He added that he viewed Tuesday’s vote and whether he would ultimately vote to acquit Trump as “a totally different issue, as far as I’m concerned.” 

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Republicans have questioned if the Senate, by moving forward, would be setting a precedent under which Republicans, once they are back in the majority, could reach back and try to impeach former presidents, in a warning shot to Democrats. 

“Could we go back and try President Obama?” asked Sen. John CornynJohn CornynSenate passes bill to make Juneteenth a federal holiday Harris calls for pathway to citizenship for Dreamers on DACA anniversary Senate confirms Garland's successor to appeals court MORE (R-Texas), an adviser to McConnell. 

Sen. Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisTrump endorsement shakes up GOP Senate primary in NC Infighting grips Nevada Democrats ahead of midterms Lara Trump lost her best opportunity — if she ever really wanted it MORE (R-N.C.) told reporters that Republicans were looking at the “broader issue” about impeaching a private citizen and viewed the current discussion as “kind of laying down a marker.” 

Republicans got a closed-door briefing on Tuesday from legal professor Jonathan Turley, where they quizzed him and discussed the constitutionality of holding an impeachment trial after a president has left office. 

Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiHundreds in West Virginia protest Manchin's opposition to voting rights legislation How Biden can get the infrastructure bill through Congress Senate confirms Garland's successor to appeals court MORE (R-Alaska) appeared frustrated by the decision to force a vote, a move that appeared to catch GOP senators off guard, without more briefings and discussion within the caucus. 

“Whether or not you’re going to see members change their mind after they’ve already taken a vote? I think that’s hard for people to do,” Murkowski added. 

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Asked about the implications for the outcome of the Senate trial, Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsOvernight Energy: Schumer to trigger reconciliation process Wednesday | Bipartisan bill would ban 'forever chemicals' in cosmetics | Biden admin eyes step toward Trump-era proposal for uranium reserve Bipartisan lawmakers introduce bill to ban 'forever chemicals' in cosmetics as study finds them prevalent Cosmetic chemicals need a makeover MORE (R-Maine), who was also one of the five to oppose Paul, replied, “Just do the math.” 

“It is extraordinarily unlikely the president will be convicted,” Collins said. 

The GOP strategy is a sharp shift from 2020, when Republicans were pledging publicly that they would acquit Trump and defended him publicly throughout the trial. 

Republicans fumed after Trump urged his followers to march to the Capitol, repeating his false claims that the election was “rigged.” And McConnell disclosed on Tuesday that he hadn't spoken to Trump since Dec. 15. 

But Democrats are worried that the argument that the trial is unconstitutional is giving Republicans an option that GOP senators view is politically safe because it allows them to vote against convicting Trump, without having to specifically endorse his Jan. 6 rhetoric. 

Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineThis week: Democrats face fractures in spending fight Democrats mull overhaul of sweeping election bill Overnight Defense: Pentagon details military construction projects getting .2B restored from wall funds | Biden chooses former commander to lead Navy | Bill seeks to boost visa program for Afghans who helped US MORE (D-Va.), who has floated trying to bar Trump from office through the 14th Amendment, warned that the constitutional argument, which Sen. Tom CottonTom Bryant CottonCotton warns of China collecting athletes' DNA at 2022 Olympics Overnight Defense: Top admiral shoots back at criticism of 'woke' military | Military guns go missing | New White House strategy to battle domestic extremism Top admiral shoots back at criticism of 'woke' military: 'We are not weak' MORE (R-Ark.) articulated weeks ago, was emerging as a “safe harbor” for Republicans. 

“I think Cotton has given Republicans a safe place to land. ‘I don't like the behavior, but I'm not sure you can convict.’ And whether or not that's the right legal answer or not I think that's a safe harbor,” Kaine said.