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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 TrumpProsecutors focus Trump Organization probe on company's financial officer: report WHO official says it's 'premature' to think pandemic will be over by end of year Romney released from hospital after fall over the weekend 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 PaulOvernight Health Care: 50 million coronavirus vaccines given | Pfizer news | Biden health nominees Rand Paul criticized for questioning of transgender health nominee Haley isolated after Trump fallout 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 BoozmanPassage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act is the first step to heal our democracy On The Trail: Trump threatens a Tea Party redux Managers seek to make GOP think twice about Trump acquittal 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 RoundsIndigenous groups post billboards urging senators to confirm Deb Haaland Powell pushes back on GOP inflation fears Overnight Health Care: US surpasses half a million COVID deaths | House panel advances Biden's .9T COVID-19 aid bill | Johnson & Johnson ready to provide doses for 20M Americans by end of March 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 InhofeBiden seeks to walk fine line with Syria strike Senators given no timeline on removal of National Guard, Capitol fence Overnight Defense: New Senate Armed Services chairman talks Pentagon policy nominee, Afghanistan, more | Biden reads report on Khashoggi killing | Austin stresses vaccine safety in new video 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 BarrassoBiden returns to Obama-era greenhouse gas calculation Indigenous groups post billboards urging senators to confirm Deb Haaland Senate confirms former Michigan governor Granholm as Energy secretary MORE (Wyo.), the No. 3 GOP senator. 

Sen. Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstBill to shorten early voting period, end Election Day early in Iowa heads to governor's desk We know how Republicans will vote — but what do they believe? The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by TikTok - Senate trial will have drama, but no surprise ending 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 McConnellJudiciary Committee greenlights Garland's AG nomination This week: Senate takes up coronavirus relief after minimum wage setback Juan Williams: Hypocrisy runs riot in GOP 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 ThuneGOP says Ron Klain pulling Biden strings Rick Scott acknowledges Biden 'absolutely' won fair election After vote against aid package, Golden calls for more bipartisanship 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 PortmanRepublican Ohio Senate candidate calls on GOP rep to resign over impeachment vote Sunday shows - Trump's reemergence, COVID-19 vaccines and variants dominate Portman on Trump's dominance of GOP: Republican Party's policies are 'even more popular' 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 CornynBottom line This week: Senate takes up coronavirus relief after minimum wage setback Senate mulls changes to .9 trillion coronavirus bill MORE (R-Texas), an adviser to McConnell. 

Sen. Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisMcConnell backs Garland for attorney general GOP senators demand probe into Cuomo's handling of nursing home deaths CNN anchor confronts GOP chairman over senator's vote to convict Trump 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 MurkowskiMurkowski says no decision after Tanden meeting Green New Deal's 3 billion ton problem: sourcing technology metals The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Trump teases on 2024 run 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 CollinsSenate Democrats negotiating changes to coronavirus bill On The Money: Senators push for changes as chamber nears vote on .9T relief bill | Warren offers bill to create wealth tax GOP says Ron Klain pulling Biden strings 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 KaineWarner: White House should 'keep open additional sanctions' against Saudi crown prince Overnight Defense: Biden sends message with Syria airstrike | US intel points to Saudi crown prince in Khashoggi killing | Pentagon launches civilian-led sexual assault commission Biden administration to give Congress full classified briefing on Syria strikes by next week 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 CottonScarborough tears into 'Ivy League brats' Cruz, Hawley for attacking 'elites' Judiciary Committee greenlights Garland's AG nomination Juan Williams: Hypocrisy runs riot in GOP 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.