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Senate GOP boxes itself in on impeachment

The outcome of former 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’s second impeachment trial has largely been determined after 45 Republican senators voted in support of a resolution declaring it unconstitutional and the impeachment of a private citizen illegal.

The vote boxes in the overwhelming majority of the Senate Republican Conference into supporting Trump’s acquittal on a single article of impeachment before the House managers and Trump’s lawyers have even filed their pre-trial briefs.

Sen. 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 (R-Alaska), one of only a handful of GOP senators actively considering whether to vote to convict Trump, on Tuesday said it’s now hard to imagine there will be anything close to the 67 votes needed to convict Trump.

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

“Because [people] are like, ‘Wait, wait, wait. You voted to say that this was not constitutional and now you’re changing your mind?’ We don’t get a lot of credit and we don’t get a lot of allowance to change our mind around here,” she added.

“That’s why I think it was a little unfortunate that we had this very spontaneous vote on an extraordinarily significant matter without the considered debate and brief and analysis,” she said. “People had to make really quick decisions.”

Murkowski voted with only four other Republicans, Sens. 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), 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), 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.) and 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.), to table the motion declaring the trial unconstitutional.  

Sixty-seven senators or two-thirds of the Senate present in the chamber must vote for the article of impeachment to convict the former president.

Murkowski said she and her colleagues were caught “flat-footed” by the procedural vote. She said she was not aware until Tuesday morning that she would be voting on the motion from 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.) later in the day.

“I think just about everybody was quite surprised to be in a position to actually take not only a public position but a vote on this today. And so I think that there were a lot that were perhaps not as prepared. I don’t feel I am as prepared as I wanted,” she said.

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Murkowski said “the question deserved more considered review by us the Senate.”

Collins told reporters Tuesday afternoon: “I think it’s pretty obvious from the vote today that it is extraordinarily unlikely that the president will be convicted.”

“Just do the math,” she said.

Paul declared victory after the vote even though 55 senators, including five Republicans, voted to table his argument that the proceeding is unconstitutional.

“It shows the impeachment is dead on arrival. If you voted that it was unconstitutional, how in the world would you ever vote to convict somebody for this?” he said.

“Forty-five of us, almost the entire caucus ... voted that the whole proceeding was unconstitutional, so this is a big victory for us,” he said. “This vote indicates it’s over.”

Paul added he last spoke to Trump about a week ago “but not about this.”

His motion stated that “as of noon last Wednesday, Donald Trump holds none of the positions listed in the Constitution — he is a private citizen” and therefore the trial “violates the Constitution.”

Paul’s motion also asserted that Chief Justice John Roberts’s absence from the proceeding “demonstrate[s] that this is not a trial of the President, but of a private citizen.”

Darrell West, director of governance studies at the Brookings Institution, said Tuesday’s vote largely predetermined the outcome of the trial before it even got started.

“It’s a procedural motion, but it’s a proxy for the real thing. That result does not look very promising for Democrats,” he said. “If that many Republicans feel the trial is unconstitutional, they’re unlikely to convict on the substance.”

West compared the vote to a prosecutor getting an adverse summary judgement from nearly half of a jury before even having a chance to present opening arguments.

“No prosecutor would want to create that kind of opportunity, so Rand Paul was smart enough to be able to exploit that,” he said.

“The battle lines clearly are drawn and it looks like there could be a majority vote to convict but not two-thirds,” he added.  

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Other experts said Trump’s acquittal by the Senate is now a certain outcome.

“It points very decisively to an acquittal and I don’t see any additional pickups in terms of people willing to find [Trump] guilty,” said Ross K. Baker, a professor of political science at Rutgers University who has served several stints as a Senate fellow.

Senate Republicans held a lunch meeting immediately before the vote at which they heard a lengthy presentation from George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley about why the impeachment trial is unconstitutional.

Murkowski said afterward it was the only in-depth presentation that she and many of her colleagues heard about the constitutionality of the trial before voting on that very question, even though there are conflicting academic opinions on the subject.

“We knew this issue was going to be one that was raised in the trial,” she said of the question of the trial’s constitutionality. “There was a desire and a design to, 'Hey, let’s hear from some of the constitutional scholars.'

“And so he was invited, but it was then not just [hearing] the perspective of one constitutional scholar, it’s, ‘Hey, we’ve got to vote in less than an hour here.’”

She lamented that Turley’s was the only opinion heard before the vote.

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“So we heard one side,” she said.

Romney was the only Republican at Tuesday’s lunch to stand up and push back against Turley’s arguments, according to Sen. Kevin CramerKevin John CramerSenate braces for 'God-awful,' 'stupid' session ahead of COVID-19 relief vote Ron Johnson grinds Senate to halt, irritating many Senate votes to take up COVID-19 relief bill MORE (R-N.D.), who attended the meeting.

Collins asked for clarification of some of Turley’s arguments, though her comments were not seen by colleagues as directly pushing back on the law professor.

Collins later told reporters that she determined the trial should move forward after taking “a great deal of time” to consult with constitutional scholars and legal experts.

“I spend a great deal of time talking to constitutional scholars and other legal experts and concluded that the text of the Constitution, the purpose of the provisions and Senate precedent all said the trial should go forward, especially since the House acted while the president was still in office,” she said.

Other potential Republican swing votes said they found the lunchtime presentation “compelling.”

“I think there was a lot of agreement,” said 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). “It was a compelling argument, and we’re pursuing a private citizen when perhaps there could be a criminal indictment rather than Congress.”

Sen. Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Virus relief bill headed for weekend vote Graham: Trump will 'be helpful' to all Senate GOP incumbents The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden vs. Trump, part II MORE (R-Kan.) said he found the presentation “interesting” and “useful” but added that he has not yet “concluded” on how to vote on the article of impeachment itself.

Senate Republican Policy Committee Chairman 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.) told reporters Tuesday that Senate Minority 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 (R-Ky.) invited Turley to give the presentation to GOP senators immediately before the vote.