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GOP senators send clear signal: Trump's getting acquitted

Republicans are signaling where the impeachment trial is heading just as it’s getting underway: a second acquittal for former President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump: McConnell 'helpless' to stop Biden from packing court Romney on NRSC awarding Trump: Not 'my preference' McConnell sidesteps Trump calling him 'dumb son of a b----' MORE.

Trump’s impeachment trial — the first time a president has gone through the proceeding twice, and the first time after a president left office — began Tuesday, in what is expected to be a days-long proceeding that could wrap as soon as Sunday or Monday.

But Republicans sent a clear message Tuesday that they will vote to acquit Trump, when 44 of the 50-member Senate Republican Conference made a failed attempt to declare the trial unconstitutional because Trump has already left office.

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Republicans say the vote — which largely mirrored a similar attempt late last month — shows how few GOP senators are open to convicting Trump. If they had been successful it would have stopped the trial in its tracks.

Sen. Kevin CramerKevin John CramerBiden administration faces big decision on whether to wade into Dakota Access fight OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Supreme Court declines to hear challenge to Obama marine monument designation | Interior reverses course on tribal ownership of portion of Missouri river | White House climate adviser meets with oil and gas companies Senate GOP pushes back on list of participants in oil and gas leasing forum MORE (R-N.D.) predicted that the Republicans voting to declare the Trump trial unconstitutional was the “floor” for how many could vote to acquit Trump at the end of the trial.

“I’ve got to believe that it’s going to be highly unlikely that that there’ll be anywhere near enough for conviction,” Cramer said. “It takes some mental gymnastics to on the one hand consider this to be an unconstitutional action, on the other hand, to consider conviction is part of it.”

Sen. Josh HawleyJoshua (Josh) David HawleyHillicon Valley: Biden nominates former NSA deputy director to serve as cyber czar | Apple to send witness to Senate hearing after all | Biden pressed on semiconductor production amid shortage Hawley, critic of Big Tech, proposes 'trust-busting' agenda Biden picks vocal Trump critics to lead immigration agencies MORE (R-Mo.), who led the effort to try to overturn the election results in Congress, said he would be “very surprised” if many Republican senators flip ahead of the final vote, adding that he didn’t believe the impeachment effort was “going anywhere.”

“If you feel that you have no authority, then you can’t go on and say ‘well we have no authority but I guess I’ll go ahead and convict anyway,’ ” Hawley said. “I’d be surprised if many or any of those people change their minds on the underlying question of whether or not to oppose a penalty or not.”

Assuming every Democrat votes to find Trump “guilty,” they would still need 17 Republican senators to side with them in order to convict Trump, in what would amount to a historic first. On Tuesday, they got six to say the trial was constitutional.

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The House impeached Trump late last month, making him the first president to be impeached twice, accusing him of high crimes and misdemeanors for “willfully inciting violence against the Government of the United States.”

Republicans aren’t defending Trump’s conduct, after he urged his supporters to march on the Capitol, in a marked shift from the first trial last year. But they are increasingly lining up behind the argument that the impeachment trial isn’t constitutional because Trump is already out of office. 

“I’m gonna vote like I voted the other day through the trial. I don’t think it’s constitutional, I don’t think we should be doing it,” Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntSenate GOP opens door to earmarks Thune: 'There are Republicans who would vote' for smaller infrastructure package Republicans can't handle the truth about taxes MORE (Mo.), a member of GOP leadership and close McConnell ally, said Tuesday.

The House impeached Trump before he left office. Then-Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerTop academics slam Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act NY Times beclowns itself by normalizing court-packing 'to balance the conservative majority' The first Southern state legalizes marijuana — what it means nationally MORE (D-N.Y.) tried to get then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTrump: McConnell 'helpless' to stop Biden from packing court Senate GOP opens door to earmarks McConnell sidesteps Trump calling him 'dumb son of a b----' MORE (R-Ky.) to bring the chamber back into session early in order to start the trial during the second week of January, but the GOP leader rejected the request, guaranteeing that the proceeding wouldn’t start until President BidenJoe BidenTrump: McConnell 'helpless' to stop Biden from packing court Biden, first lady send 'warmest greetings' to Muslims for Ramadan The business case for child care reform MORE had been sworn in.

House impeachment managers and Trump’s legal team spent hours debating the constitutionality issue on Tuesday, as they tried to sway GOP senators.

House impeachment managers played a jarring video that compiled footage of the violent mob at the Capitol and Trump’s remarks at a rally earlier in the day near the White House. They also pointed to former War Secretary William Belknap, who was impeached after he resigned amid a kickbacks scandal.

Trump’s defense team countered that an impeachment trial was divisive, and that a former official can’t be impeached. They argued that the fact that the Constitution says “the president” and not “a president,” meant it was supposed to apply to the current office holder.

Sen. Roger WickerRoger Frederick Wicker OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Biden seeks GOP support for infrastructure plan | House GOP's planned environmental bills drop Democratic priorities | Advocates optimistic Biden infrastructure plan is a step toward sustainability On The Money: Biden seeks GOP support for infrastructure plan | Democrats debate tax hikes on wealthy | Biden, Congress target semiconductor shortage Against mounting odds, Biden seeks GOP support for infrastructure plan MORE (R-Miss.) said the House impeachment managers did a better job than during Trump’s first trial but appeared unmoved on his view that the trial wasn’t constitutional.

“I thought the attorneys were very well prepared and well spoken. I think, actually the Democrats sent a better team this year than last,” Wicker said.

But, he added, “it did not change my mind.”

In many ways the Senate’s outcome on the constitutionality vote was already pre-baked.

Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulCharles Booker launches exploratory committee to consider challenge to Rand Paul Rand Paul calls Fauci a 'petty tyrant' Biden picks vocal Trump critics to lead immigration agencies MORE (R-Ky.) forced a similar vote late last month on the issue. Unlike Tuesday’s vote, which was directly on if the trial was constitutional, last month’s vote was on whether to pigeonhole Paul’s effort.

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But GOP senators said they expected the votes to largely mirror each other with maybe a few exceptions. In the end, Sen. Bill CassidyBill CassidyCalls grow for national paid family leave amid pandemic Senators urge Energy chief to prioritize cybersecurity amid growing threats Vivek Murthy confirmed as surgeon general MORE (R-La.), who had previously supported Paul’s efforts, voted on Tuesday to say that the trial was constitutional.

Sen. Mike BraunMichael BraunA number of Republican lawmakers are saying no to COVID-19 vaccines GOP goes on the attack against Biden relief bill Amazon removing books that frame LGBTQ issues as mental illness MORE (R-Ind.) postulated that the margin was a good predictor of where the final vote on whether to convict Trump will end up and underscored how little had changed since Paul’s vote.

“I think so,” he said, when asked if he viewed Tuesday as a good indicator of how the trial would end. “I think just like the one a couple of weeks ago was.”

The GOP positioning underscores the uphill lift that Democrats face as they try to make Trump the first president to be convicted during a Senate impeachment trial.

Senators have floated that there are up to roughly five GOP senators who might be persuadable when it comes to convicting Trump, aligning with the group that voted against Paul’s effort.

Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsAgainst mounting odds, Biden seeks GOP support for infrastructure plan Trump's early endorsements reveal GOP rift The Hill's Morning Report - Biden assails 'epidemic' of gun violence amid SC, Texas shootings MORE (Maine) has said Trump bears responsibility for inciting a riot, while Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyRomney on NRSC awarding Trump: Not 'my preference' Trump's early endorsements reveal GOP rift Two sheriff's deputies shot by gunman in Utah MORE (Utah) was the only GOP senator who voted for one of the articles of impeachment in 2020.

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Sen. 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 (R-Pa.) has said he believes Trump committed an impeachable offense; Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiNixed Interior nominee appointed to different department role  Against mounting odds, Biden seeks GOP support for infrastructure plan GOP Senate campaign arm awards Trump as he rails against McConnell MORE (R-Alaska) called on him to resign and Sen. Ben SasseBen SasseBipartisan lawmakers signal support for Biden cybersecurity picks To encourage innovation, Congress should pass two bills protecting important R&D tax provision Maine GOP rejects motion to censure Collins MORE (R-Neb.) said he was open to impeachment articles.

None of them have said, yet, if they will vote to convict.

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynOn The Money: Biden seeks GOP support for infrastructure plan | Democrats debate tax hikes on wealthy | Biden, Congress target semiconductor shortage Hillicon Valley: Biden nominates former NSA deputy director to serve as cyber czar | Apple to send witness to Senate hearing after all | Biden pressed on semiconductor production amid shortage Lawmakers, industry call on Biden to fund semiconductor production amid shortage MORE (R-Texas), during an interview with Texas radio station KSKY, called the trial a “political exercise.”

“This really seems awfully vindictive and I think it’s completely unnecessary,” Cornyn said Tuesday. “We know what the outcome is going to be.” 

Braun added that he thought Tuesday’s vote “calcified” the outcome of the trial: Trump’s acquittal.

“I don’t think we lose any more,” he said.