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 PACs brought in over M for the first half of 2021 Chicago owes Trump M tax refund, state's attorney mounts legal challenge Biden hits resistance from unions on vaccine requirement 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.

ADVERTISEMENT

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's bipartisan deal faces Senate gauntlet Trump takes two punches from GOP The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - US gymnast wins all-around gold as Simone Biles cheers from the stands 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 HawleyBiden's bipartisan deal faces Senate gauntlet 228 Republican lawmakers urge Supreme Court to overrule Roe v. Wade Trio of Senate Republicans urges Supreme Court to overrule Roe v. Wade 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.

ADVERTISEMENT

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 BluntBiden's bipartisan deal faces Senate gauntlet The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden sets new vaccine mandate as COVID-19 cases surge Former Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon passes on Senate campaign 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 SchumerSenate infrastructure talks spill over into rare Sunday session Senate holds sleepy Saturday session as negotiators finalize infrastructure deal An August ultimatum: No recess until redistricting reform is done MORE (D-N.Y.) tried to get then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellBiden's bipartisan deal faces Senate gauntlet The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden sets new vaccine mandate as COVID-19 cases surge Democrats warn shrinking Biden's spending plan could backfire 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 BidenThe Supreme Court and blind partisanship ended the illusion of independent agencies Missed debt ceiling deadline kicks off high-stakes fight Senate infrastructure talks spill over into rare Sunday session 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 WickerHere's evidence the Senate confirmation process is broken Commerce office used racial profiling operating as 'rogue' police force: Senate report Rand Paul introducing measure to repeal public transportation mask mandates 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 PaulThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - A huge win for Biden, centrist senators Only two people cited by TSA for mask violations have agreed to pay fine Senators reach billion deal on emergency Capitol security bill 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.

ADVERTISEMENT

But GOP senators said they expected the votes to largely mirror each other with maybe a few exceptions. In the end, Sen. Bill CassidyBill CassidyBiden's bipartisan deal faces Senate gauntlet Senate starts infrastructure debate amid 11th-hour drama Top Democrat: 'A lot of spin' coming from White House on infrastructure MORE (R-La.), who had previously supported Paul’s efforts, voted on Tuesday to say that the trial was constitutional.

Sen. Mike BraunMichael BraunBiden's bipartisan deal faces Senate gauntlet CDC backtracks with new mask guidance GOP senators invite Yellen to brief them on debt ceiling expiration, inflation 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 CollinsSunday shows preview: Delta concerns prompt CDC mask update; bipartisan infrastructure bill to face challenges in Senate Top Democrat: 'A lot of spin' coming from White House on infrastructure Bill would honor Ginsburg, O'Connor with statues at Capitol MORE (Maine) has said Trump bears responsibility for inciting a riot, while Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - US gymnast wins all-around gold as Simone Biles cheers from the stands The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - A huge win for Biden, centrist senators The 17 Republicans who voted to advance the Senate infrastructure bill MORE (Utah) was the only GOP senator who voted for one of the articles of impeachment in 2020.

ADVERTISEMENT

Sen. Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeyBlack women look to build upon gains in coming elections Watch live: GOP senators present new infrastructure proposal Sasse rebuked by Nebraska Republican Party over impeachment vote MORE (R-Pa.) has said he believes Trump committed an impeachable offense; Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiBill would honor Ginsburg, O'Connor with statues at Capitol The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - US gymnast wins all-around gold as Simone Biles cheers from the stands The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - A huge win for Biden, centrist senators MORE (R-Alaska) called on him to resign and Sen. Ben SasseBen SasseSasse calls China's Xi a 'coward' after Apple Daily arrest Defunct newspaper's senior editor arrested in Hong Kong Murkowski: Trump has 'threatened to do a lot' to those who stand up to him 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 CornynBiden's bipartisan deal faces Senate gauntlet Senate votes to take up infrastructure deal Biden officials pledge to confront cybersecurity challenges head-on 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.