Senate

GOP senators send clear signal: Trump’s getting acquitted

former President Donald Trump
UPI Photo

Republicans are signaling where the impeachment trial is heading just as it’s getting underway: a second acquittal for former President Trump.

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.

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 Cramer (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 Hawley (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.

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 Blunt (Mo.), a member of GOP leadership and close McConnell ally, said Tuesday.

The House impeached Trump before he left office. Then-Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) tried to get then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (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 Biden 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 Wicker (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 Paul (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.

But GOP senators said they expected the votes to largely mirror each other with maybe a few exceptions. In the end, Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), who had previously supported Paul’s efforts, voted on Tuesday to say that the trial was constitutional.

Sen. Mike Braun (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 Collins (Maine) has said Trump bears responsibility for inciting a riot, while Sen. Mitt Romney (Utah) was the only GOP senator who voted for one of the articles of impeachment in 2020.

Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) has said he believes Trump committed an impeachable offense; Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) called on him to resign and Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) said he was open to impeachment articles.

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

Sen. John Cornyn (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.

Tags Ben Sasse Bill Cassidy Capitol breach Charles Schumer Donald Trump Impeachment Joe Biden John Cornyn Josh Hawley Kevin Cramer Lisa Murkowski Mike Braun Mitch McConnell Mitt Romney Pat Toomey Rand Paul Roger Wicker Roy Blunt Susan Collins
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