Donald Trump’s hopes of avoiding a conviction by the U.S. Senate were boosted Tuesday when 45 Republicans tried to dismiss his impeachment trial before it even began.
The procedural vote was not enough to prevent the trial from continuing, as 55 senators voted that it should, but he suggested Democrats face an uphill battle to get the 67 senators they will have. need for a condemnation to a two-thirds majority vote.
Trump was impeached by the House of Representatives for “inciting insurgency” following the assault on the United States Capitol, including the Senate chamber, by an angry mob on January 6. Senators gathered at the crime scene Tuesday to begin his trial.
After taking the oath and signing the oath book – each using a different pen due to coronavirus precautions – Rand Paul of Kentucky challenged the legitimacy of the lawsuit.
He argued on a point of order that since Trump is no longer president, continuing to do so “violates the constitution.”
Chuck Schumer, the leader of the Democratic majority, dismissed Paul’s theory as “completely flawed,” saying: “It has been completely debunked by constitutional scholars from all political backgrounds … The history and precedent are clear. The Senate has the power to try former officials.
Schumer said, “The theory that the Senate cannot try former officials would amount to a constitutional release card for any president who commits an impassible offense.”
Senators then voted 55-45 against Paul’s point of order, ensuring the trial continues – but also signaling the strength of Trump’s residual support among Republicans in the Senate and beyond.
The only five Republicans who voted to go ahead with the trial were longtime Trump critics Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Mitt Romney of Utah, Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Pat Toomey from Pennsylvania. Romney was the only Republican to vote for Trump’s impeachment in his first impeachment trial a year ago.
Trump is the first president to be twice impeached by the House of Representatives and the first to stand trial after leaving office.
The House approved a single article of impeachment – the equivalent of an indictment in a criminal trial – on January 13, accusing him of inciting insurgency with a speech to supporters before he they only stormed the United States Capitol on January 6. A policeman and four other people died in the riot.
The nine House Democrats who will serve as prosecutors kicked off the trial on Monday by handing over the impeachment article to the Senate in a solemn march past the same rooms where the crowds went wild three weeks ago.
Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts is not presiding over the trial, as he did during Trump’s first impeachment, as the president is no longer in office. Instead, Senator Patrick Leahy, a Democrat who occupies the largely ceremonial role of pro tempore president of the Senate, oversaw the proceedings.
The trial will begin in earnest the week of February 8. Despite his departure, Trump remains a significant force among Republicans, and his supporters have vowed to mount electoral challenges to senators who back the conviction.
Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, tweeted: “45 GOP senators just voted that Trump’s trial is unconstitutional because he’s not in office now. Those who thought 17 R senators would somehow vote to condemn Trump have likely woken up from their dreams. As guilty as Trump is, the Rs always curl up in front of him.
Joe Biden told CNN the trial “must take place” but doubted the chances of conviction.