Early Procedural Test Shows Where Senate GOP May Stand On Convicting Trump
After Senators were sworn in Tuesday afternoon as jurors in the impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump, Sen. Rand Paul quickly pressed for a vote to force lawmakers on the record over the issue of the trial's constitutionality.
The Senate voted 55-45 to reject the Kentucky Republican's argument that the impeachment trial is unconstitutional because Trump is no longer in office.
Just five Republicans — Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Mitt Romney of Utah, and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania — joined Democrats in voting to table the motion. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, notably, voted with most of the GOP conference in support of Paul's motion.
A two-thirds majority is required for a Senate conviction. Paul's point of order likely foreshadows the intentions of most Republican senators during the trial itself, and demonstrates how unlikely it is Democrats will garner the 17 Republican votes needed to convict Trump.
"I think [Tuesday's vote will] be enough to show that more than a third of the Senate thinks that the whole proceeding is unconstitutional, which will show that ultimately they don't have the votes to do an impeachment," Paul told Capitol Hill reporters Tuesday morning.
Prior to the vote, Paul spoke on the Senate floor and called the impeachment effort a "partisan exercise."
"If the accused is no longer president, where is the constitutional power to impeach him? Private citizens don't get impeached. Impeachment is for removal from office, and the accused here has already left office," he argued.
His argument is one that has been repeated often in recent days by other Senate Republicans, who have largely criticized Trump's actions leading up to and during the insurrection on the U.S. Capitol (the basis for his second impeachment by the House) but have questioned the constitutionality of trying him once he left office.
"The theory that the Senate can't try former officials would amount to a constitutional get out of jail free card for any president who commits an impeachable offense," said Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., in remarks ahead of the vote.
Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., who is serving as one of the House impeachment managers, has also dismissed arguments from Republicans claiming the trial is unconstitutional.
"If we had a rule that you can't be tried for anything that you did in your last three or four or five weeks in office, that would basically be sending an extremely dangerous signal to future presidents that they could try to incite or execute a coup or an armed insurrection against the government and say 'la dee da, it's too late to prosecute me'," Raskin told NPR's Kelsey Snell.
"The Constitution applies on your first day of office, it applies on your last day in office and everything in between," the former constitutional law professor added.
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah., told reporters earlier on Tuesday that he disagrees with Paul's claims on the trial's constitutionality.
"The preponderance of opinion with regards to the constitutionality of a trial of impeachment of a former president is saying that it is a constitutional process," he said.
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