All but five of the 50 Republicans in the U.S. Senate backed a move by Sen. Rand Paul that questioned the constitutionality of former President Donald Trump’s upcoming impeachment trial.
The 55-to-45 vote Tuesday killed Paul’s effort to dismiss the proceeding as unconstitutional because Trump is now a private citizen and not a sitting president.
“Impeachment is for removal from office, and the accused here has already left office,” Paul said.
The Kentucky senator added that a trial would “drag our great country down into the gutter of rancor and vitriol, the likes of which has never been seen in our nation’s history.”
Paul said before the vote that a trial to remove someone from office who had already left the position was “deranged.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, shot back at Paul, saying that the trial was supported by the Constitution.
“The theory that the impeachment of a former official is unconstitutional is flat-out wrong by every frame of analysis,” Schumer said. “It has been completely debunked by constitutional scholars from all across the political spectrum.”
The vote on Paul’s objection is seen by many as an indicator of how Republicans will vote once the trial concludes.
“I think it’s pretty obvious from the vote today that it is extraordinarily unlikely that the president will be convicted,” said Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, one of the five Republicans who voted to proceed to trial.
“Just do the math.”
The other four who joined Collins in voting to go forward with the trial are Sens. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Mitt Romney (Utah), Ben Sasse (Nebraska) and Patrick J. Toomey (Pennsylvania).
All 50 Democratic senators voted against Paul’s objection to the trial.
While Tuesday’s vote could indicate that Trump’s conviction is unlikely to happen, some GOP senators say it is not necessarily a done deal.
Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, a Republican, said that he voted for Paul’s objection in order to have a “fulsome discussion” on the constitutionality of impeaching a former president, not that he just wanted to avoid a trial.
“I’ve not made my mind up,” Portman said of Trump’s guilt or innocence. “I’m a juror.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell also voted with Paul to move toward dismissing the trial. Last week McConnell said on the Senate floor that he believed Trump played a role in the events that took place on Jan. 6.
Trump was impeached earlier this month in the U.S. House on one charge of “incitement of insurrection” for what Democrats said was his role in inciting the riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
A joint session of Congress was meeting that day to announce the final count of the Electoral College that certified Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 presidential election when hundreds of people stormed the Capitol. Five people died, including a woman who was shot and a police officer who died after being hit in the head.
Trump’s response to the articles is due by Feb. 2, with his pre-trial brief due Feb. 8. The House is scheduled to submit its brief on Feb. 9, and after that the trial will begin that day.
It would take two-thirds of the senators — 67 votes — to convict Trump. The Senate is evenly divided at 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans. It would take 17 Republicans crossing party lines to join with all 50 Democrats to find Trump guilty.
If Trump is found guilty, an additional vote could be taken that would disqualify him from ever holding public office again. That vote could pass on a simple majority, or 51 votes.
“If 34 people support my resolution that this is an unconstitutional proceeding, it shows they don’t have the votes and we’re basically wasting our time,” Paul said before the vote on Tuesday.
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