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What Senate Vote Count Says About the Impeachment Trial

Newser — Jenn Gidman

Former President Trump's impeachment trial begins Feb. 9, but a vote Tuesday in the Senate revealed a mostly partisan split over the validity of having the trial in the first place.

It was a win for the Democrats, only in that they, and five Republicans who joined them, quashed an objection by Republican Sen. Rand Paul, who insisted impeaching an ex-president would violate the Constitution.

The vote that killed Paul's objection was 55-45, but it's a vote count the Washington Post says signals a "likely acquittal" of Trump, as 67 senators would need to agree to convict him.

If a conviction does come to pass, Trump could be banned from future office with a second vote by a simple majority. The five Republican senators who joined their Democratic colleagues in the vote: Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Mitt Romney, Ben Sasse, and Pat Toomey.

Reaction:

  • Agreed: Mark Meadows, the White House's former chief of staff, aligns with the notion that this vote is a signifier of the bigger picture, per the Hill.

"If today's Senate vote is any sign, the Democrats' ridiculous impeachment of former President Trump will fail—again—by a long shot. Dead on arrival," he tweeted Tuesday.

  • Constitutionality: That's the issue many Republicans are citing, and some of them met Tuesday before the vote with law professor Jonathan Turley, who testified for the GOP during Trump's first impeachment trial.

At the luncheon, per the Wall Street Journal, Turley pushed the idea that it's unconstitutional to try a former president, and that Trump "might be best served by simply not participating in the trial."

  • Top Dem pushes back: "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," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said in response, per NPR.
  • And another: Democratic Rep.

Jamie Raskin, who's serving as one of the impeachment managers for the trial, concurs: "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-di-da, it's too late to prosecute me."

  • Historical precedence: The New York Times offers an example of when this type of impeachment trial has happened before—in 1876, when William Belknap, the secretary of war under Ulysses Grant, resigned "in tears," but was impeached by the House soon after anyway.

The Senate in that case agreed it had the jurisdiction to hear Belknap's case, though it ended up acquitting him.

  • A crack in the firmament? An acquittal isn't completely out of reach.

GOP Sen. John Thune tells CNN, "I don't think [this vote] binds anybody once the trial starts." Sen. Rob Portman, meanwhile, who recently announced he won't run for reelection, says he just wants a debate on the matter, but is similarly open: "I've not made my mind up. I'm a juror."

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