GOP senators find safety by adopting Trump team’s logic
Republican senators protected President Donald Trump – and each other – from confronting fresh evidence in the president’s impeachment trial by adopting arguments from his lawyers about why the trial had run its course.
The vote against seeking new documents and testimony was a razor-thin 51-49, and came only after a handful of wavering Republicans took some rhetorical leaps to avoid prolonging the electionyear trial.
The vacillating lawmakers lined up behind various, sometimes competing rationales for blocking witnesses and opposing conviction offered to them by the president’s team as it evolved over the course of the trial. Trump’s lawyers had argued the House had failed to prove Trump did anything wrong, but even if they had, his actions were not impeachable and should be decided by voters in November.
Above all, they warned senators that seeking new evidence would lead to weeks or months of delays and set a precedent that would tie the Senate in knots.
Lamar Alexander of Tennessee said he believed the House had proved Trump improperly sought an investigation of Joe Biden and Hunter Biden and withheld aid to do so, but said he shouldn’t be removed nor was there a need for additional evidence.
Lisa Murkowski of Alaska said the Senate started with a “flawed product” and she became “frustrated and disappointed and angry at all sides.” And Marco Rubio of Florida argued it would damage the country to remove Trump even if the allegations against the president were correct.
The vote forced a replay of an unwelcome dance a handful of holdout Republicans have repeatedly stayed with Trump. They were forced to defend presidential actions that make them uncomfortable because they’re loath to draw Trump’s ire.
Democrats accused their GOP colleagues of being unable to carry out their oath to do “impartial justice” because of their desire to please the president. Democrats said they’re concerned Trump will now feel free to cheat in an election just nine months away.
The Senate will continue debating impeachment next week, but the endgame is clear. Trump will be acquitted on a largely party-line vote on Wednesday at 4 p.m., the day after Trump delivers the State of the Union address.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had sought to hold a swift trial and block fresh evidence from the start, arguing the House’s impeachment was a partisan, shoddy mess. But it wasn’t always clear he would get his wish, especially after reports that former Trump National Security Adviser John Bolton contradicted the heart of Trump’s defense in his upcoming book manuscript.
Any doubt about the outcome was erased when Murkowski issued an extraordinary, melancholy statement Friday.
“Given the partisan nature of this impeachment from the very beginning and throughout, I have come to the conclusion that there will be no fair trial in the Senate,” she said. “I don’t believe the continuation of this process will change anything. It is sad for me to admit that, as an institution, the Congress has failed.”
Alexander, a retiring McConnell ally who has occasionally clashed with the president, issued a statement of his own Thursday that other senators said reflected the private sentiments of many.
Alexander said the House proved its case – that Trump abused his powers and undermined equal justice under the law – but that he shouldn’t be removed from office. “Let the people decide,” Alexander said.
Another Republican, Rob Portman of Ohio, chose a similar rationale. He said Trump’s request that Ukraine investigate Joe Biden as he withheld military aid was “wrong and inappropriate.” But Portman said Trump shouldn’t be removed from office. He echoed the president’s lawyers’ argument that seeking new evidence would set a “dangerous precedent” making future impeachments more likely.
Rubio, a rival of Trump’s in the 2016 Republican race, issued a lengthy, qualified statement that didn’t address whether the underlying case had been proven.
“Just because actions meet a standard of impeachment does not mean it is in the best interest of the country to remove a president from office,” he said.
Such reasoning veers from Trump’s long-standing position that his July 2019 call with Ukraine’s president was “perfect” and that he deserved full vindication. It also differs from his lawyers’ initial arguments that the articles of impeachment make accusations “contrary to the facts.”
Rubio also said the Senate had no need to seek further witnesses after the House failed to go to court to challenge the president’s efforts to block them from testifying.
Democrats argued that earlier impeachment trials included witnesses who had not testified in the House, and said it the Republican Senate was setting a precedent by holding a trial without any.
The sentiment that the voters should decide was the one unifying theme in all of the final Republican statements opposing witnesses. Democrats dismissed that rationale, saying the GOP doesn’t want those voters hear the truth about Trump’s conduct from current and former aides, such as Bolton.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer warned that evidence would continue to emerge – including in Bolton’s book – and that Republican senators will be to blame for failing to hear those details under oath before casting a final verdict.
While a handful of Republicans had publicly agonized over how to vote, just two, Susan Collins of Maine and Mitt Romney of Utah, voted to seek new evidence, including the testimony of Bolton.
Most had long since declared themselves unconvinced by the House’s case and continued to back the president. Republicans argued that Democrats’ real intent was to pressure vulnerable Senate Republicans up for re-election in November, including Cory Gardner of Colorado, Joni Ernst of Iowa, Martha McSally of Arizona and Thom Tillis of North Carolina, all of whom voted with Trump.
There was never any expectation that Trump would actually be removed. That would require at least 20 GOP votes, and no Republican in Congress has said his conduct merited removal from office.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, heads to a meeting Friday with Republicans during a break in the trial of President Donald Trump. Several Senate Republicans said that even if Trump did everything impeachment managers said, he should not be removed. “It is sad for me to admit that, as an institution, the Congress has failed,” Murkoswki said.