Most Republican senators on Tuesday voted for a motion saying the impeachment trial for former President Donald Trump is unconstitutional because Trump is no longer in office, making the prospect for Democrats to garner enough votes to convict Trump dimming.
Forty-five Senate Republicans backed a failed effort on Tuesday to halt former President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, in a show of party unity that some cited as a clear sign he will not be convicted of inciting insurrection at the Capitol.
The Democratic-led Senate blocked the motion in a 55-45 vote. But only five Republican lawmakers joined Democrats to reject the move, far short of the 17 Republicans who would need to vote to convict Trump on an impeachment charge that he incited the Jan. 6 Capitol assault that left five people dead.
Democrats say they have precedent on their side, arguing while no former president has been tried by the Senate after leaving office, Secretary of War William Belknap was tried in the Senate in 1876 after he had already resigned.
John Thune, the No. 2 Republican senator, said he thought the vote was “indicative” of where Republicans are but it doesn’t “bind” them into voting a particular way on conviction.
“It’s one of the few times in Washington where a loss is actually a victory,” Paul later told reporters. “Forty-five votes means the impeachment trial is dead on arrival.”
Paul and other Republicans contend that the proceedings are unconstitutional because Trump left office last Wednesday and the trial will be overseen by Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy instead of by U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts.
Some Republican senators who backed Paul’s motion said their vote on Tuesday did not indicate how they might come down on Trump’s guilt or innocence after a trial.
Leahy, 80, was briefly hospitalized on Tuesday evening after not feeling well but was released after an examination, his spokesman, David Carle, said in a statement.
Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who moved to thwart Paul’s motion, dismissed the Republican constitutional claim as “flat-out wrong” and said it would provide “a constitutional get-out-of-jail-free card” for presidents guilty of misconduct.
The Senate trial is set to begin the week of Feb 8. Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy, the president pro tempore of the Senate, is presiding over the trial instead of Chief Justice John Roberts because Trump is now a former president.
At least 17 Republicans would need to join all 50 Democrats to convict Trump by a two-thirds majority.