8 Moments on Senate Floor Before the Vote to Acquit Trump
The Senate voted Wednesday afternoon to acquit President Donald Trump on both articles of impeachment following 11 days of arguments by House prosecutors and the president’s defense team.
After speeches by senators, Chief Justice John Roberts, who presided over the trial, gaveled in the court of impeachment to render verdicts in one of the least suspenseful of political acts.
The Senate voted 52-48 to find Trump not guilty on the charge of abuse of power, with only one Republican, Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, joining all Democrats and two independents in a guilty verdict.
The Senate then voted 53-47 to find Trump not guilty of obstruction of Congress, with Romney joining the rest of the Republicans in acquitting the president.
The proceedings ended at 4:40 p.m.
Trump announced on Twitter that he would speak Thursday about his acquittal.
The president also sent out a comical tweet:
White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham issued a press release saying that “all Democrats, and one failed Republican presidential candidate, voted for the manufactured impeachment articles.”
In what has now become a consistent tradition for Democrats, this was yet another witch-hunt that deprived the President of his due process rights and was based on a series of lies. … Throughout this wholly corrupt process, President Trump successfully advanced the interests of the United States and remained focused on the issues that matter to Americans.
In a press conference afterward, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said he was “surprised and disappointed” by Romney’s vote to convict Trump of abuse of power. But McConnell said he looks forward to working on other issues with Romney and would not support expelling him from the Senate’s Republican conference.
The Senate Democrats had no defections, as happened in the House when three Democrats voted against at least one article of impeachment and another Democrat voted present.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., a centrist Democrat who many believed was a swing vote, stuck with his party despite proposing a bipartisan censure earlier in the week.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., first indicated she might vote to acquit Trump, but later clarified her remarks after an uproar. She voted with her party Wednesday.
In a somewhat dubious distinction, Trump becomes the first impeached president to be acquitted by a clear majority vote in a Senate trial on each article of impeachment.
In 1868, the Senate voted 35-19 to convict President Andrew Johnson, which was one vote shy of the two-thirds supermajority required by the Constitution to remove him from office for violating the Tenure of Office Act.
In 1999, in the case of President Bill Clinton, a majority of 55 senators voted to find him not guilty of perjury, but only half, or 50, voted to find Clinton not guilty of obstruction of justice.
Throughout the day Wednesday, 41 Republicans and 37 Democrats spoke on the floor, according to a tally by C-SPAN.
Here are highlights from the day.
1. ‘Two Weakest Articles of Impeachment Possible’
Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said it was wrong for the House to send the Senate a case for removing Trump that was incomplete.
“If it needed more work, it should have had more work,” Blunt said of House Democrats’ demands for new witnesses in the trial.
Blunt cited the two articles of impeachment, abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
“In their haste to put this case together, the House sent the Senate the two weakest articles of impeachment possible,” Blunt said. “Presidents since Washington have been accused by some members of Congress of abuse of power. Presidents since Washington have been accused by some members of Congress of failure to cooperate with the Congress.”
The Missouri Republican also said the article alleging obstruction of Congress would take a constitutional issue of separation of power away from the judiciary and turn the legislative branch into the judiciary.
“The House managers argued against their own case,” Blunt said. “They repeatedly contended that they made their case completely, that they made their case totally, [that] they made their case incontrovertibly. But they wanted us to call witnesses that they had chosen not to call.”
The two articles of impeachment arose out of Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
House Democrats voted Dec. 18, without a single Republican vote, to impeach Trump on the two articles.
According to a White House transcript of the Trump-Zelenskyy call, released by the president, the two leaders briefly talked about Trump’s interest in Ukraine’s investigating former Vice President Joe Biden’s dealings there and the role of his son, Hunter Biden, on the board of Ukrainian energy firm Burisma. Trump also asked Zelenskyy to look into whether Ukraine interfered in the 2016 U.S. election.
Zelenskyy apparently did not know at the time that Trump had put a hold on $391 million in congressionally approved military aid to Ukraine to help it counter Russia’s invasion.
Trump released the funds in September after a whistleblower complaint questioned the July 25 call. House Democrats alleged that Trump withheld the military aid to pressure Zelenskyy into initiating politically motivated investigations.
2. ‘I Take an Oath Before God as Enormously Consequential’
The biggest surprise of the day was Romney’s vote to convict Trump of abuse of power, though the Republican Party’s 2012 presidential nominee had telegraphed the move.
“As a senator juror, I swore an oath before God to exercise impartial justice,” Romney said on the Senate floor. “I am profoundly religious. My faith is at the heart of who I am. I take an oath before God as enormously consequential. I knew from the outset that being tasked with judging the president, the leader of my own party, would be the most difficult decision I have ever faced. I was not wrong.”
Romney said that former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, had a conflict of interest in their dealings in Ukraine, but that that was not a crime.
The Utah Republican, his voice cracking at times, said he didn’t believe that a high crime and misdemeanor, as specified in the Constitution for impeachment, required a statutory crime.
“There is no question in my mind that were their names not Biden, the president would have never done what he did,” Romney said.
“The grave question the Constitution tasks senators to answer is whether the president committed an act so extreme and egregious that it rises to the level of a high crime and misdemeanor. Yes, he did.”
During the Republican presidential primaries in 2016, Romney was a leader of the party’s “Never Trump” forces. After Trump won the nomination for president, Romney did not endorse him, although Trump endorsed Romney for president in 2012.
Romney, a former governor of Massachusetts, also said:
The president asked a foreign government to investigate his political rival. The president withheld vital military funds from that government to press him to do so. The president delayed funds for an American ally at war with Russian invaders. The president’s purpose was personal and political. Accordingly, the president is guilty of an appalling abuse of public trust.
Were I to ignore the evidence that has been presented, and disregard what I believe my oath and the Constitution demands of me for the sake of a partisan end, it would I fear expose my character to history’s rebuke and [the] censure of my own conscience.
3. Not a ‘Profile in Courage’
Sen. Doug Jones, D-Ala., was considered a swing vote, being from a state that heavily supported Trump in the 2016 election.
“The evidence clearly proves the president used the weight of the office and the weight of the United States government to coerce a foriegn government to interfere in our election for his personal, political benefit,” Jones, a former U.S. attorney, said. “His actions were more than simply inappropriate. They were an abuse of power. … Impeachment is the only check on such presidential wrongdoing.”
Jones said he was more conflicted regarding the article of impeachment alleging obstruction of Congress and researched the matter.
“I believe that the president deliberately and unconstitutionally obstructed Congress by refusing to cooperate with the investigation in any way,” Jones said. “While I am sensitive to protecting privileges and immunities afforded to the president and his advisers, I believe it is critical to our constitutional structure that we also protect the authority of Congress of the United States.”
Jones warned that acquittal could send a message that Trump is not accountable, and have a chilling effect on future whistleblowers:
That belief simply must not be permitted to stand. To do otherwise risks guaranteeing that no other future whistleblower or witness will ever come forward and no future president, Republican or Democrat, will be subject to congressional oversight as mandated by the Constitution.
Jones noted that he is assigned to the desk once used by a Massachusetts senator and later president, John F. Kennedy, whose Pulitzer Prize-winning book was titled “Profiles in Courage.”
“There will be so many who will simply look at what I’m doing today and say that it is a profile in courage. It is not,” Jones said. “It is simply a matter of right and wrong. Doing right is not a courageous act. It is simply following your oath.”
4. ‘Completely Foreign to Our Constitutional Structure’
Utah’s other senator, Republican Mike Lee, a constitutional scholar, highlighted how the House impeachment managers, or prosecutors, repeatedly accused Trump of going against the consensus of an “interagency process” on Ukraine policy determined by civil servants in federal agencies.
The House Intelligence Committee’s impeachment report used the term “interagency” almost 30 times.
“What’s the response from the House managers? Well, it gets back to that interagency process,” said Lee, a former federal prosecutor. “As if [policy must be determined by] people who the American people don’t know or have reason to know, because those people don’t stand accountable to the people, they are not elected by the people, they are not really accountable to anyone who is in turn elected by the people.”
The fact that these people involved in the interagency process might disagree with a foreign policy decision made by the president of the United States, or the fact that this president of the United States might take a different approach than his predecessor or predecessors, does not make this president’s decisions criminal. It certainly doesn’t make them impeachable. It doesn’t even make them wrong. …
It is elevating to a status completely foreign to our constitutional structure an entity that the Constitution does not name. It elevates a policy dispute to a question of high crimes and misdemeanors. Those two are not the same thing.
Lee said there is nothing wrong with a president evaluating foreign aid to a country such as Ukraine with a legacy of corruption, and determining whether that country’s new leader would be a legitimate reformer:
In the eyes of many—I believe most Americans—they want a president to be careful about how a president of the United States spends money. They want the United States to stop and reconsider from time to time the fact that we spend a lot of money throughout the world in countries that are not the United States. We want the president of the United States to be able to exercise a little bit of discretion in pushing pause before he knows he can trust a newly elected government in a country in question.
5. ‘Nuclear Option of the Constitution’
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, noted the fact that House Democrats did not cite specific crimes, and said that as a result they could not meet the constitutional standard to oust a president.
“Impeachment of the president of the United States is simply the gravest undertaking we can pursue in this country,” Cornyn said on the Senate floor. “It is the nuclear option in our Constitution. It’s a choice of last resort when a president has committed a crime so serious that Congress must act rather than leave the choice to the voters in the election.”
Cornyn called on Democrats to look beyond Trump and consider what it would mean to “weaponize” impeachment:
This politically motivated impeachment sets a dangerous precedent. This is a very important point. This is not about President Trump, this is about the office of the presidency and what precedent a conviction and removal would set for our future. If successful, this would give a green light to future congresses to weaponize impeachment to defeat a political opponent for any action, even a failure to kowtow to Congress’ wishes.
Cornyn, a former Texas attorney general, said the House impeachment managers failed to prove abuse of power.
“The Constitution talks about treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors, clearly a criminal standard, and thus [House Democrats] failed to meet their burden of proof,” he said.
6. ‘Future Aspiring Autocrats’
Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, criticized McConnell for coordinating the trial with the White House and for not agreeing to call new witnesses for the Senate trial.
Brown invoked a recent comment by Bill Moyers, a former White House press secretary for President Lyndon Johnson and later a liberal political commentator and talk show host.
“What we’ve just seen is the dictator of the Senate manipulating the impeachment process to save the demagogue in the White House whose political party has become the gravedigger of democracy,” Brown said, quoting Moyers.
Brown added: “If we have a president who can turn the entire executive branch into his own political campaign operation, God help us.”
He also brought up an argument in the trial by Trump lawyer Alan Dershowitz that Trump considered his reelection to be in the national interest.
“Mr. Dershowitz’s words will live forever in the historical record,” Brown said. “If they are allowed to stand aside a not guilty verdict, make no mistake, they will be used as precedent by future aspiring autocrats.”
Dershowitz has said that Democrats and other critics distorted his words.
7. ‘Fight Against Tyranny’
Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., argued before the votes on the two articles of impeachment that the inevitable verdict would send the message that the justice system is broken.
“When the American people see the president acting as if he is above the law, it understandably leaves them feeling untrustful of our system of justice, distrustful of our system of democracy. When the United States Senate refuses to hold him accountable, it reinforces that loss of trust in our system,” Harris, a former California attorney general, said.
The impeachment of Donald Trump has been one of those earnest struggles for liberty. This fight, like so many before it, has been a fight against tyranny. This struggle has not been an easy one. It has left too many people across our nation feeling cynical. For too many people, this trial confirms what they have always known—that the real power in this country lies not with them, but with just a few people who advance their own interest at the expense of others’ needs.
Harris implored her colleagues to vote for Trump’s removal.
“In our long struggle for justice, I will do my part by voting to convict this lawless president and remove him from office, and I urge my colleagues to join me on the right side of history,” she said.
8. ‘Politicians Driven by Sour Grapes’
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., scolded advocates of impeaching Trump and warned them of consequences.
Graham first told the public: “You’re going to get to pick the next president, not a bunch of politicians driven by sour grapes.”
Graham, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and a 2016 primary opponent to Trump who didn’t endorse him after his nomination, revealed that he also voted for someone else that November.
“I didn’t vote for President Trump. I voted for somebody I wouldn’t know if they walked in the door, but I accepted the fact that he won,” he said.
Graham, now considered to be one of the president’s stronger allies, went on to note that he supported the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential campaign and the Trump campaign’s possible cooperation with that. Graham also co-sponsored legislation to prevent Trump from firing Mueller.
“I supported the Mueller investigation. … Two years, $32 million, FBI agents, subpoenas, you name it, the verdict is in,” Graham said. “What did we find [against Trump]? Nothing. I thought that would be it. But it’s never enough when it comes to Trump.”
Mueller determined that he found no evidence of a conspiracy between Trump or his campaign with the Russian government. The special counsel made no determination on whether Trump obstructed justice by impeding the investigation.
“I trusted Bob Mueller, and when he rendered his verdict, it broke your heart, and you can’t let it go,” Graham said, meaning that he trusted Mueller to do an honest investigation while Democrats wanted him to find that Trump did something wrong.
The South Carolina Republican called the impeachment process “the low point in the Senate for me.”
“What you have done is unleash the partisan forces from hell,” Graham said of House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry, adding:
They have impeached the president in 78 days. You cannot get a parking ticket, if you contested it, in 78 days. They gave out souvenir pens when it was over. If you can’t see through that, your hatred of Donald Trump has blinded you to the obvious.
Graham cited demands from some Democrat lawmakers before Trump’s inauguration, and some even before his election, for his impeachment.
“In the process of impeaching this president, you’ve made it almost impossible for future presidents to do their job,” he said. “In 78 days, you took due process as we know it in America and threw it in the garbage can. … They wanted to do it in 78 days. Why? They wanted to do it before the election.”
Ken McIntyre contributed to this report.
Other coverage of the impeachment trial for The Daily Signal by White House correspondent Fred Lucas includes: