All 50 Republicans in the U.S. Senate, except five, backed Donald Trump in a key vote on Tuesday, suggesting the former president is unlikely to be sentenced for inciting a violent insurgency on Capitol Hill.
Forty-five Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, voted in favor of the “point of order” brought forward by Rand Paul, the GOP senator from Kentucky, who said an impeachment trial would be unconstitutional because Mr. Trump is no longer president.
Five Republican senators voted against Mr. Paul’s motion: Susan Collins of Maine; Lisa Murkowski from Alaska; Mitt Romney of Utah; Ben Sasse from Nebraska; and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania.
Explaining her decision, Ms Collins said: “I have spent a lot of time talking to constitutional scholars and other legal experts and have concluded that the text of the constitution, the purpose of these provisions and the precedent of the Senate all meant that the trial had to take place. forward, especially since the House acted while the Speaker was still in office.
In another development on Tuesday evening, Patrick Leahy, the Democratic senator who is expected to preside over the trial, was taken to hospital after falling ill. A spokesperson for Mr Leahy, 80, said he was admitted for assessment “as a precaution”. He was then released from the hospital after performing tests and sent home.
Tuesday’s vote will not prevent the trial from taking place next month as a majority in the Democratic-controlled Senate rejected the point of order. But the result was hailed by Republicans who opposed the impeachment process against the now former president. Seventeen Republican senators are expected to vote against Mr. Trump to condemn him.
“This is one of the few times in Washington where a loss is actually a victory,” Paul told reporters on Capitol Hill. “Forty-five votes means the impeachment trial is dead on arrival.”
The vote also renewed control over Mr McConnell, who was demoted from majority leader to minority leader when the Senate passed to Democrats last week. The Senate is now divided, 50-50, with Kamala Harris, the vice-president, able to cast a deciding vote.
Mr McConnell this month left open the possibility that he would vote to sentence Mr Trump to trial, and used his last day as majority leader to say that the crowds of Presidential supporters were “fed on liesAnd “provoked by the president” before the January 6 attack.
Mr Trump this month became the first president in U.S. history to be twice impeached, when the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives voted to charge him with inciting insurrection for its role in the January 6 siege which killed at least five people, including a Capitol policeman. All House Democrats supported the motion, which was supported by 10 Republicans.
Chuck Schumer, the Democratic majority leader in the Senate, said last week that he had reached a deal with Mr McConnell to have an impeachment trial in earnest in the upper house of Congress on February 9.
On Monday, House impeachment officials – Democratic lawmakers who will act as prosecutors in the trial – delivered the indictment article in the Senate, triggering the start of work.
On Tuesday, all 100 senators were sworn in as jurors, before Mr. Paul brought down his point of order.
Mr Trump is the first former president tried in the Senate impeachment procedure, but several other federal officials in US history have been charged with impeachment in the upper house of Congress after leaving office.
Ms Collins said Tuesday’s vote made the former president’s conviction unlikely, given that two-thirds of the Senate are expected to vote against him.
“I think it’s pretty obvious from today’s vote that it’s extremely unlikely that the president will be convicted,” Ms Collins said. “Just do the math.”
Other Republicans were less certain. John Thune of South Dakota, who voted with Mr Paul, said: “I don’t think it binds anyone once the trial begins. . . Like most jurors, I will wait until the trial begins and hear arguments from both sides.
Mr Thune added that he believed Mr McConnell would take a similar approach.
Democrats were also determined to see the trial go ahead.
“Pessimists may regard this vote as the high watermark. But all of this before the evidence has gone to the jury, and before any of our fellow Republicans have to publicly justify their vote, ”said Richard Blumenthal, Democratic Senator for Connecticut. “I still believe these videos and Trump’s incendiary incitement will be very powerful.”