Former President Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial began on Tuesday, and only six Republican senators voted that the trial was constitutional, after what many, including Trump himself, are saying was a bad show by his defense.
Two weeks ago, the Senate voted on a similar idea: A proposal by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) to declare the impeachment trial for Trump unconstitutional was brought to a vote to decide whether the proposal should be brought to the floor for discussion. Only five Republican senators voted to table that proposal. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Ben Sasse (R-Nebraska), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Pat Toomey (R-Pennsylvania) joined the 50 Democrats in voting yes.
On Tuesday, despite the many legal experts who have now said that the trial is constitutional, and despite the impeachment managers coming in with a jarringly strong case supported by graphic video footage from January 6, only one additional Republican, Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-Louisiana), joined the original five GOP senators in voting to declare the proceedings constitutional.
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Trump’s defense team’s main argument on Tuesday was that the trial was unconstitutional since Trump is now out of office — though, as some pointed out, Republicans were the ones who delayed the trial until after he was out of office. The lawyers’ argument, many said, was weak, especially compared to the strong opening statements by the House impeachment managers.
While the House impeachment managers “made a compelling argument,” Cassidy said after the vote, “President Trump’s team were disorganized. They did everything they could but to talk about the question at hand and when they talked about it, they kind of glided over, almost as if they were embarrassed of their arguments.”
Even Republicans who voted against the constitutionality of the trial said Trump’s defense was especially bad. Senators Susan Collins and John Cornyn (R-Texas) said their argument was unfocused, and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said, “I don’t think the lawyers did the most effective job.” Evidently, and despite a bad showing by Trump’s lawyers, Republicans had already made their minds up about the constitutionality question.
This shows that the vote two weeks ago was largely a proxy vote for or against Paul’s constitutionality proposal, even though some Republicans who voted for it insisted it wasn’t and said that they were simply voting to say it merited discussion.
“I’ve been very clear that former President Trump bears some responsibility for what happened on January 6 through his words and actions,” said Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) at the time. “I will listen as a juror, but as I have said, I do have questions about the constitutionality of holding a Senate trial and removing from office someone who is now a private citizen.” He said he voted for the proposal to move forward so that he could listen to arguments from both sides.
Now, the discussion that Portman said was merited has happened, and yet, on Tuesday, Portman didn’t vote for constitutionality. Though he hasn’t spoken publicly about the vote, considering even Trump stalwart Cruz had criticism for Trump’s defense, it’s unlikely that the defense’s argument was the reason he voted no.
The trial serves as a referendum not only on Trump but also on whether or not Republican lawmakers think that what happened on January 6 was valid, even though their lives, too, were in danger that day. Perhaps because of that, many Republicans have spent the last month trying to downplay and deny what happened.
But Tuesday’s vote is a precursor to what we might expect: Republicans are unlikely to change their minds about backing Trump. The Senate will likely fall short of the 67 votes needed to convict, no matter how strong the case is against Trump, and the case is strong. The 13-minute video footage shown by impeachment managers was stunning; a number of constitutional experts say the defense’s case is invalid; and most Americans support Trump’s conviction, even millions who voted for him.
In spite of the evidence, the Republican Party seems determined to stand united with Trump. Even the Republican Party in Cassidy’s own state issued a statement expressing their disagreement with the senator. “The Republican Party of Louisiana is profoundly disappointed by Senator Bill Cassidy’s vote on the constitutionality of the impeachment trial,” they said.
The trial will continue Wednesday at noon. Both sides now get up to 16 hours each to present their case, after which the floor will be open to questions. Proceedings are expected to continue throughout the week. Though conviction isn’t looking likely at this point, aides to the impeachment managers have said that never-before-seen evidence might change some Republicans’ minds.