WASHINGTON – Republicans rallied en masse on Tuesday (Jan 26) against trying former President Donald Trump for “incitement of insurrection,” with only five members of his party joining Democrats in voting to go forward with the impeachment trial for his role stirring up a mob that attacked the Capitol.
In a 55-45 vote that strongly suggested that the Senate does not have the votes to convict the former president, senators narrowly killed a Republican effort to dismiss the impeachment charge as unconstitutional.
The opposition of all but a handful of Republicans underscored Trump’s continued strength in the party even after his brazen campaign to overturn his election defeat, fuelled by false claims of voting fraud, and he left office with his party relegated to the minority in both houses of Congress.
Senators could yet change their views. But for now, the vote signalled the likelihood that Trump would for the second time in a year be acquitted by the Senate in an impeachment charge, spared by loyal Republicans who were reluctant to break with him.
It would take two-thirds of senators – 67 votes – to attain a conviction, meaning 17 Republicans would have to cross party lines to side with Democrats in finding him guilty.
Republican Senator Mitch McConnell, the minority leader, is said to believe Trump committed impeachable offences surrounding the deadly Capitol siege and has said he is undecided on the charge.
Yet he voted with the vast majority of the party to uphold the constitutional challenge, which would have effectively terminated the trial if it had prevailed.
Republican Senator Rand Paul forced the vote after arguing that it was unconstitutional to hold an impeachment trial of a former president, an assertion widely disputed by scholars and even the Senate itself in the past.
Among the Republicans who joined Democrats in voting to put aside the objection and proceed were Senators Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Susan Collins of Maine, Mitt Romney of Utah, Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Patrick Toomey of Pennsylvania.
“My review of it has led me to conclude it is constitutional in recognising impeachment is not solely about removing a president, it is also a matter of political consequence,” said Murkowski, who has praised the House’s bipartisan impeachment.
Senators were expected to put the trial on pause for two weeks, delaying any further debate on the matter.