The Senate on Tuesday voted to affirm the constitutional basis of former President Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial, moving forward to hold a trial despite the fact it will certainly end in another acquittal outcome.
The first day of proceedings was dedicated to the question of whether the Senate has jurisdiction to proceed with an impeachment trial of a former president. After four hours of arguments from both the House impeachment managers and Trump’s attorneys debating on whether it was constitutional to try a former president, the Senate voted 56 to 44 in dismissing the former president’s legal contention that it is unconstitutional to try a former official who is now a private citizen.
Six Republicans joined all 50 Democrats in voting to move ahead with the impeachment trial.
Tuesday’s vote largely imitated the count of a motion brought forth by Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) late last month to dismiss the trial as unconstitutional. Nearly all Republican senators backed the effort challenging the legal basis of the Senate impeachment trial, saying the Constitution does not allow for such a proceeding against a president who has left office. The procedural “test vote” from Paul was killed on the vote of 55- 45, with five Republicans crossing party lines in joining all 50 Democrats.
Despite stoking emotions by kicking off the trial in playing a 13-minute long heavily edited recap of the Capitol riot on Jan 6th at the same time Trump gave remarks during the Save America Rally, the House impeachment managers only managed to flip one Republican who previously voted in favor last month of Paul’s motion.
Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) became the sixth GOP Senators, joining the five other Republicans who previously voted that the trial was constitutional late last month and voted the same way in crossing over party lines on Tuesday. The five Republicans were Senators Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Mitt Romney of Utah, Ben Sasse of Nebraska, and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania.
In a statement after his surprise reversal vote, Cassidy said it’s not a “prejudgment” final vote to convict, but a response to Trump’s legal team doing “a terrible job” arguing their case.
“If anyone disagrees with my vote and would like an explanation, I ask them to listen to the arguments presented by the House managers and former President Trump’s lawyers,” Cassidy said in the statement. “The House managers had much stronger constitutional arguments. The president’s team did not.”
The Louisiana Senator joined the choir of his fellow Republican colleagues in lambasting the incoherent defense performance from Trump’s lead attorney. Cassidy told reporters that attorney Bruce Castor was “disorganized” in his opening statements and was the reason his vote on Tuesday was not the same as it was in late January.
“If you listen to it, it speaks for itself. It was disorganized, random. They talked about many things, but they didn’t talk about the issue at hand,” Cassidy said.
“The House managers made a compelling, cogent case and the president’s team did not,” he added. “If I’m there as an impartial juror trying to make a decision based on the facts as presented on this issue, then the House managers did a much better job.”
Cassidy’s vote drew criticism from the Louisiana Republican Party, saying they were “profoundly disappointed” and surprised he voted to move ahead with the trial.
“We feel that an impeachment trial of a private citizen is not only an unconstitutional act, but also an attack on the very foundation of American democracy, which will have far-reaching and unforeseen consequences for our republic,” the party’s statement said.
The House impeached Trump for the second time in less than a year on one article of impeachment accusing him of “incitement of insurrection” in the Jan 6. siege on the U.S. Capitol.
Trump’s lawyers had argued that his impeachment by the House was a politically motivated attempt to remove him as a challenger to Democratic power rather than a constitutional remedy for any wrongdoing.
“We are really here because the majority of the House of Representatives do not want to face Donald Trump as a political rival,” Castor said during the two-hour debate.
The House impeachment managers emphasized that the Constitution doesn’t include a “January exception” to allow a president to go unpunished for improper actions in the final weeks of their tenure.
The 56-44 vote now sets the stage for 16 hours per side on the facts of the case, which are set to begin on Wednesday. Both sides will also have the option to call for a debate and vote on calling witnesses. Lead impeachment manager Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) last week asked Trump to testify, which the former president’s lawyers shot down.
Seventeen Republicans are needed to join all 50 Democrats in order for the Senate to reach the two-thirds threshold to convict the former president as well as vote to disqualify Trump from holding future office on a simple majority vote. Democrats have said they plan to do so if Trump is convicted, an unlikely outcome.