Donald Trump impeachment: Six Republicans vote for hearing to proceed

10 February 2021, 00:06

The impeachment trial of Donald Trump will go ahead
The impeachment trial of Donald Trump will go ahead. Picture: PA

By Kate Buck

Six Senate Republicans have broken ranks and voted for the impeachment trial of Donald Trump to proceed, rejecting an attempt by his lawyers to halt the trial because he is no longer in office.

Senators voted 56-44 on the question of whether the Senate has jurisdiction and could proceed.

The six rebels were senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaaka, Mitt Romney of Utah, Ben Sasse of Nebraksa, and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania. 

Trump is the first president to face impeachment charges after leaving office and the first to be twice impeached.

Today's proceedings opened with with graphic video of the deadly January 6 attack on Congress and the defeated former president whipping up a rally crowd - "We're going to walk down to the Capitol!" - as he encouraged a futile fight over his presidency.

Read more: Donald Trump's impeachment trial is act of 'political theatre', lawyers claim

The lead House prosecutor told senators the case would present "cold, hard facts" against Trump, who is charged with inciting the siege of the Capitol to overturn the election he lost to Democrat Joe Biden.

Senators sitting as jurors, many who themselves fled for safety that day, watched the jarring video of the chaotic scene, rioters pushing past police to storm the halls, Trump flags waving.

Senators voted 56-44 on the question of whether the Senate has jurisdiction and could proceed
Senators voted 56-44 on the question of whether the Senate has jurisdiction and could proceed. Picture: PA
At his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida, Trump has declined a request to give evidence
At his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida, Trump has declined a request to give evidence. Picture: PA

"That's a high crime and misdemeanour," said Representative Jamie Raskin, in opening remarks.

"If that's not an impeachable offence, then there's no such thing."

The Capitol siege stunned the world as rioters ransacked the building to try to stop the certification of Biden's victory, a domestic attack on the nation's seat of government unlike any in its history.

Five people died, including a police officer.

Read more: Trump impeachment lawyers ‘quit’ days before Senate trial

Read more: Donald Trump left 'very generous' letter for Joe Biden in Oval Office desk

Acquittal is likely, but the trial will test the nation's attitude toward his brand of presidential power, the Democrats' resolve in pursuing him, and the loyalty of Trump's Republican allies defending him.

Trump's lawyers are insisting that he is not guilty of the sole charge of "incitement of insurrection", his fiery words just a figure of speech as he encouraged a rally crowd to "fight like hell" for his presidency.

But prosecutors say he "has no good defence" and they promise new evidence.

"Hear ye, hear ye, hear ye," the acting sergeant at arms intoned to start the trial.

Security remained extremely tight at the Capitol, a changed place after the attack, fenced off with razor wire and armed National Guard troops on patrol.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that Biden would not be watching the trial of his predecessor.

"Joe Biden is the president, he's not a pundit, he's not going to opine on back and forth arguments," she said.

Trump's defence team has focused on the question of constitutionality, which could resonate with Republicans eager to acquit Trump without being seen as condoning his behaviour.

But the House prosecutors argued there is no "January exception" for a president on his way out the door.

Five people died in the riots of January 6, and Washington DC has seen thousands of National Guard deployed ever since
Five people died in the riots of January 6, and Washington DC has seen thousands of National Guard deployed ever since. Picture: PA

At his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida, Trump has declined a request to give evidence.

Trump's defence team has said it plans to counter with its own cache of videos of Democratic politicians making fiery speeches.

"We have some videos up our sleeve," senior Trump adviser Jason Miller said on a podcast.

"In trying to make sense of a second Trump trial, the public should keep in mind that Donald Trump was the first president ever to refuse to accept his defeat," said Timothy Naftali, a clinical associate professor at New York University and an expert on impeachment.

"This trial is one way of having that difficult national conversation about the difference between dissent and insurrection," Naftali said.

The chamber is divided 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans, with a two-thirds vote, 67 senators, required for conviction.

Presidential impeachment trials have been conducted only three times before, leading to acquittals for Andrew Johnson, Bill Clinton and then Trump last year.