Republicans largely side against holding Donald Trump impeachment trial

27 January 2021, 00:08

File photo: Outgoing US President Donald Trump addresses guests at Joint Base Andrews
File photo: Outgoing US President Donald Trump addresses guests at Joint Base Andrews. Picture: Getty

By Megan White

All but five Senate Republicans voted in favour of an effort to dismiss Donald Trump's second impeachment trial, making clear a conviction of the former US president for "incitement of insurrection" after the deadly Capitol siege is unlikely.

While the Republicans did not succeed in ending the trial before it began, the test vote made clear that Mr Trump still has enormous sway over his party as he becomes the first former president to be tried for impeachment.

Many Republicans have criticised Mr Trump's role in the January 6 attack - before which he told his supporters to "fight like hell" to overturn his defeat - but most of them have rushed to defend him in the trial.

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"I think this was indicative of where a lot of people's heads are," said South Dakota Senator John Thune, the number two Republican in the Senate, after the vote.

Late on Tuesday, the presiding officer at the trial, Senator Patrick Leahy, was taken to hospital for observation after not feeling well at his office, spokesman David Carle said in a statement.

The 80-year-old Democrat senator was examined by the Capitol's attending physician, who recommended he be taken to the hospital out of an abundance of caution, he said.

Mr Leahy presided over the trial's first procedural vote, a 55-45 tally that saw the Senate set aside an objection from Kentucky Senator Rand Paul that would have declared the impeachment proceedings unconstitutional and dismissed the trial.

The vote means the trial on Mr Trump's impeachment will begin as scheduled in the week of February 8.

The House of Representatives impeached him on January 13, just a week after the deadly insurrection in which five people died.

What seemed for some Democrats like an open-and-shut case that played out for the world on live television is running into a Republican Party that feels very different.

Not only do senators say they have legal concerns, but they are wary of crossing the former president and his legions of followers.

It is unclear if any Republicans would vote to convict Mr Trump on the actual charge of incitement after voting in favour of Mr Paul's effort to declare it unconstitutional.

Ohio Senator Rob Portman said after the vote that he had not yet made up his mind, and that constitutionality "is a totally different issue" than the charge itself.

But many others indicated that they believe the final vote will be similar.

The vote shows that "they've got a long ways to go to prove it", Iowa Senator Joni Ernst said of the House Democrats' charge.

South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, a close Trump ally, said he thinks the vote was "a floor not a ceiling".

Oklahoma Senator James Lankford said he thinks that most Republicans will not see daylight between the constitutionality and the article of incitement.

"You're asking me to vote in a trial that by itself on its own is not constitutionally allowed?" he asked.

Conviction would require the support of all Democrats and 17 Republicans, or two-thirds of the Senate - far from the five Republicans who voted with Democrats on Tuesday to allow the trial to proceed.

They were Senators Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Mitt Romney of Utah, Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania - all recent critics of the former president and his effort to overturn President Joe Biden's win.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, who has said Mr Trump "provoked" the riots and indicated he is open to conviction, voted with Mr Paul to move towards dismissing the trial.