- Democrats asked GOP senators to put aside politics to convict Trump, but it wasn’t enough.
- The effort to convict Trump for “incitement of insurrection” fell short by a 57-43 margin.
- Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Richard Burr of North Carolina surprised many with votes to convict.
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An emotional appeal to the nation’s spirit defined former President Donald Trump’s second historic impeachment trial; Democrats tried to use the chaos and terror of the Capitol siege to drive Republicans to put aside their natural political instincts in the name of justice.
For the Democratic House impeachment managers, led by Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, the crux of their argument contended that only accountability can deter deadly political violence in the future. Democrats reinforced that concept by playing never-before-seen video and radio transcripts from the fateful day of January 6 when rioting insurrectionists stormed the Capitol.
“This cannot be our future,” Raskin said during the trial on Tuesday. “This cannot be the future of America. We cannot have presidents inciting and mobilizing mob violence against our government and our institutions because they refuse to accept the will of the people.”
The effort to convict Trump for “incitement of insurrection” fell short by a 57–43 margin. A conviction required two-thirds of the Senate, or 67 votes.
All 50 Democrats in the Senate voted to convict Trump, while seven Republicans crossed over to support the former president’s conviction, including Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Mitt Romney of Utah, Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Richard Burr of North Carolina, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania. The remaining 43 Senate Republicans opposed the former president’s conviction.
Here’s what shaped the final day of impeachment:
McConnell voted to acquit Trump
For four years, GOP Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell worked in tandem with Trump to install scores of conservatives to the federal judiciary, including three Supreme Court justices: Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett.
But after the Capitol riots, McConnell distanced himself from the former president and told his caucus that individual impeachment decisions were a “vote of conscience.”
In the end, McConnell decided that he would not vote to convict Trump.
“While a close call, I am persuaded that impeachments are a tool primarily of removal and we therefore lack jurisdiction,” McConnell said to GOP colleagues early on Saturday.
After the final vote on Saturday, McConnell heaped blame on Trump, calling him out for spreading debunked claims of voter fraud after his loss in the 2020 presidential election.
“There is no question, none, that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the event of that day,” he said.
Still, McConnell, a sly 36-year veteran of the upper chamber, chose to play the long game. Trump is very likely to boost like-minded GOP candidates in the 2022 midterm elections and the Kentucky conservative would very much like to control the upper chamber once again.
Democrats demanded to call witnesses and then reversed course after the Senate approved the measure
The US Senate agreed not to hear witnesses on Saturday, avoiding an extension of the deliberate process that has consumed the Capitol this past week.
The Senate initially passed a motion 55–45 to call witnesses, with five GOP senators crossing over to support the effort. But, after some debate, Democrats changed their minds.
The last-minute debate over witnesses came after a CNN report from Washington state GOP Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler about a call between Trump and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California on January 6. Democrats sought to use the conversation to paint the former president as indifferent to the chaos that unfolded that day.
But the agreement to avoid having witnesses testify set the stage for closing arguments from the Democratic House impeachment managers and Trump defense attorney Michal Van der Veen.
Rep. Joe Neguse of Colorado, one of the Democratic impeachment prosecutors, implored senators to convict and “put country above our party because the consequences of not doing so are just too great.”
However, Van der Veen called the trial “a complete charade from beginning to end” and insisted that “the act of incitement never happened.”
Republicans who voted to acquit make their stand
While Republicans like Collins and Romney were not huge surprises in terms of their votes to convict Trump, there were some notable exceptions.
Sens. Burr and Cassidy are Southern conservatives who rarely stray from the party line. And yet, they thoroughly repudiated the former president’s actions on January 6.
“The evidence is compelling that President Trump is guilty of inciting an insurrection against a coequal branch of government and that the charge rises to the level of high Crimes and Misdemeanors,” Burr said in a statement. “Therefore, I have voted to convict.”
He continued: “By what he did and by what he did not do, President Trump violated his oath of office to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
Burr is not running for reelection in 2022.
“Our Constitution and our country is more important than any one person,” Cassidy said in a recorded statement explaining his vote. “I voted to convict President Trump because he is guilty.”
Murkowski, who’s up for reelection in 2022 and hasn’t been shy about calling out Trump in the past, said political considerations were not part of her calculus in voting to convict Trump.
“If I can’t say what I believe that our president should stand for, then why should I ask Alaskans to stand with me?,” she said to Politico. “This was consequential on many levels, but I cannot allow the significance of my vote, to be devalued by whether or not I feel that this is helpful for my political ambitions.”