Congress

Senate votes to acquit Trump on both impeachment charges

Romney only defector in either party

Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., walks past protesters as he leaves the Capitol after the Senate impeachment trial proceedings on Monday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The Senate on Wednesday acquitted President Donald Trump on two articles of impeachment, swiftly ending months of investigation and public arguments that ultimately changed few minds on Capitol Hill. 

The Senate voted 48-52 to reject the House’s abuse of power charge and 47-53 to reject the obstruction of Congress charge. A two-thirds majority of the Senate is required for conviction.

Trump’s acquittal ends, at least for now, an impeachment saga that began soon after his 2017 inauguration but wasn't officially launched until Sept. 24, 2019, when Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the House's impeachment inquiry.

The House then undertook a punishing schedule of depositions and public hearings, including a roster of senior White House, Pentagon and State Department officials defying Trump’s orders and testifying on the alleged scheme to hold up military aid to Ukraine until Kyiv agreed to investigate 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son Hunter.

Utah Republican Mitt Romney became the only Republican in Congress to defy Trump during the inquiry and trial, casting a vote to convict the president on the charge of abuse of power.

Romney on Wednesday said Trump made a “flagrant assault on our electoral rights, our national security, and our fundamental values.”

Romney fought back tears during his speech, speaking about commitment to his faith and his oath “before God” to conduct impartial justice. He called this the most difficult decision he has ever made.

Other Republican fence-sitters came out in the days before the vote saying they would vote to acquit. But some took to the Senate floor to explain their positions before the vote.

Lamar Alexander of Tennessee said Wednesday he believed Trump did what the House alleged, but that his “inappropriate” actions were not impeachable.

“The question, then, is not whether the president did it,” Alexander said, “but whether the United States Senate or the American people should decide what to do about what he did. I believe that the Constitution clearly provides that the people should make that decision in the presidential election that began on Monday in Iowa.”

Alexander went on to call the obstruction of Congress article “frivolous,” a sentiment echoed by Maine Republican Susan Collins and Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski who were also considered potential swing votes.

Alexander, Murkowski and Collins said the House rushed the impeachment process, noting that House Democrats did not pursue witnesses they argued must be heard like former national security adviser John Bolton before impeaching Trump.

The House argued that Trump blocked those witnesses from appearing, but Senate Republicans rebutted that the House should have settled the dispute in court.

More than a dozen Senate spouses were in the family gallery to witness their partners cast their historic votes. The balconies were packed, with visitors, staffers, family and press all interested in watching the close of the impeachment trial.

Right before the vote, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi might tear up the verdict like the California Democrat did with Trump’s State of the Union speech Tuesday night. He tried to hide a smile for what he seemed to consider a clever line, but no other senators reacted.

Faces remained similarly stone during the votes. Each senator had to stand, and instead of yeas and nays, say guilty or not guilty.

The similar sound of the options left some Republican senators giving extra emphasis to the “not” in not guilty, or perhaps that reflected an emphasis on their strong views on the articles.

Iowa Republican Charles E. Grassley, a sometimes cantankerous octogenarian who raises his voice while making points on the floor, was barely audible while he announced his votes. When Romney voted guilty on the abuse of power article, there was no reaction among his Republican colleagues.

While the impeachment process is now over, the issue is sure to follow Trump as he campaigns for reelection.

[Out of the impeachment, into the fallout]

Arguing before the Senate on Monday, the House’s lead impeachment manager Adam B. Schiff of California repeatedly asserted that Trump must be removed from office because if allowed to stand for reelection he will “cheat.”

“What are the odds if left in office that he will continue trying to cheat? I will tell you: 100 percent,” Schiff said. “A man without character or ethical compass will never find his way.”

Todd Ruger contributed to this report.

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