Democrats fell short on their biggest goal going into President Trump’s impeachment trial: getting witnesses. But when it ended, they were able to achieve the second best thing they could have hoped for, given an acquittal was always guaranteed.
The vote for conviction was bipartisan, with Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) breaking with his party on the abuse of power article, while only Republicans voted for acquittal.
That outcome flipped on its head a talking point Trump and the GOP had embraced coming out of the House inquiry, where no Republicans supported the impeachment articles and two Democrats voted against both counts. And it injected one final dramatic, albeit not decisive, twist in a final trial vote that otherwise lacked suspense.
Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kristen Sinema (D-AZ), two Democrats being watched closely for potential acquittal votes on at least one of the articles, announced their support for conviction on both counts just minutes before the vote was held. Romney’s decision to vote for convicting Trump on one of the articles reportedly blindsided the White House and GOP Senate leadership, even as Romney staged several media interviews to be rolled out once he announced his decision shortly before the vote Wednesday.
“I think it’s pretty amazing when you think that the presidential nominee of one of the political parties votes to convict and nobody in the party follows them because fear does the business in this place,” Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) told TPM.
Having failed to secure the votes for additional witness and document subpoenas (a measure Romney also supported), House Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) focused his closing arguments on swaying even just one Republican
“Every single vote — even a single vote, by a single member — can change the course of history,” Schiff said last week from the Senate floor. “Is there one among you who will say: ‘Enough’?”
Romney did say, enough, with a floor speech on Wednesday afternoon that dissected the President’s defense, brushed off calls that he vote with team, and called Trump’s abuse of power the “most abusive and destructive violation of one’s oath of office that I can imagine.”
Meanwhile, it was not clear until the very end whether any Democrats, particularly those representing red or purple states, would join Republicans in acquitting on either article. Manchin had previously told reporters he would not make a decision until entering the chamber for the final vote, though he did ultimately have a statement ready right before it was cast.
“I was proud that the Democrats hung together. I was impressed that Mitt Romney displayed courage,” Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) told reporters after the vote.
“We were never going to get to 67,” Schatz said, referring to the number of votes required for removal. “But I think there’s significant symbolic importance that the vote to convict was bipartisan.”
As they bashed the House process, Republicans had frequently touted the fact that the House votes in December on the two articles — as well an earlier vote on impeachment procedures — were strictly partisan. (Michigan Rep. Justin Amash switched from Republican to independent last year, and voted with the Democrats on impeachment issues. ) They further embraced the defections of those Democrats — one of them, Rep. Van Drew of New Jersey, ultimately joining the GOP right after impeachment article vote — to argue that there was in fact bipartisan opposition to how the House conducted itself. They predicted a similar bipartisan acquittal at the end of the Senate trial
“We’ve already had Democrats come across and join with Republicans when it came to the impeachment articles in the House,” Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), advisor to Trump’s impeachment team, said last week. “To have a bipartisan acquittal verdict certainly would carry the same message.”
Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) acknowledged after Wednesday’s vote that if it was a fair argument for Republicans to make after the House vote, then it was fair for Democrats now. “It’s a nice talking point, but it’s immaterial,” he said.
Trump personal attorney Jay Sekulow blew off the argument altogether, stressing the overall acquittal and refusing to give to a reaction to Romney’s decision while talking to reporters after the vote.
Even some Democrats were hesitant to find a silver lining in the outcome.
Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL), whose vote was also closely watched, told reporters that what he believed would be most remembered was the trial’s lack of witnesses, rather than the bipartisan conviction.
“Judge Taylor in ‘To Kill a A Mockingbird’ said, you know people hear what they want to hear, they see what they want to see,” Jones said. “I think people can read into what they want to.”