Senate OKs Impeachment Trial Going Forward, But Most GOPers Let Trump Off The Hook

US President Donald Trump speaks following a section of the border wall in Alamo, Texas, on January 12, 2021. - Trump on January 13, 2021, became the first US president to be impeached for a second time, when a bipar... US President Donald Trump speaks following a section of the border wall in Alamo, Texas, on January 12, 2021. - Trump on January 13, 2021, became the first US president to be impeached for a second time, when a bipartisan majority in the House of Representatives voted to charge him with inciting last week's attack on the US Capitol. One week before Trump is to leave office, a total of 232 lawmakers, including 10 Republicans who broke with the president, voted to impeach the defiant Republican leader for high crimes and misdemeanors on a single charge of "incitement of insurrection." (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP) (Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images) MORE LESS
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February 9, 2021 5:14 p.m.

The Senate approved of the constitutionality of impeaching former President Trump, with six Republicans joining all 50 Democrats in letting the Senate trial proceed.

The vast majority of the Senate Republican conference, however, reiterated its view that the Senate does not have the power to hold Trump accountable for inciting the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol.

The vote had been preceded by three and a half hours of arguments between the House impeachment managers and former President Trump’s defense over whether the constitution allows for the Senate to convict a government officer who has already departed his post.

The House managers’ claims that such a proceeding is constitutional had the backing of legal scholars across the political spectrum, and the Trump team’s counter-arguments were scattershot at best. But for weeks, Senate Republicans have coalesced around using the constitutional question as a justification for opposing a Trump conviction — a strategy that has allowed them to avoid defending Trump’s conduct on the merits.

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The Senate had a vote on the matter last month that broke down on similar lines as the Tuesday vote. However, one Senate Republican was apparently so persuaded by the House managers’ arguments that he flipped on the question. Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) voted with the five Republicans — Sens. Lisa Murkoski (AK), Mitt Romney (UT), Susan Collins (ME), Pat Toomey (PA) and Ben Sasse (NE) — who had previously endorsed the constitutionality of the impeachment trial.

In a break between the House managers’ presentations Tuesday and Trump’s defense, Cassidy told reporters that the House team gave “strong arguments.”

“I’ve always said that I was approaching this with an open mind and I’m there to listen as an impartial juror to both sides,” Cassidy said, according to the Capitol Hill pool.

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