Tracking The Main Excuses GOP Senators Are Offering Trump Ahead Of Acquittal

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 31: Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) arrives at the U.S. Capitol as the Senate impeachment trial of U.S. President Donald Trump continues on January 31, 2020 in Washington, DC. Senators are expec... WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 31: Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) arrives at the U.S. Capitol as the Senate impeachment trial of U.S. President Donald Trump continues on January 31, 2020 in Washington, DC. Senators are expected to vote on whether to allow witnesses to testify in the trial today. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images) MORE LESS
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February 4, 2020 1:07 p.m.
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After months of using an inevitable impeachment trial as a pass to dodge questions about President Trump’s Ukraine behavior, the pending acquittal vote has GOP senators laying out their reasons for clearing Trump for the conduct. It’s not expected that any Republicans will join Democrats in voting to remove the President, which requires a 67-vote threshold.

Rather they’re reaching for a handful of excuses to explain their vote to acquit the President of charges that he sought to leverage military aid for Ukrainian investigations into his political rivals. A sprinkling of GOP senators are condemning his conduct, while many are validating it, or claiming they need not commentate on the House’s allegations beyond finding them short of an impeachable standard.

As senators make closing speeches from the Senate floor, we’re tracking which senators latch onto which excuse. Here’s a look at the different rationales Republicans are floating to defend their acquittal votes, set to take place late Wednesday afternoon:

Trump did nothing wrong

Trump’s most ardent supporters in the Senate have shied away from any criticism of his conduct, instead claiming his interest in investigating the Bidens was justified or that the evidence the House put forward showed only a policy difference between Trump and the administration witnesses who testified about the pressure campaign. They’ve also bear hugged the argument put forward by the Trump legal team that the conduct the House’s case describes is not impeachable because it is not statutorily criminal.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) said on the floor that, “the House’s abuse of power article rests on objectively legal conduct,” and that, “until Congress legislates otherwise, a president is within his authority to request that a foreign leader assist with anti corruption efforts.”

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) argued, There was nothing wrong with President Trump’s phone call with President Zelensky” while claiming the House’s evidence was “hearsay” and lacked a “direct witness.” “The transcript speaks for itself. No evidence of a quid pro quo, of any wrongdoing whatsoever,” he said.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) did not say much about Trump’s underlying behavior, using his floor remarks to mostly bash the House’s process instead. But he did suggest the House’s allegations amounted to a policy difference, claiming that the House was seeking removal because the President “acted inconsistently with their conception of the national interest, a conception shared by some of the President’s subordinates, as well.”

Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) said it was within the President’s authority to freeze the aid and that Trump’s reasons for doing so — forcing investigations into the Bidens — were justified: “No fair-minded person can argue that an investigation of this possible corruption was not in the national interest.”

Sen. David Perdue (R-GA) said that the evidence put forward in the trial showed that “President was well within his rights to ask for help in rooting out this fairly obvious example of corruption.”

Sen. James Lankford (R-OK): “It is entirely reasonable for there to be able to be a pause [in military assistance] in that time period.”

Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) said that Trump’s conduct “certainly” wasn’t “impeachable.” “It’s not even make them wrong,” Lee said. “Quite to the contrary, this is exactly the sort of thing the American people elected President Trump to do.”

House didn’t prove allegations

Other Republicans have stopped short of green-lighting Trump’s conduct outright and instead have claimed that the House failed to prove its case.

Majority Whip John Thune (R-SD): “I considered all the evidence carefully, but ultimately I concluded that the two charges presented by the House managers, abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, did not provide a compelling case for removing this president.” He pointed specifically to the eventual release of the Ukraine aid and the lack of the investigation announcements that Trump desired as reasons he believes the House’s case fell short.

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) also pointed to the release of the assistance and the President’s skepticism of foreign aid more generally: “The allegation against President Trump was not proven beyond a reasonable doubt and it does not meet that high threshold.”

Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND) twisted himself into a pretzel explaining his belief. Because the American people have seen the rough transcript of Trump’s call with the president of Ukraine and because President Zelensky has said that he didn’t feel pressured by Trump and because the Ukraine aid was eventually handed over, “the House’s allegations do not rise to the level of an impeachable offense.”

Sen. Mike Rounds’ (R-SD) floor statement explaining his acquittal vote focused on a legal argument that claimed abuse of power is not an impeachable offense: “The framers did not intend impeachment proceedings to be brought every time an abuse of power is alleged.”

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX):”The reason that acquittal is the right decision is because the House managers failed to prove their case,” he said, claiming that allegations didn’t meet the constitutional standards for impeachment.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) said that the House had “failed to meet their burden of proof” because the allegations against Trump did not meet the “criminal standard” that the Constitution “clearly” sets.

Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS) clung to the argument that the House hadn’t alleged impeachable offenses: “Rejecting the abuse of power and obstruction of Congress articles before us will affirm our belief in the impeachment standards intended by the founders.”

Sen. Jim Risch (R-ID) said the House’s case fell apart because it “centered around witness statements that the President had somehow threatened or pressured the president of Ukraine to do what he was going to do. … That simply wasn’t the case,” he said.

Inappropriate, but not impeachable

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) led the charge with this nuanced take, in a statement explaining his “no” vote on witnesses. He backed the main points of the House’s allegations and said Trump’s conduct was “inappropriate.” “But the Constitution does not give the Senate the power to remove the President from office and ban him from this year’s ballot simply for actions that are inappropriate,” he said.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), whose statement on her witness “no” vote dashed Democrats’ hope for additional testimony: “The President’s behavior was shameful and wrong. His personal interests do not take precedent over those of this great nation.”  But, she said, the response was “not to disenfranchise nearly 63 million Americans and remove him from the ballot.”

Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) called Trump’s Ukraine conduct “wrong,” “improper” and demonstrative of “very poor judgment,” but concluded that the House hadn’t proven that it posed an immediate threat to national security warranting his removal.

Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH): “While I don’t condone this behavior, these actions do not rise to the level of removing President Trump from  office and taking him off the ballot in a presidential election year that is already well under way.”

Bash the House

The easiest way to dodge discussing the allegations against the President was to make your acquittal rationale all about condemning how the House presented those allegations. Several Republicans went that route.

Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-GA) avoided discussing Trump’s conduct altogether, instead blasting the House for its “false urgency to push through deficient articles only to ask for more time, more evidence, more testimony” and for the “the deception of the House managers, who are more focused on political power than they are on pursuing the facts.”

Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) accused the House of an “intentional mishandling” of its “constitutional duty” that was “nothing more than an attempt to pre-litigate the 2020 election.” She also baselessly suggested the whistleblower may have been a “group” of people,” and said the House had employed a “manipulation tactic aimed right at the hearts of the American people.”

Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA): “This process was fraught from the start with political aims and partisan innuendos that simply cannot be overlooked.”

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) took several shots at the whistleblower, suggesting that he “spied” on the President, and raised allegations about the 2016 Russia probe, while also going through his grievances with the House: “Everything they did about investigating the President was untrue and abused government to do something they never should have done in the first place. 

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) struck the House for sending over what she believes to be a partisan inquiry that lacked the support of the President’s party in the House. She also claimed that the “arguments and evidence do not provide me with a sufficient rationale for reversing the 2016 election and removing President Trump from the ballot in 2020.”

Sen. Pat Roberts’ (R-KS) main frustration was with the tone of impeachment managers, whose arguments were “incorrect and demanding,” he said during his speech on the floor Tuesday. “I am troubled that countless times the House managers made senators feel as if we were the ones on trial … constantly stating that senators had no choice but to agree with their line of reasoning, and if we did not, then we would deal with the consequences. A veiled threat yet to be defined.”

Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT): “This impeachment has been nothing more than an attempt to overturn the 2016 presidential election and to severely impact the 2020 election.”

Sen. John Boozman (R-AR): “It was impossible not to take notice of the process that unfolded in the House over the course of its investigation. Its inquiry was hasty, flawed and clearly undertaken under partisan pretenses.”

Sen. Deborah Fischer (R-NE): “The reality is that the House of Representatives didn’t do its job.”

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO): “Animating it all has been the bitter resentment of a professional political class that cannot accept the verdict of the people in 2016, that cannot accept the people’s  priorities and that now seeks to overturn the election and entrench themselves in power.”

Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-ND): “Their fixation on his removal was a conclusion in search of a justification.”

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO): “One of the lessons we send today is to this House and to future Houses of Representatives, do your job. Take it seriously. Don’t make it political.”

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