Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, pauses to answer questions from reporters after the Senate voted to consider hearing from witnesses in the impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump, at the Capitol in Washington, Saturday, Feb. 13, 2021. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
WASHINGTON (AP) — Seven Republicans voted Saturday to convict former President Donald Trump in his Senate trial, easily the largest number of lawmakers to ever vote to find a president of their own party guilty at impeachment proceedings.
While lawmakers acquitted Trump of inciting the Jan. 6 Capitol attack, they voted 57-43 to convict him — short of the two-thirds majority needed to find him guilty. Still, with seven Republicans joining all 50 Democrats in voting “guilty,” the Senate issued an unmistakable bipartisan chorus of condemnation of the former president that could have political implications for a GOP conflicted over its future.
“If I can’t say what I believe that our president should stand for, then why should I ask Alaskans to stand with me?” Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska told reporters.
Besides Murkowski, other Republican senators voting against Trump were Richard Burr of North Carolina, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Susan Collins of Maine, Mitt Romney of Utah, Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Patrick Toomey of Pennsylvania.
Underscoring the perils of affronting Trump and his legions of GOP loyalists, by late evening top Republicans from at least two of the defecting senators’ states had blasted them.
Pennsylvania GOP Chairman Lawrence Tabas issued a statement saying he shared “the disappointment of many of our grassroots leaders and volunteers” over Toomey’s vote. Louisiana’s Republican Party said, “We condemn, in the strongest possible terms” Cassidy’s vote and said its executive committee voted unanimously to censure him.
Democrats holding out long-shot hopes of convicting Trump would have needed 17 Republicans to prevail, which as expected proved an unreachable goal. That hope died after the influential Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said he would vote to acquit because he believed lawmakers had no jurisdiction over a former president.
Even so, McConnell delivered searing words against Trump in a speech after the vote, saying the former president was “practically and morally responsible” for provoking the attack on lawmakers as they formally certified Trump’s Electoral College defeat by Joe Biden. Five people died, and the House impeached Trump for inciting insurrection.
Most of the defecting Republicans had clashed with Trump over the years. Burr and Toomey have said they will retire and not seek reelection when their terms expire next year, and Murkowski and Collins have histories of clashing with Trump over health care and other policies.
Perhaps the day’s most surprising GOP defector was Burr, a 16-year Senate veteran who keeps a low profile in Washington and after years as top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee is used to telegraphing little about his views.
Burr, 65, will not seek reelection next year and will retire. In a written statement, he said Trump made unfounded claims about a fraud-riddled election “because he did not like the results.” He said Trump used the presidency to “inflame” the rioters rather than urging them to stand down. “The evidence is compelling that President Trump is guilty of inciting an insurrection against a coequal branch of government,” Burr said.
Also striking was the “guilty” vote by Cassidy, who was reelected in November from a deep-red state where GOP support is widespread.
Cassidy, 63 and a physician, had initially sided with the vast majority of Senate Republicans who voted last month to block the trial from moving forward. But he blasted a shambolic performance by Trump’s legal team at the start of the trial while praising Democrats for presenting a compelling case.
“Our Constitution and our country is more important than any one person. I voted to convict President Trump because he is guilty,” Cassidy said in a one-sentence statement issued after his vote to convict.
Toomey, a traditional conservative, decried Trump’s efforts to overturn election results — Trump’s targets include Toomey’s Pennsylvania — and to encourage his supporters’ march on the Capitol.
“All of this to hold on to power despite having legitimately lost,” Toomey said. He said that because of Trump’s actions, “for the first time in American history, the transfer of presidential power was not peaceful” and said Trump had “betrayed the confidence millions of us placed in him.”
Sasse has long criticized Trump’s authoritarian streak. Last week he excoriated pro-Trump Republican Party officials in his home state, telling them in a video message that “politics isn’t about the weird worship of one dude.”
“Tribalism is a hell of a drug, but our oath to the Constitution means we’re constrained to the facts,” Sasse said Saturday. He said he wouldn’t vote against his own conscience “simply because it is politically convenient.”
Romney’s “guilty” vote at Trump’s initial impeachment trial last February made him the first senator to ever vote to convict a president of the same party. The trial that ended Saturday was Trump’s second — making him the first president to ever be tried twice for impeachment — and the fourth in presidential history.
Presidents Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1999 were acquitted and received unanimous support from their Democratic Party.