The Senate just voted to acquit President Donald Trump of charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress — ending a more than four-month impeachment process that began when Trump withheld aid from Ukraine and pressured its leader to investigate Hunter Biden.
The acquittal is the third time in US history the Senate has acquitted a president who has previously been impeached, after Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Clinton in 1999.
While several Republican senators acknowledged the president’s wrongdoing, nearly all of them eventually voted to acquit Trump of both articles. Sen. Mitt Romney, ultimately, was the only senator to break with his party and vote to convict on the abuse of power charge.
As a result, the vote on the two articles was slightly different. Senators voted 52-48 to acquit the president on abuse of power, and 53-47 to acquit him of obstruction of Congress.
The outcome was not a surprise. It would have taken 67 votes to convict the president, meaning 20 Republicans would have had to cross over and join the Democrats’ 47-member caucus. Given Republicans’ unwillingness to break with the president, that was always an unlikely outcome. After 51 Republicans voted against calling witnesses, the vote was all but a foregone conclusion.
The vote caps off a tumultuous few months in the House and the Senate that has been filled with bitter fights over subpoenas, witness testimony and process. During the last few weeks, House impeachment managers presented an overwhelming slate of evidence to demonstrate Trump’s willingness to abuse his power in order to get reelected. By the conclusion of the trial, many Senate Republicans were no longer denying the president’s wrongdoing so much as arguing that it didn’t merit removal.
Manager Adam Schiff, in his closing arguments, warned Republicans that their votes would inextricably tie them to the president.
“If you find that the House has proved its case, and still vote to acquit, your name will be tied to his with a cord of steel and for all of history,” he said.
Senate Republicans, on the whole, didn’t seem to mind.
Senate Republicans were never going to convict
Even as more and more evidence has emerged during the Senate trial, there’s one thing that’s stayed constant: Republicans’ loyalty to Trump.
During a tense vote on considering more witnesses and evidence last week, just two Republicans — Sens. Susan Collins and Mitt Romney — defied the president to vote alongside Democrats. And while several moderates including Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Lamar Alexander, and Rob Portman have said they think Trump’s handling of aid to Ukraine was improper, all but Romney balked at going any further.
As the final impeachment vote clearly illustrates, the conference continues to remain fiercely united behind the president. This loyalty is driven heavily by the support that Trump continues to receive from the Republican base. According to a recent Gallup poll, 89 percent of Republicans approved of the job he was doing as president.
Last year, Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC), a swing-state senator up for reelection in 2020, experienced firsthand what happens when a Republican goes against Trump: After writing a Washington Post op-ed opposing the national emergency Trump had declared to obtain funds for his border wall, Tillis was threatened with a primary challenge and quickly reversed course.
Others that have spoken out about Trump in the past, like Alabama Rep. Martha Roby and former South Carolina Rep. Mark Sanford, have paid the price at the ballot box.
These votes could be fodder during the election
At this point, it’s not certain what the next steps will be for Congress: Sen. Lindsey Graham has suggested that there should be more investigations into Joe Biden, Hunter Biden, and Burisma, though the conspiracy theory about the former vice president’s work on Ukraine and corruption has already been debunked. And the House could continue its own investigations, though what that looks like is not yet clear: Schiff declined to say whether the House would subpoena former National Security Adviser John Bolton when asked this weekend.
What is perhaps more predictable is that senators’ Trump impeachment vote — and their vote on witnesses — will become fodder during the 2020 election cycle.
For Republican senators in possible swing states, including Cory Gardner, Joni Ernst, Kelly Loeffler, Collins, and Tillis, especially, these votes are expected to be raised by their competitors. The same is true for vulnerable Democrats, like Sen. Doug Jones, who faces an intense fight to keep his seat in Alabama this fall.
It’s tough to predict exactly how these votes will play out with voters, though recent polls offer a glimpse. According to a FiveThirtyEight aggregation of these surveys, 84 percent of Democrats support removal, along with 43 percent of independents and 9 percent of Republicans. In states like Maine, for example, the positions of these independent voters will be particularly critical for the Senate race.
In nine months, what voters make of the president — and the Senate’s decisions — will be evident.