WASHINGTON – After spending nearly two weeks confined to their desks and forbidden from speaking, senators took turns on the Senate floor Tuesday announcing whether they planned to vote to convict or acquit President Donald Trump when they render a verdict Wednesday in the third presidential impeachment trial in the nation's history.
The bitterly divided Senate is all but certain to acquit Trump on both charges facing him — abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. It would take a two-thirds vote, or 67 senators, to convict and remove him.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said that she would vote to acquit Trump, calling his conduct "wrong" but saying she could not support removing him from office. The House Democratic managers failed to substantiate their assertion "that the president will remain a threat to national security and the Constitution if allowed to remain in office," Collins said in a floor speech.
Collins said that Trump's call to President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, in which he asked for an investigation of former Vice President Joe Biden, was "improper and demonstrated very poor judgment," but pointed to "conflicting evidence in the record" about Trump's motivation for the "improper request."
Collins, a moderate who is facing a steep re-election challenge this year, had bucked other Republicans when she voted in support of bringing in new witnesses to testify at Trump's impeachment trial. She had been seen as one of only a few in her party who might convict the president of high crimes and misdemeanors. Twenty-one years ago, Collins voted to acquit President Bill Clinton during his impeachment.
Trump is accused of pressuring Ukraine to interfere in the 2020 presidential campaign on his behalf, by withholding military aid and a White House meeting to lean Ukraine to investigate his political rivals. The impeachment trial was not formally meeting Tuesday, ahead of Trump's State of the Union address. But their comments Tuesday were the last opportunity for senators to explain their positions before voting.
Taking a victory lap for what he called the "sober and stable Senate," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell issued a stern rebuke of the House Democrats' case and strategy, casting it as a politically motivated attack that amounted to the "most rushed, least fair and least thorough presidential impeachment inquiry in American history."
"Washington Democrats think President Donald Trump committed a high crime or misdemeanor the moment he defeated Hillary Clinton," McConnell said, referring to the 2016 election. "That is the original sin of this presidency: that he won and they lost."
Minority Leader Chuck Schumer spoke only briefly, to rebut what he called the majority leader's talking points.
Defending the House managers' case as "compelling," Schumer denounced Senate Republicans for blocking his motion to consider hearing from additional witnesses — including John Bolton, the president's former national security adviser who had offered to testify — and receive more evidence. The trial they created, he said, "fails the laugh test."