WASHINGTON – Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, sealed a place in history Wednesday by voting to convict President Donald Trump of abuse of power, becoming a lone voice of dissent in a Republican Party that otherwise has marched in lockstep with the president throughout the impeachment proceedings.
Romney voted against the second article of impeachment, which accused the president of obstruction of Congress. But on the first article, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee said he found the evidence against Trump overwhelming and the arguments by the president's defense ultimately unconvincing.
Romney's decision, announced in a deeply personal speech on the Senate floor, where he spoke of his faith and constitutional duty, sparked an immediate and intense outcry among Trump's supporters — fury that Romney acknowledged is unlikely to fade.
Donald Trump Jr., the president's son, called for Romney to be "expelled" from the GOP, while many of Trump's congressional allies cast him as a bitter and irrelevant relic of a Republican establishment that has all but crumbled before Trump in recent years.
Romney stood by his decision as Republican criticism mounted Wednesday, maintaining that Trump abused his office by pressuring Ukraine to investigate a political rival.
"I will tell my children and their children that I did my duty to the best of my ability, believing that my country expected it of me," Romney said in his floor remarks, calling Trump's conduct "grievously wrong."
Romney added, "We're all footnotes at best in the annals of history. But in the most powerful nation on Earth, the nation conceived in liberty and justice, that is distinction enough for any citizen."
Romney's vote was hailed by many Democrats as an example of unflinching political courage from a Republican they have long battled.
After Romney's speech, Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, walked off the Senate floor in tears and remained speechless for several seconds.
"He literally restored my faith in the institution," Schatz said.
Presidential historian Jon Meacham said Romney is an "emblem of what so many of us feared was an entirely vanished kind of moderate voice that is guided by reason and not passion. What he did was in the tradition of Dwight Eisenhower, his own father, and George H.W. Bush and Gerald Ford."
Romney's father, the late George Romney, was a prominent Republican who was known for being guided by his Mormon faith and a commitment to public service and civil rights during his time as Michigan governor. Romney does not speak often of his father, but is inspired by his example far more than he discusses publicly, friends said Wednesday.
"There's no question that the president asked a foreign power to investigate his political foe," Romney said in an interview with the Washington Post ahead of his floor statement. "That he did so for a political purpose, and that he pressured Ukraine to get them to help or to lead in this effort. My own view is that there's not much I can think of that would be a more egregious assault on our Constitution than trying to corrupt an election to maintain power. And that's what the president did."
Romney was one of two Republican senators who supported the effort to summon witnesses and documents. He was the only Republican who crossed party lines on Wednesday to join Democrats in voting to convict Trump on the first charge, abuse of power, while voting to acquit on the second, obstruction of Congress.
Inside the Senate GOP cloakroom, Romney's decision was greeted with disappointment but little surprise. Ever since he was elected to the Senate in 2018, the 72-year-old senator has parted ways with his party at times and has occasionally criticized Trump — an approach that has won him few allies in a chamber where Trump's political capital and favor is a prized commodity.
"He's made it very clear from the beginning, even on the witness vote, that he was going to go his own way," Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., said. "This is one of those historical votes where everybody has to do what they think is the right thing."
Romney knew his vote to remove the president from office would bring consequences. Already, there is a bill in the Utah legislature that would allow voters to remove a sitting senator. Last week, the Conservative Political Action Conference disinvited Romney to its annual event. He expects worse in the days ahead.
When Romney was in Florida last weekend, a person at the airport called him a traitor, and someone else later told him to "get with the team," followed by an epithet. "It's going to be there a long, long, long time," he said in the interview. "And you know, the president's going to, you know, use me in rallies. I mean, he likes theater, and I can be part of that. So it's going to be tough."