WASHINGTON – Arguments for and against President Donald Trump's ouster ended Monday in the Senate impeachment trial, with the House managers calling the president a danger to democracy because of his actions toward Ukraine and Trump's legal team arguing that impeachment, not Trump's conduct, is the real threat.
Two days before Trump's expected acquittal, the two sides summarized their arguments and pleaded for agreement before a chamber that had largely made up its mind. Democrats have nowhere near the two-thirds of the Senate needed to remove Trump from office, and the only remaining drama centered on a few possible swing votes from each party, particularly the handful of Democrats who would hand Trump a messaging victory if they join Republicans on the final votes.
In a floor speech, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., declined to announce his decision, but he asked his colleagues to consider censuring Trump, a rebuke less severe than removal from office that few senators were willing to pursue. Sen. Doug Jones, D-Ala., said he remains undecided about how he will vote.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, condemned the House's probe while also calling Trump's behavior "shameful and wrong." But she said she could not vote to convict.
Meanwhile, House impeachment manager Adam Schiff, D-Calif., argued that senators who believe Trump will change in his approach to the presidency are mistaken.
"He has betrayed our national security, and he will do so again. He has compromised our elections, and he will do so again. You will not change him. You cannot constrain him. He is who he is. Truth matters little to him. What's right matters even less, and decency matters not at all," Schiff said.
White House Counsel Pat Cipollone argued that Trump has done "nothing wrong."
"These types of impeachments must end," he told the senators. "You will vindicate the right to vote. You'll vindicate the Constitution. You'll vindicate the rule of law by rejecting these articles. And I ask you to do that on a bipartisan basis."
Closing arguments from House managers and Trump's legal team consumed just over four hours on the Senate floor, a leisurely day reflecting the sense on Capitol Hill that the trial's outcome was a foregone conclusion. The Senate voted Friday to block witnesses and evidence related to Trump's conduct, barring additional information that could sway moderate Republicans and setting up a final vote for Wednesday, after Trump's State of the Union address on Tuesday night.
The feeling of anticlimax was heightened by a shift in the political spotlight toward Iowa, with the first nominating contest of the 2020 election Monday night. The four Democratic senators who are running for president were prevented from traveling to the early voting states until after the arguments concluded in the early afternoon.
House managers and Trump's legal team crafted their remarks with a view toward the campaign trail — voters will decide the future of his presidency.
"We're sitting here on the day that election season begins in Iowa," Cipollone said in his closing remarks. "It is wrong. There is only one answer to that, and the answer is to reject those articles of impeachment, to have confidence in the American people, to have confidence in the result of the upcoming election, to have confidence and respect for the last election and not throw it out."
Trump is accused of withholding military aid and an Oval Office meeting to push Ukraine's leaders into announcing probes of Democrats, including former Vice President Joe Biden, now a presidential candidate, and his son Hunter. The House impeached the president in December on two counts — abuse of power and obstruction of Congress — related to these allegations and his response to the investigation.
Schiff argued that Trump lacks the character to comport himself properly as president, describing his behavior as "far more destructive" than the actions of Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton that triggered their impeachment proceedings.
"If you find that the House has proved his case and still vote to acquit, your name will be tied to his with a cord of steel and for all of history," Schiff told Republicans who have called Trump's behavior inappropriate. "But if you find the courage to stand up to him, to speak the awful truth to his rank falsehood, your place will be among the Davids who took on Goliath, if only you will say enough."
Lawyers for Trump said his conduct was not improper and not impeachable.
"However you are to define high crimes and misdemeanors, there is no definition that includes disagreeing with a policy decision as an acceptable ground to removal of a president of the United States," said Trump attorney Jay Sekulow.
More Senate Republicans have acknowledged since Friday that the president's behavior was problematic, though none is expected to cross party lines and vote to eject him from office.
"I think it's not something that should have been done, and I think that is needlessly inviting a lot of controversy when you're going after a person that might not even be your opponent," Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, the chamber's president pro tempore, told NBC News.
After Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., called Trump's conduct "inappropriate" on Friday, Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., told reporters, "Let me be clear: Lamar speaks for lots and lots of us." He declined to elaborate.
At least 10 Senate Republicans have made similar comments, including Richard Burr of North Carolina, Susan Collins of Maine, Joni Ernst of Iowa, Rob Portman of Ohio, Mitt Romney of Utah, Marco Rubio of Florida and PatToomey of Pennsylvania. But only Collins and Romney joined Democrats on Friday to vote in favor of witness testimony.
These comments have contributed to speculation that Congress could pursue censure, as Manchin proposed. "What the president did was wrong," Manchin said in his floor speech.
But senators of both parties dismissed the idea as they arrived at the Capitol on Monday.
Asked to gauge the appetite for censure among Republicans, Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., said, "zero."
Most Republicans, he said, believe that Trump committed no wrongdoing and that he has been subjected to a partisan and politically motivated investigation.
Several Democrats said they were also uninterested in the idea, calling it a punishment well short of what Trump's alleged conduct deserves.
"What he did was an impeachable offense. I think it's absolutely obvious, and giving a slap on the wrist doesn't do any good," said Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont.