Kentucky Senator Rand Paul brought a point of order to the upper chamber as senators were sworn in for the beginning of former President Trump’s second impeachment trial. He asked the attending lawmakers to vote on whether the prosecution itself is still constitutional as the man in question has already left office. In a stunning upset for Democrats – although perhaps not a surprising one – just five Republicans sided with the majority party. Does this mean the impeachment trial is officially “dead on arrival,” as stated by Paul? And if not, what purpose can be gained from continuing a case that is almost certain to fall at the final hurdle?
A Numbers Problem
To convict Trump requires a two-thirds majority, meaning 17 Republicans would have to side with the 48 Democrats and two Independents. Only then could the Senate move to a second simple majority vote of barring the former president from public office in the future. Paul’s point of order suggests that GOP senators who find the whole affair unconstitutional will likely not vote to convict, and this was almost certainly the purpose of making it.
Senior Democrats are caught between a rock and a hard place. It is now apparent that the trial will not lead to a conviction or a barring of Donald Trump from holding office further down the line. It is also evident that to pursue the prosecution to its bitter end will be seen by the voting public as an exercise in vanity and spite. But these are not the only problems.
A serious amount of fundraising takes place during divisive events and impeaching Trump was almost certainly a cash cow. However, the Never-Trump big donors so skillfully squeezed for every possible cent will perhaps not be so giving if they think their generous gifts are to be squandered.
The list of five Republican senators who voted with Democrats is perhaps as expected: Susan Collins of Maine, Mitt Romney of Utah, Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania. Many of these lawmakers have already made statements publicly that they are willing to convict Trump.
Prior to the point of order, Senator Paul said:
“I think there will be enough support on it to show there’s no chance they can impeach the president … If 34 people support my resolution that this is an unconstitutional proceeding, it shows they don’t have the votes, and we’re basically wasting our time.”
Shortly after, on Twitter, he stated that “45 Senators agreed that this sham of a ‘trial’ is unconstitutional. That is more than will be needed to acquit and to eventually end this partisan impeachment process.”
Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said that he considers the 45 Republican votes “a floor, not a ceiling,” and that Trump needs to “keep doing what he’s doing, and the trial will be over in a couple of weeks.” Susan Collins, who voted with the Democrats, gave a sobering assessment of the result, saying, “I think it’s pretty obvious from the vote today that it is extraordinarily unlikely that the president will be convicted … Just do the math.”
It seems, though, that Democrats are locked into their course and are determined to see the trial through to its near-inevitable end. With President Biden already under pressure to deliver on his promises of unity and cross-party cooperation, his supporters may be wondering if a vanity prosecution that is DOA is the best use of governmental time and resources.
Read more from Mark Angelides.