“Donald John Trump is hereby acquitted of the charges.” With those words from Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts on Wednesday, Feb. 5, Trump’s impeachment trial of 2020 was finally over. The repercussions of it are surely not. As consequential as the votes themselves were, it was the process – from the moment House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) announced impeachment inquiries – that wounded the nation in a way that will not soon heal.
Senators were required to vote on each of the two articles of impeachment after they were read in full by the clerk. Article I charged abuse of power and article II, obstruction of Congress. The Chief Justice instructed the senators to rise as their names were called from the roll and say “guilty” or “not guilty.”
For the president to be convicted and removed from office, two-thirds – or 67 – of the senators would have had to vote guilty. Such a vote would have required the concurrence of 20 Republicans, which is why the result of the trial was, essentially, a foregone conclusion. Acquittal requires a simple majority of 51 not guilty votes.
Predictably Partisan Votes
On the first article of impeachment, the Senate voted to acquit the president by 52 votes to 48. As widely expected, all 45 Democrat senators voted “guilty,” as did the two Independent Senators, Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Angus King of Maine. The 48th guilty vote was that of Republican Senator Mitt Romney (UT). On the second article, even Romney voted not guilty along with every other Republican and the president was acquitted by 53 votes to 47.
Sen. Mitt Romney had made it known, during his speech on the Senate floor earlier in the day, that he intended to vote to convict the president on one article of impeachment: abuse of power. The senator appeared to claim that his deep, religious conviction compelled him to find the president guilty. Did he vote to acquit on one count but not on the other in order to hedge his bet, so to speak? Did he provide himself with the opportunity to be known as the one Republican who stood against Trump and, supposedly, for justice, while at the same time being able to remind certain audiences that he voted to acquit? Alternatively, was the ridiculous charge of obstruction of Congress – so antithetical to the Constitution – too hard a pill for even Romney to swallow?
Trump will make the most of his acquittal, no doubt, as that is his way and – one might argue – he deserves the opportunity to do a little gloating, considering the many accusations he has faced since taking office. For the Democrats, it is now all about damage control – and perhaps more investigations.
Read more from Graham J. Noble.