U.S. President Donald Trump is on the verge of acquittal by the Senate, an end to only the third presidential impeachment trial in American history but coming at the start of a tumultuous campaign for the White House.
A majority of senators have now expressed unease with Trump’s pressure campaign on Ukraine that resulted in the two articles of impeachment. But there’s nowhere near the two-thirds support necessary in Republican-held Senate for the Constitution’s bar of high crimes and misdemeanors to convict and remove the president from office.
The outcome expected Wednesday caps nearly five months of remarkable impeachment proceedings launched in Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s House, ending in Mitch McConnell’s Senate and reflective of the nation’s unrelenting partisan divide three years into the Trump presidency.
No president has ever been removed by the Senate, and Trump arrived at the Capitol for his State of the Union address on the eve of the vote eager to use the tally as vindication, a political anthem in his reelection bid. Allies chanted “four more years!”
The president did not mention impeachment, nor did he have to. The mood was tense in the House that impeached him. Pelosi tore up the speech when he was done.
The Wednesday afternoon vote is expected to be swift. With Chief Justice John Roberts presiding, senators sworn to do “impartial justice” will stand at their desk for the roll call and state their votes — “guilty” or “not guilty.”
On the first article of impeachment, Trump is charged with abuse of power. On the second, obstruction of Congress.
Few senators are expected to stray from party camps, all but ensuring the highly partisan impeachment yields deeply partisan acquittal. Both Bill Clinton in the 1999 and Andrew Johnson in 1868 drew cross-party support when they were left in office after an impeachment trial. President Richard Nixon resigned rather than face revolt from his own party.
Ahead of voting, some of the most closely watched senators took to the Senate floor to tell their constituents, and the nation, what they had decided. The Senate chaplain has been opening the trial proceedings with daily prayers for the senators.
“This decision is not about whether you like or dislike this president,” began GOP Sen. Susan Collins, the Maine centrist, announcing her resolve to acquit on both charges.
GOP Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio said that while he doesn’t condone Trump’s actions, he was not prepared to remove him from the ballot nine months before the election. “Let the people decide,” he said.
Centrist Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia has floated the idea of censuring Trump instead, a signal of a possible vote to acquit. Democratic Sen. Doug Jones, a former federal prosecutor seeking reelection in strongly pro-Trump Alabama, told reporters he’s likely to announce his vote Wednesday morning.