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Senate gets impeachment trial underway in vote that signals Trump’s likely acquittal

UPDATED: Tue., Feb. 9, 2021

FILE - In this Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, file photo, then-President Donald Trump waves as he boards Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House, in Washington, en route to his Mar-a-Lago Florida Resort. Trump has named two lawyers to his impeachment defense team, one day after it was revealed that the former president had parted ways with an earlier set of attorneys.  (Alex Brandon)
FILE - In this Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, file photo, then-President Donald Trump waves as he boards Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House, in Washington, en route to his Mar-a-Lago Florida Resort. Trump has named two lawyers to his impeachment defense team, one day after it was revealed that the former president had parted ways with an earlier set of attorneys. (Alex Brandon)

WASHINGTON – The second impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump began Tuesday with a majority of senators rejecting the defense’s argument that trying a former official is unconstitutional, but the vote signaled Republicans likely have enough votes to acquit Trump.

No Northwest senator crossed party lines as every Democrat and just six Republicans voted to proceed with the trial, which will resume Wednesday when the House impeachment managers make their case for convicting Trump. At least 17 GOP senators would need to vote with all 50 Democrats to secure a conviction, an outcome that appeared all but impossible after Tuesday’s vote.

The House voted to impeach Trump on Jan. 13, with Washington Reps. Dan Newhouse and Jaime Herrera Beutler among the 10 Republicans who joined the entire Democratic caucus to charge the former president for his role in inciting the deadly insurrection at the Capitol just a week earlier.

On Tuesday, Idaho Sens. Jim Risch and Mike Crapo both maintained the Senate has no authority to try a former official even if that person is impeached while still in office.

“Impeachment is a process for removal of a president,” Risch said in a statement. “President Trump is no longer in office and can’t be removed. Proponents for impeachment argue that he nevertheless must be tried and convicted ‘to hold him accountable.’ This argument is flawed and a slippery slope.”

The argument over the constitutionality of the proceedings revolved around the meaning of two seemingly simple words: “and” and “all.”

The Constitution stipulates punishment for impeachment “shall not extend further than to removal from Office, and disqualification” from holding office in the future. Trump’s defense team argued the word “and” means one of those penalties can’t exist without the other, and as a former president Trump can no longer be removed from office.

The House impeachment managers, nine Democrats who act as the prosecution in a process more political than legal, argued another clause of the Constitution – “The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments” – means senators do have the authority to hold Trump accountable, since he was impeached.

In a radio interview Jan. 27, Crapo declined to say how he would vote on the question of Trump’s guilt but said he opposed the process, referring to a Jan. 27 procedural vote on the same question.

“As a juror, I will not discuss how I am going to vote,” Crapo told hosts Neal Larson and Julie Mason. “I will listen to the proceedings. In this case, I have already voted. I have said this is an unconstitutional process.”

Washington Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, both Democrats, have indicated they support impeaching Trump. Both voted Tuesday to proceed.

“I do believe the president should be held accountable,” Cantwell told The Spokesman-Review in January. “When that process takes place, I’ll be voting for impeachment.”

“There can be no normalizing or looking away from what played out before our eyes on January 6th,” Murray wrote Jan. 25 on Twitter. “Now that the Article of Impeachment has been read in the Senate, we have a duty to hold former President Trump accountable, convict him, and bar him from holding office again.”

Orion Donovan-Smith's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.

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