WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine joined fellow Republicans on Wednesday to vote to acquit President Donald Trump on two impeachment articles, closing the third presidential impeachment trial in American history in a year the president is up for re-election.
Senators sworn to do “impartial justice” stood at their desks and stated their votes for the roll call — “guilty” or “not guilty” — as Chief Justice John Roberts presided.
On the first article of impeachment, Trump was charged with abusing his power by pressuring Ukraine to investigate Democratic rival Joe Biden, in what House Democrats said political quid pro quo for personal political gain. He withheld U.S. security aid as leverage over the ally confronting a hostile Russia, though the money was eventually released. On the second, Democrats alleged that he obstructed a congressional probe into the matter.
Trump insisted throughout the proceedings that he did nothing wrong, and the president is eager for vindication as he launches his re-election bid. A majority of senators have now expressed unease with Trump’s pressure campaign on Ukraine that resulted in the two articles of impeachment, but two-thirds of Senate votes were required to remove the president.
On Wednesday, all Republicans but Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, moved to acquit Trump in a 52-48 vote on the first article, while he was acquitted 53-47 along party lines on the second article. Collins and U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, who caucuses with Democrats, split on the vote, with the Republican senator voting to acquit and King voting to convict.
They laid out their arguments in floor speeches on Tuesday. While Collins said Trump’s actions were “improper,” she added the actions underlying the abuse of power charge didn’t warrant immediate removal and the obstruction charge should have been reviewed by the courts.
“It is my judgment that, except when extraordinary circumstances require a different result, we should entrust to the people the most fundamental decision of a democracy, namely, who should lead their country,” said Collins, who is facing a stiff challenge from national Democrats in her 2020 bid for a fifth term.
In a pre-taped interview with CBS News, Collins said she believed Trump had learned from impeachment. He has called his action regarding Ukraine a “perfect phone call,” which Collins disputed. However, he repeated it on Tuesday when informed of Collins’ comments at an off-the-record meeting with news anchors and said he disagreed with her.
King said on Tuesday that Congress has been commiting a “slow-motion institutional suicide” by abdicating power to the president. He said this when combined with acquittal set a dangerous precedent, adding that “future presidents will be unbound from any restraints on the use of the world’s most powerful political office for their own personal, political gain.”
On the Senate floor Wednesday, Romney announced on the Senate floor that he was breaking with his party. Romney appeared to choke up as he spoke of his deep faith and “oath before God” demanding that he vote for impeachment.
“The president is guilty of an appalling abuse of public trust,” Romney said on the Senate floor. “What the president did was wrong, grievously wrong.”
The final outcome on Wednesday caps nearly five months of remarkable impeachment proceedings launched in the House led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, and ending in the Senate led by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, that were 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. The mood was tense in the House that impeached him. Pelosi tore up the speech when he was done.
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.
During the nearly three-week trial, House Democrats prosecuting the case argued that Trump abused power like no other president in history when he pressured Ukraine to investigate Democratic rival Joe Biden ahead of the 2020 election.
Trump and his allies in Congress argue that Democrats have long tried to undercut him. He calls both special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election and the impeachment probe a “hoax” and says he did nothing wrong.
Questions from the Ukraine matter continue to swirl. House Democrats may yet summon former national security adviser John Bolton to testify about revelations from his forthcoming book that offer a fresh account of Trump’s actions. Other eyewitnesses and documents are almost sure to surface.
The result of the House proceedings were the quickest, most partisan impeachment in U.S. history, with no Republicans joining Democrats to vote for the charges. The Senate kept pace with the fastest trial ever, and the first with no witnesses or deliberations. Of the Republicans, only Collins and Romney backed witnesses in a failed vote last week.
Trump’s approval rating, which has generally languished in the mid- to low-40s, hit a new high of 49 percent in the latest Gallup polling, which was conducted as the Senate trial was drawing to a close. The poll found that 51 percent of the public views the Republican Party favorably, the first time the GOP’s number has exceeded 50 percent since 2005.
BDN writer Michael Shepherd and Associated Press writers Eric Tucker, Laurie Kellman, Matthew Daly, Alan Fram, Andrew Taylor and Padmananda Rama contributed to this report.