WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump has survived impeachment, but he didn’t emerge unscathed.
The U.S. Senate on Wednesday acquitted Trump on charges that he abused his power by pressuring a foreign government to interfere in a U.S. presidential election and then obstructed a congressional investigation into his actions.
The vote was almost entirely partisan, except for Utah Republican Sen. Mitt Romney, the GOP’s 2012 presidential nominee, who broke ranks with his party.
In a speech explaining his vote, Romney said, “The grave question the Constitution tasks senators to answer is whether the president committed an act so extreme and egregious that it rises to the level of a ‘high crime and misdemeanor.’ Yes, he did.”
“The president asked a foreign government to investigate his political rival,” Romney continued. “The president withheld vital military funds from that government to press it to do so. The president delayed funds for an American ally at war with Russian invaders.
The president’s purpose was personal and political. Accordingly, the president is guilty of an appalling abuse of the public trust.”
Both of the impeachment articles fell far short of the two-thirds majority needed to convict Trump of high crimes and misdemeanors and remove him from office.
Article I, charging Trump with abuse of power, failed by a vote of 48-52. Romney was the only Republican to vote “guilty.”
Article II alleging obstruction of Congress was defeated 47-53, with Romney siding with Republicans.
“It is, therefore, ordered and adjudged that the said Donald John Trump be, and he is hereby, acquitted of the charges in said articles,” declared U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Roberts, who presided over Trump’s Senate impeachment trial.
Trump was the third U.S. president impeached by the House; on Wednesday he also became the third president acquitted by the Senate.
On the eve of the acquittal vote, Trump delivered a divisive State of the Union address. Following his remarks, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) publicly shredded her copy of the speech.
Pelosi has stressed that impeachment will remain a stain on Trump’s tenure. “It is a fact when someone is impeached, they are always impeached. It cannot be erased.”
Democrats and Republicans alike warned of the long-term damage the process has caused, although they each pointed fingers at the other side.
“This partisan impeachment will end today, but I fear the threat to our institutions may not, because this episode is one of a symptom of something much deeper,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), accusing House Democrats of using impeachment power as a political weapon.
But Romney, explaining his vote to convict, took issue with the view that impeachment was a purely partisan exercise. “In the last several weeks, I have received numerous calls and texts. Many demand that, in their words, ‘I stand with the team.’” Romney said. “I can assure you that that thought has been very much on my mind. I support a great deal of what the president has done. I have voted with him 80 percent of the time. But my promise before God to apply impartial justice required that I put my personal feelings and biases aside.” If he ignored the evidence and his oath to the Constitution, he said, “it would, I fear, expose my character to history’s rebuke and the censure of my own conscience.”
House Democrats appear certain to continue investigations into the president.
House Judiciary Committee Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) told reporters that he’s likely to subpoena John Bolton, Trump’s former national security adviser. Bolton reportedly wrote in a book manuscript that Trump told him he was withholding aid to Ukraine to force an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, NPR reported.
Lawmakers have also been discussing efforts to censure Trump for his actions toward Ukraine, although it’s unlikely that effort would advance in the GOP-controlled Senate.
“Censure would allow this body to unite across party lines,” Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said this week on the Senate floor. “His behavior cannot go unchecked by the Senate.”
Wisconsin’s Congressional delegation split along party lines on impeachment.
“I am glad that this unfortunate chapter in American history is over,” Republican Sen. Ron Jonson said in a statement. “The strength of our republic lies in the fact that, more often than not, we settle our political differences at the ballot box, not on the streets or battlefield — and not through impeachment.”
“Impeachment should be reserved for the most serious of offenses where the risk to our democracy simply cannot wait for the voters’ next decision. That was not the case here,” Johnson added. “Instead, the greater damage to our democracy would be to ratify a highly partisan House impeachment process that lacked due process.”
In a speech before her vote to convict, Sen. Tammy Baldwin said “My vote is a vote to uphold the rule of law and our uniquely American principle that no one, not even the president, is above the law.”
“I only have one of 100 votes in the U.S. Senate and I am afraid that the majority is putting this president above the law by not convicting him of these impeachable offenses,” Baldwin continued. “But let’s be clear, this is not an exoneration of President Trump, it is a failure to show moral courage and hold this president accountable.”
Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Black Earth) released a statement after the Senate vote to acquit, calling it a “cover-up.”
“At every step of this impeachment trial, Republican Senators have acted as the President’s personal bodyguards,” Pocan said. “By refusing to allow any witnesses or documents, they’re engaging in a cover-up. Pronouncing his innocence before the trial even began, these Senators did not even attempt to act as impartial jurors. They suspended their oaths to the Constitution in favor of protecting a tyrant, long ago.”
“If we can’t trust the Senate to hold this President accountable, then they must at least uphold their basic duty and pass legislation to protect our democracy from further foreign interference,” Pocan added. “Our democracy is now too vulnerable to afford another election unprotected.”