By Bryan Gallion, Anna Hovey, and Charlotte Parker Dulany, Capital News Service
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump will remain in office after Wednesday’s final vote in his Senate impeachment trial resulted in acquittals on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, bringing the four-month impeachment process to a close.
A two-thirds majority of senators was needed to convict the president on the two impeachment articles. Democrats fell short with 48 votes to convict and 52 Republican votes to acquit on the abuse of power charge. There was a 47-53 vote on the obstruction of Congress charge.
Votes were along party lines except for Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, who broke from Republicans, becoming the first senator to support removing a president of his own party from office. In what he called “the hardest decision” he ever had to make, Romney voted to convict Trump on the abuse of power charge, but voted against the obstruction of Congress charge.
White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham issued a statement after the Senate votes saying “the sham impeachment attempt concocted by Democrats ended in the full vindication and exoneration” of her boss.
“This entire effort by the Democrats was aimed at overturning the results of the 2016 election and interfering with the 2020 election,” she said.
Trump tweeted that he would speak about the Senate proceedings at noon Thursday. He also tweeted out a video showing him standing behind Trump campaign signs with changing election year dates dozens, then hundreds, then thousands of years into the future. “Trump 4EVA,” the last sign said.
Trump was charged in two impeachment articles passed by the House in December in connection with his withholding of nearly $400 military U.S. aid to Ukraine in exchange for that nation announcing investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden, his son Hunter, and alleged Ukrainian interference into the 2016 U.S. election.
Romney, the 2012 GOP presidential nominee, used the word “unimaginable” when describing what consequences and criticism might be in store for him, particularly from fellow Republicans, Trump and the president’s supporters.
“He’s the leader of my party,” Romney said of Trump during his address to the Senate ahead of the final votes. “He’s the president of the United States. I voted with him 80 percent of the time… And yet he did something which was grievously wrong. And to say, well, you know, because I’m on his team and I agree with him most of the time, that I should then assent to a political motive, would be a real stain on our constitutional democracy.”
Still, Romney called Trump’s actions “perhaps the most abusive and destructive violation of oath of office” imaginable.
“Does anyone seriously believe I would consent to these consequences other than from an inescapable conviction that my oath before God demanded it of me?” he asked.
Democratic Sen. Doug Jones of Alabama, also considered a swing vote in Trump’s impeachment trial, announced his decision to vote to convict earlier in the day. He’s facing re-election this year in the largely Republican state.
“After many sleepless nights, I have reluctantly concluded that the evidence is sufficient to convict the president for both abuse of power and obstruction of Congress,” Jones said.
After urging his fellow senators to censure the president on Monday, Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia formally announced his “reluctant” intention to vote for conviction just minutes before senators voted.
“The evidence presented by the House managers… clearly supports the charges brought against the president in the articles of impeachment,” Manchin tweeted. “While the president may assert executive privilege, that privilege has limits and is not absolute.”
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Arizona, also announced Wednesday that she would vote to convict the president. She was often seen standing and clapping as Trump delivered his State of the Union address Tuesday as her Democratic colleagues remained in their seats.
“Today, I vote to approve both articles, as my highest duty, and my greatest love, is to our nation’s Constitution,” Sinema said in a statement. “It is dangerous to the fundamental principles of American democracy to use the power of the federal government for personal or political gain.”
Trump’s acquittal came the day after he delivered his third State of the Union to a divided Congress. He declared that “the state of our union is stronger than ever before” with no mention of his impeachment.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, spoke to his colleagues just ahead of the 4 p.m. vote.
“Our nation was founded on the idea of truth,” Schumer said. “But this president is such a menace, so contemptuous of every virtue, so dishonorable, so dishonest, that you must ignore — indeed sacrifice — the truth to maintain his favor.”
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, countered Schumer’s final remarks, saying the Senate would “reject this incoherent case that comes nowhere near justifying the first presidential removal in history.”
McConnell added that while the “partisan” impeachment ended Wednesday, he feared the “threat to our institutions” that the proceedings posed would not.
“Leaders in the opposite party increasingly argue that if our institutions don’t produce the outcomes they like, our institutions themselves must be broken…The response to losing one election cannot be to attack the office of the presidency,” McConnell said. “I hope we will look back on this vote and say: This was the day the fever began to break. I hope we will not say this was just the beginning.”
Following the vote, Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Maryland, said he was fearful there had been “serious damage” done to the country’s democracy.
“President Trump has engaged in unprecedented stonewalling — a blanket cover-up that makes President Nixon look like an amateur,” Van Hollen said in a statement. “And because the trial was a farce, the final result will be seen by most of the country as illegitimate… There is no exoneration, no vindication, no real acquittal from a fake trial.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, said in a statement following the final vote, “There can be no acquittal without a trial…By suppressing the evidence and rejecting the most basic elements of a fair judicial process, the Republican Senate made themselves willing accomplices to the president’s cover-up.”
Pelosi defended the passing of two articles of impeachment in the House, repeating what she has said previously: “The president has been impeached forever.”