WASHINGTON — In a vote that was predictable but momentous, President Trump was acquitted by the Senate on the charges contained in two articles of impeachment, related to abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, that had been endorsed by the House of Representatives in December.
The final vote was 48 to 52 on Article I, and 47 to 53 on Article II. The only surprise was when Mitt Romney of Utah voted to convict Trump on the first article, in what would prove the lone GOP defection. Every Democrat voted to convict Trump, though there had been concern that legislators from Trump-friendly states, in particular Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Doug Jones of Alabama might ultimately side with Trump.
None ultimately did, leaving Romney as the only senator to vote against his party. In fact, he became the first senator in United States history to vote in favor of convicting a president of his own party in an impeachment trial.
Speaking before the 4 p.m. vote, Romney rejected the notion that November’s forthcoming election would prove a sufficient referendum on Trump.
“This verdict is ours to render,” Romney said in Senate floor remarks that instantaneously went viral on social media. “The people will judge us for how well and faithfully we fulfilled our duty. 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.’”
The man who was once considered by Trump as a potential secretary of state then delivered his lonely but devastating conclusion: “Yes, he did.”
By casting his vote against Trump, Romney single-handedly prevented impeachment from remaining a solely partisan affair.
To convict and remove Trump as president, Democrats would have needed 20 Republicans to cross party lines, something they have generally been unwilling to do, fearing that he might launch a primary challenge against them. In the entire impeachment inquiry, encompassing both the House and the Senate, only two Republicans ever voted with Democrats. That was when Romney and Susan Collins of Maine voted in favor of hearing from more witnesses during the now-concluded Senate trial, and when Romney subsequently voted to convict.
After the measure on additional witnesses failed last Friday, it became clear an acquittal for Trump was just a matter of time. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York agreed to take the weekend off, with the Senate returning for closing arguments on Monday, breaking for the State of the Union address on Tuesday, then taking the final vote on Wednesday.
Trump is the first president since Bill Clinton to have been acquitted in an impeachment trial. In brief remarks from the Rose Garden after his 1999 acquittal, Clinton said he was “profoundly sorry” for his words and deeds, though he did not mention his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky or his false statements, given under oath, during the ensuing investigation.
“I also am humbled and very grateful for the support and the prayers I have received from millions of Americans over this past year,” Clinton went on. “Now I ask all Americans, and I hope all Americans, here in Washington and throughout our land, will rededicate ourselves to the work of serving our nation and building our future together.”
Displaying the deft political sense that had won him the presidency years before, Clinton said, “This can be, and this must be, a time of reconciliation and renewal for America.”
No such reconciliation is very likely in the days and months ahead, not with Trump having branded impeachment a “sham” from the start. He has continued to insist that his July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky — the basis for the impeachment inquiry — was “perfect.” In recent days, Republicans have started to acknowledge it was rather less than that. Still, on the whole they continued to defend the president.
Romney’s announcement thus stood as a lone tone of dissent in a chorus that otherwise loudly defended the president.
Speaking ahead of the vote, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., issued a dire warning to Democrats. “By legitimizing this impeachment process,” he said, “what you have done is unleash the partisan forces of hell.”
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