Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) and 45 members of his caucus backed an effort to declare the impeachment trial of former President Trump “unconstitutional” on Tuesday.
McConnell’s colleague from Kentucky, Senator Rand Paul, introduced a point of order on Tuesday to declare Trump’s impeachment trial unconstitutional on the grounds that a president can’t be impeached once he has left office. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer then moved to table Paul’s point of order, blocking the effort to preemptively invalidate the impeachment trial.
McConnell joined all but five Senate Republicans in opposing Schumer, signaling a willingness to entertain the argument that the impending trial is unconstitutional.
The point of order resolution effectively forced Republicans to declare on the record whether they consider the impeachment trial constitutional, given that it’s taking place after Trump has left office. The resolution failed after a majority of senators voted in favor of Schumer’s move to table it, meaning the impeachment trial will go ahead as planned.
However, only five Republicans voted against the resolution: Mitt Romney of Utah, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Susan Collins of Maine, Ben Sasse of Nebraska, and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania. At the close of the impeachment trial itself, at least 17 Republican senators would need to join Democrats in order to convict Trump.
“I think there will be enough support on” the point-of-order resolution “to show there’s no chance they can impeach the president,” Paul told reporters before the vote on Tuesday. “If 34 people support my resolution that this is an unconstitutional proceeding, it shows they don’t have the votes and we’re basically wasting our time.”
Senator Collins said following the vote that there would be little chance of an impeachment conviction.
“I think it’s pretty obvious from the vote today that it is extraordinary unlikely that the president will be convicted,” Collins told The New York Times. “Just do the math.”
McConnell was reportedly pleased with the idea of impeaching Trump, after the former president incited a mob of his supporters to amass at the Capitol on January 6, though the majority leader later said publicly that he hadn’t decided whether to vote to convict. The mob breached the Capitol and forced lawmakers to evacuate, and five people died in the riots including a Capitol police officer.
An impeachment conviction could allow the Senate to bar Trump from running for office again, however a number of Republican senators have come out against the impeachment push. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida said it would be “arrogant” for the Senate to prevent Trump from running again.
“Voters get to decide that,” Rubio told Chis Wallace on Fox News Sunday. “Who are we to tell voters who they can vote for in the future?”
Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas also voiced skepticism regarding the impeachment trial.
“I think a lot of Americans are going to think it’s strange that the Senate is spending its time trying to convict and remove from office a man who left office a week ago,” Cotton told the Associated Press on Monday.
Editor’s Note: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that McConnell voted to declare Trump’s impeachment trial unconstitutional. In fact, the minority leader voted against a motion to table Senator Paul’s point of order, which deems the trial unconstitutional. We regret the error.