The U.S. Senate acquitted Donald Trump on Saturday in his second impeachment trial in a year, with fellow Republicans blocking conviction over the former president’s role in the deadly assault by his supporters on the U.S. Capitol.
The Senate vote of 57-43 fell short of the two-thirds majority needed to convict Trump on a charge of incitement of insurrection after a five-day trial in the same building ransacked by his followers on Jan. 6 shortly after they heard him deliver an incendiary speech.
In the vote, seven of the 50 Senate Republicans joined the chamber’s unified Democrats in favoring conviction.
Trump left office on Jan. 20, so impeachment could not be used to remove him from power. But Democrats had hoped to secure a conviction to hold him responsible for a siege that left five people including a police officer dead and to set the stage for a vote to bar him from ever serving in public office again. Given the chance to hold office in the future, they argued, Trump would not hesitate to encourage political violence again.
Trump’s attorneys argued that his words at the rally were protected by his constitutional right to free speech and said he was not given due process in the proceedings.
Republicans saved Trump in the Feb. 5, 2020, vote in his first impeachment trial, when only one senator from their ranks — Mitt Romney — voted to convict and remove him from office.
Romney voted for impeachment on Saturday along with fellow Republicans Richard Burr, Bill Cassidy, Susan Collins, Ben Sasse, Pat Toomey, and Lisa Murkowski.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who voted “not guilty,” offered scathing remarks about the former president after the verdict.
“There is no question that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day,” he said. “The people who stormed this building believed they were acting on the wishes and instructions of their president.”
The drama on the Senate floor unfolded against a backdrop of gaping divisions in a pandemic-weary United States along political, racial, socioeconomic and regional lines. The trial provided more partisan warfare even as Democratic President Joe Biden, who took office on Jan. 20 after defeating Trump in the November election, called for healing and unity after his predecessor’s four turbulent years in power and a caustic election campaign.
Seventy-one percent of American adults, including nearly half of all Republicans, believe Trump was at least partially responsible for starting the Capitol assault, but only about half of the country thought Trump should be convicted of inciting insurrection, according to an Ipsos poll conducted for Reuters.
Trump, 74, continues to hold a grip on his party with a right-wing populist appeal and “America First” message. The wealthy businessman-turned-politician has considered running for president again in 2024.
Trump is only the third president ever to be impeached by the House of Representatives — a step akin to a criminal indictment — as well as the first to be impeached twice and the first to face an impeachment trial after leaving office. But the Senate still has never convicted an impeached president.
Democrats forged ahead with impeachment despite knowing it could overshadow critical early weeks of Biden’s presidency.
The House approved the single article of impeachment against Trump on Jan. 13, with 10 Republicans joining the chamber’s Democratic majority. That vote came a week after the pro-Trump mob stormed the neoclassical domed Capitol, interrupted the formal congressional certification of Biden’s victory, clashed with an overwhelmed police force, invaded the hallowed House and Senate chambers, and sent lawmakers into hiding for their own safety.