Senators in Donald Trump's historic second impeachment trial voted Tuesday to consider the case, rejecting an attempt by the former president's defense team and some Republican allies to halt the trial because he is no longer in office. The vote was 56-44 on the question of whether the Senate has jurisdiction and could proceed.
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Tuesday's vote to proceed came after four hours of arguments from Trump's lawyers and the Democratic impeachment managers who are arguing that the former president incited the Jan. 6 Capitol riots.
The impeachment managers managed to pick up one additional vote from Republicans - Louisiana Sen. Bill Cassidy. Two weeks ago, he voted in favor of an effort to dismiss, but on Tuesday he voted with Democrats to move forward. Cassidy joined Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, and Mitt Romney of Utah in dismissing the Trump team's claims.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) angrily makes a fist after the first day of the second impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump in the Senate, Feb. 9, 2021. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Cassidy told reporters that the impeachment managers made "strong arguments" and it was a "very good opening." He continued, "I have always said I was approaching this with an open mind."
House managers used an emotional, jarring video of the Jan. 6th Capitol Hill attack to try to make their case in their opening arguments. Impeachment Manager Rep. Jamie Raskin said, "That's a high crime and misdemeanor. If that's not an impeachable offense, then there is no such thing."
The Democrats, led by Raskin, argued the Senate would set a dangerous precedent if it decided that it's unconstitutional to impeach a president who's left office. "It's an invitation to the president to take his best shot at anything he may want to do on his way out the door, including using violent means to lock that door, to hang on to the Oval Office at all costs, and to block the peaceful transfer of power," Raskin argued.
Trump was impeached by the House on a count of incitement of insurrection over the Jan. 6 Capitol riot by a mob of his supporters.
While Trump's lawyers denounced the rioters, they also argued their client's speech is protected by the Constitution. Attorney Bruce Castor said, "We can't possibly be suggesting that we punish people for political speech in this country."
And they accused Democrats of abusing impeachment for political gain.
"The singular goal of the House managers and House leadership in pursuing the impeachment conviction of Donald J Trump is to use these proceedings to disenfranchise at least 74 million Americans, with whom they viscerally disagree, and to ensure that neither they nor any other American ever again can cast a vote for Donald Trump," Trump attorney David Schoen said.
"Their ultimate hope is that this will be a shot across the bow of any other candidate for public office who would dare to take up a political message that is very different from their own political point of view," he continued.
Schoen also showed a defense team video of Democrats calling for the former president's impeachment. He said Democrats are fueled by a "base hatred" of the former president and "seeking to eliminate Donald Trump from the American political scene."
It appears unlikely that the House prosecutors will call witnesses, in part because the senators were witnesses themselves. At his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida, Trump has declined a request to testify.
The former president's conviction by the Senate seems unlikely since it would take 17 Republicans to side with the Democrats.
Presidential impeachment trials have been conducted only three times before, leading to acquittals for Andrew Johnson, Bill Clinton, and then Trump last year.
The Senate will resume the trial Wednesday at 12:00 pm Eastern.