AP

Senate so far split neatly along party lines on impeachment

WASHINGTON — The Senate is so far cleaving neatly along party lines in advance of today’s virtually certain votes to acquit President Donald Trump on two impeachment charges, with just two or three undecided members even considering breaking with their party.

A leading GOP moderate, Susan Collins of Maine, announced that she will vote to acquit Trump, leaving Utah Sen. Mitt Romney as the only potential Republican vote to convict Trump of abusing his office and stonewalling Congress.

Collins said “it was wrong” for Trump to ask Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate former vice president Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, but that Trump’s conduct does not warrant “the extreme step of immediate removal from office.” Collins voted to acquit then-President Bill Clinton at his trial in 1999.

More typical of the GOP side was Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who slammed the impeachment drive of House Democrats as “the most rushed, least fair and least thorough” in history and confirmed that he will vote to acquit Trump.

The potential for removing Trump from office is cruising toward a vote that likely will fall short of a majority in the Senate, much less the two-thirds vote of 67 senators required for removal and the installation of Vice President Mike Pence to the Oval Office.

The final days of the trial have focused attention on a handful of senators in both parties who were viewed as potential votes to break with their party. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, called the president’s actions “shameful and wrong” in a speech late Monday, but she also derided the highly partisan process.

“I cannot vote to convict,” she said, although she also sees blame within the Senate.

“We are part of the problem, as an institution that cannot see beyond the blind political polarization,’’ Murkowski told reporters after her speech.

Other Republicans, such as Sens. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Marco Rubio of Florida and Rob Portman of Ohio, also said Trump’s actions to withhold military aid from Ukraine while urging Zelenskiy to announce an investigation into the Bidens were inappropriate, but fell short of warranting his removal from office, especially in an election year.

“The aid went; the investigations did not occur,” Portman said.

Democrat after Democrat took to the Senate floor to announce that they would vote to convict Trump. Senior Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island said he was outraged by the conduct of White House lawyers, who he said performed for an audience of one — meaning Trump — while playing fast and loose with the facts.

“The presentation by White House counsel was characterized by smarminess, smear, elision, outright misstatement and various dishonest rhetorical tricks that I doubt they would dare to pull before judges,” Whitehouse said.

West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, perhaps the only Democrat seen as a likely vote to acquit Trump, has floated the idea of censuring Trump, instead. However, the idea didn’t seem to be gaining any traction Tuesday. Sen. Doug Jones, a former federal prosecutor and Democrat seeking reelection in strongly pro-Trump Alabama, told reporters he’s likely to announce his vote Wednesday morning.

No member of either party had indicated by late Tuesday that they would break with their party colleagues. Republicans hold a 53-47 majority in the Senate.

McConnell said the two charges against Trump — that he abused his power and obstructed Congress’ ensuing investigation — are “constitutionally incoherent” and don’t “even approach a case for the first presidential removal in American history.”

The Kentucky Republican opened the Senate with a scathing assessment of the case presented by House Democrats. He did not address whether Trump’s actions were inappropriate or wrong.

McConnell has dodged The Senate is scheduled to vote on the two impeachment articles this afternoon. Trump delivered his State of the Union address Tuesday night. It was on a platform in which he appeared in front of Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., the House speaker who orchestrated last year’s Democrat impeachment drive in the House.

Also Tuesday on the Senate floor, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., repeated a question that Chief Justice John Roberts, who is presiding over the trial, refused to read last week. Roberts’ staff communicated to McConnell’s staff that he did not want to read the name of the alleged whistleblower who got the impeachment inquiry rolling, according to a Republican familiar with the situation.

Paul denies trying to out the alleged whistleblower and noted that his question didn’t use the word. He questioned whether the person might have conspired with House staff aides in writing the August complaint that triggered impeachment.

The Associated Press typically does not reveal the identity of whistleblowers.

Also Tuesday, it was announced that Trump’s approval rating, which has generally hovered in the mid- to low 40s, hit a new high of 49 percent in the latest Gallup polling, which was conducted as the Senate trial was drawing to a close. The poll found that 51 percent of the public views the Republican Party favorably, the first time the GOP’s number has exceeded 50 percent since 2005.

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