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Senate Says Trump Impeachment Trial Constitutional Even as Most Republicans Vote Against Proceedings

Outgoing US President Donald Trump waves as he boards Marine One at the White House in Washington, DC, on Wednesday. (AFP)

Outgoing US President Donald Trump waves as he boards Marine One at the White House in Washington, DC, on Wednesday. (AFP)

Donald Trump's second impeachment trial opens in the Senate, first for an ex-president of the United States.

Senate votes that Trump impeachment trial is constitutional, even as most Republicans vote against proceeding. Trump's second impeachment trial opens in the Senate, first for an ex-president.

However, a wide array of Senate Republicans harshly criticized former President Donald Trump's defense team on the opening day of his second impeachment trial, arguing that Trump attorney Bruce Castor had delivered a rambling and unfocused argument in making the case that the proceedings are unconstitutional.

"I thought the President's lawyer, the first lawyer, just rambled on and on and on," John Cornyn of Texas, a member of Senate GOP leadership, said of Castor, adding that the lawyer "didn't really address the constitutional argument. Finally the second lawyer got around to it, and, I thought, did an effective job."

Castor opened Trump's defense with a meandering presentation and warned that a second impeachment trial in 13 months would "open the floodgates" to future impeachments, even making the rhetorically unfounded suggestion that former Obama administration Attorney General Eric Holder could be impeached.

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Prominent Republicans argued on Tuesday that it was hard to understand exactly what Castor's argument was, while emphasizing that they thought attorney David Schoen was more skilled in his role.

GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska said, "I was really stunned at the first attorney who presented for former President Trump. I couldn't figure out where he was going, spent 45 minutes going somewhere, but I don't think he helped with us better understanding where he was coming from on the constitutionality of this. And I felt that Mr. Schoen ... did a better job, but I think they sure had a missed opportunity with their first, first attorney there."

GOP Sen. Susan Collins of Maine was also critical of Castor's performance, telling CNN, "I thought the second lawyer ... made the arguments very well. I was perplexed by the first attorney, who did not seem to make any arguments at all, which was an unusual approach to take."

The criticism is a stinging rebuke to Trump and his defense team from members of his own party, and may reflect a growing willingness on the part of Republicans to criticize the former President in the wake of the Capitol attack he provoked, even as it looks all but certain that he will be acquitted at the end of the trial by Senate Republicans.

Six Republicans Vote that Impeachment is Constitutional

Six Republican Senators joined their Democratic colleagues to vote that the impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump is constitutional. The Senate confirmed the constitutionality of Trump's impeachment trial by 56-44 votes following presentation from both sides -- House impeachment managers and lawyers representing the former president -- paving the way for the historic impeachment trial of the 45th President of the United States who left office on January 20.

From Wednesday onwards, each of the two sides -- the House impeachment managers and Trump lawyers -- would have up to 16 hours to present their case before the 100-member Senate for them to vote on the impeachment of Trump days later.

Both the Republicans and the Democrats have 50 members each. To impeach Trump, the Senate needs to vote the House impeachment motion by 67 votes. On Tuesday, six Republicans supported the Democrats in their effort to impeach Trump. Now they need the support of at least another 11 Republicans to do that. Given the current situation that seems to be unlikely, political analysts said, noting that the entire process is most likely to end up in the acquittal of the former president. Trump is the first president in the American history to be impeached twice. He is also the first president ever to have faced impeachment trial after he left the office of presidency.

Republican Senators who voted along with the Democrats were Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Mitt Romney, Ben Sasse, Bill Cassidy and Pat Toomey. Trump's impeachment trial is slated to begin Wednesday noon. Earlier, the House impeachment managers started the debate on the constitutionality of the impeachment by showing footage of the Capitol Hill riots on January 6, which is the main basis of the charge sheet against him. The Democrats plan to use a lot of video footage from the attack on the US Capitol by supporters of Trump to make their case.

If that's not an impeachable offense, then there is no such thing. And if the President's arguments for a January exception are upheld, then even if everyone agrees that if he's culpable for these events, even if the evidence proves, as we think this definitely does, that the president incited a violent insurrection on the day Congress met to finalise the presidential election, he would have you believe there is absolutely nothing the Senate can do about it -- no trial, no facts. He wants you to decide that the Senate is powerless at that point. That can't be right, Lead House Impeachment Manager Jamie Raskin argued. Trump's attorneys David Schoen and Bruce Castor argued that impeaching a former president when he is a private citizen is unconstitutional, and that in doing so they warned the Democrats were setting a wrong precedent. Media reports said that Trump was dissatisfied with the defense by his lawyers.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said President Joe Biden is going to wait for the Senate to determine the outcome of this impeachment trial. His view is that his role should be currently focused on addressing the needs of the American people, putting people back to work, addressing the pandemic, she said in response to a question. Biden himself refrained from speaking on the impeachment.

"...I tell people that I have a job. My job is to keep people. We have already lost over 4,50,000 people (due to the coronavirus pandemic) and we could lose a whole lot more if we don't act and act decisively. A lot of people, as I have said before, children are going to bed hungry. A lot of families are food insecure. They are in trouble. That's my job. The Senate has their job and they are about to begin it and I am sure they are going to conduct themselves well. That's all I am going to say about impeachment," Biden told reporters at the White House.

first published:February 10, 2021, 07:32 IST