Wednesday 5th February marked the end of the impeachment saga, with the US Senate voting to acquit President Trump of both abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
The vote was split along party lines – despite some prior excitement over possible Republican defections, nothing meaningful materialised. The one Republican Senator to vote to convict, Mitt Romney, only did so for one of the two charges of impeachment. This, and the fact that Romney spent a good part of the following day on the receiving end of a backlash from the Republican Party, indicates the strength of Republican support for the president in what has been a highly partisan fight.
Acquittal was not a surprise. Several Republican senators, such as Lamar Alexander and John Barrasso, had indicated up to a week ago that they intended to vote to acquit. Susan Collins, who had carried a cloud of uncertainty around her intentions after voting to allow witnesses at the end of last month, spoke on the day announcing that she intended to vote for acquittal on both charges. And despite the fact that the Democrats’ party line held, with two independents voting alongside them, impeachment was never possible without significant Republican support – the US constitution demands that a conviction for impeachment be passed with two-thirds majority. Of the 100 seats in the Senate, the Republicans hold 53.
Impeachment was only possible in the first place due to the Republicans losing control of the House of Representatives in 2018. It had a slim chance of passing a Republican-held Senate. If there was a way forward for the impeachment managers, it was calling witnesses. Calling witnesses (allowing them to testify in Senate sessions broadcast to the nation) could possibly have ramped up pressure on Republican Senators from their constituents. But the Senate voted 51-49 not to allow witnesses, leaving the drive for impeachment to fizzle out in a downpour of Republican votes.
President Trump was in a triumphant mood following his acquittal, and keen to attack those behind the impeachment. He told a group of Republican allies, family and administration members:
“[the impeachment] was corrupt, it was dirty cops and this should never happen to another president, ever. It’s a disgrace … it was bad people. If this had happened to President Obama a lot of people would have been in jail for many years”.
Trump’s speech also attacked “corrupt Adam Schiff”, and Nancy Pelosi, who he branded “a horrible person”, and described the FBI leadership as “top scum”. The FBI had investigated him for his contacts with the Russian state after an ex-MI6 officer handed them a dossier suggesting that Trump had potentially been compromised by Russian intelligence, and that the Trump campaign had links with the Russian state.
Among Democrats, the mood was darker. Senator Sanders, who leads the pack in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, stated that he was “disturbed” by what he described as a “sham process” and the precedent it set, remarking that it was “a trial without a single witness”. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said that Trump represents an “ongoing threat to American democracy”, while Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer stated that there will always be “a giant asterisk next to the President’s acquittal”. Left-wing public figures, such as Stephen Colbert and Beto O’Rourke, thanked Senator Mitt Romney for voting to convict, despite the fact that it ultimately changed little.
The result may have not necessarily have been in doubt by Wednesday, but its impact is indisputable. For the Democrats now, the focus must be on picking a candidate that can unseat Trump. For the Republicans, it will be to amplify the fact of the acquittal and maintain their hold on the White House come November.