Senate approves Trump impeachment trial; six Republicans join Democrats

The Senate voted on Tuesday to proceed with the second impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump for inciting the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, brushing aside complaints by Mr. Trump’s defense lawyers that Democrats are waging an unconstitutional effort to bar him from a political comeback and to disenfranchise his supporters.

After a sometimes emotional four hours of debate, senators voted 56-44 that it’s constitutional to put the former president on trial. Six Republicans joined all 50 Democrats in agreeing to move forward with the heart of the case, beginning Wednesday.

The six Republicans who voted in favor of the trial were Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Mitt Romney of Utah, Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania. 

In their first full-throated defense of Mr. Trump since the House impeached him on Jan 13, his lawyers said Democrats’ true motive is to eliminate the political opponent they fear the most in 2024 by disqualifying him from holding future office. Defense lawyer David Schoen said the nation “cannot possibly heal” with a trial of Mr. Trump.

“A great many Americans see this process for exactly what it is — a chance by a group of partisan politicians seeking to eliminate Donald Trump from the American political scene and seeking to disenfranchise 74 million-plus American voters and those who dare to share their political beliefs and vision of America,” Mr. Schoen told senators. “This trial will tear this country apart perhaps like we have only seen once before in our history.”

He said the trial of a private citizen is “nothing less than the political weaponization of the impeachment process — pure, raw sport fueled by the misguided idea of party over country.”

But Democrats said Mr. Trump must be held accountable for inciting a large mob of his supporters to attack the Capitol as lawmakers were counting the Electoral College results of President Biden’s victory. Five people died in the attack, including a Capitol police officer and four Trump supporters — one of whom was shot by police. Two other police officers later took their own lives.

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York called the impeachment case “the gravest charges ever brought against a president of the United States in American history.”

Despite the dramatic rhetoric, Mr. Trump’s acquittal is not in doubt. Seventeen Republicans would need to join all 50 Democrats to reach the two-thirds vote needed to convict Mr. Trump.

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