Republican Senate leaders are increasingly confident that former President Trump won’t be at risk of conviction when his impeachment trial begins next month, expecting the votes to stay largely the same as Tuesday’s 55 to 45 test vote over the constitutionality of the trial.
Tuesday’s vote, forced by GOP Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky over whether the trial was constitutional, forced Republicans to go on the record about the trial two weeks before it truly begins.
Just five Republicans split with Paul to oppose his point of order that the trial of an ex-president was unconstitutional, in the clearest sign to date most Republicans aren’t likely to consider convicting Trump and barring him from running for office again.
Senate GOP Whip John Thune told reporters Wednesday he didn’t expect the final vote to shift much from Tuesday, which would leave the Senate well short of the 17 Republicans needed for a two-thirds vote to convict.
“I can’t see it,” Republican Sen. John Cornyn said of the Senate reaching 67 votes for conviction. “I think there are serious constitutional and prudential questions that I’m most worried about. I don’t want to set a precedent here where you try private citizens nor censure them after they’ve left office. Once that weapon is unleashed then you can expect that to set the floor for future congresses doing it to other presidents.”
Asked if Trump’s actions leading up to the January 6 riots were defensible, Cornyn said, “I’m not going to defend them… I think he’s been held accountable in the court of public opinion already.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who said privately leading up to the trial he was keeping an open mind, has not said why he voted with Paul on Tuesday, when he also declined to say whether Trump committed impeachable offenses.
Asked whether supporting Paul was a sign he wouldn’t convict or if he was still open to hearing the evidence, McConnell told CNN Wednesday, “Well, the trial hasn’t started yet. And I intend to participate in that and listen to the evidence.”