U.S. Senators were delivering speeches Tuesday on whether President Donald Trump should be removed from office, as he himself prepared to deliver his annual State of the Union address later in the day before members of Congress.
The speeches by the senators, who are serving as the jurors in Trump's impeachment trial, are not officially part of the trial itself, and are unlikely to make much of a difference in the senators' expected acquittal of Trump when they cast a final vote on Wednesday.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who helped plan an abbreviated trial that didn't allow new witness testimony or evidence, said the impeachment charges against Trump do not “even approach a case for the first presidential removal in American history.”
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The House impeached Trump in December for allegedly abusing his powers and obstructing Congress. The Constitution allows Congress to remove a president from office for committing “high crimes and misdemeanors.”“
Washington Democrats think President Donald Trump committed a high crime or misdemeanor the moment … he defeated Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election,” McConnell said. “That is the original sin of this presidency, that he won and they lost.”
House Democrats prosecuting the impeachment case against Trump and his defense team both offered forceful closing arguments after two weeks of trial proceedings.
“If Americans believe that they don’t determine who is president, who is governor, who is senator, but some foreign country out of reach can join us on elections, that is the beginning of the end of democracy,” Democratic Senator Charles Schumer said shortly after McConnell’s remarks Tuesday.
Trump is accused of pressuring Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy during the July 25 call to open a corruption investigation into political rival and possible 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son, who worked for a Ukrainian energy company.
Trump allegedly withheld $391 million in military aid to Ukraine conditioning it on Zelenskiy publicly announcing a probe. No evidence against the Bidens has ever surfaced.
The U.S. assistance for Ukraine was formally frozen on July 25 under a legal provision known as an apportionment. It was eventually released without any announcement of a probe into the Bidens.
Democrats said reaching out to a foreign power to interfere in an election is an impeachable offense, but almost all Republicans disagree.
“The administration, its top people and Senate Republicans are all hiding the truth,” Senator Schumer said. “The charges are extremely serious. To interfere in an election, to blackmail a foreign country, to interfere in our elections gets at the very core of what our democracy is about.”
Despite the arguments, the impeachment outcome seems preordained, with 67 votes in the 100-member Senate needed for conviction, and no Republican calling for his ouster nine months ahead of the November presidential election.
The Wednesday vote will be on two articles of impeachment against Trump — that he abused the power of the presidency with the Ukraine request, and obstructed congressional review of his actions. With Trump's exoneration all but assured, the only question on the outcome appears to be whether any Democrats will vote to clear Trump, or possibly a Republican vote to convict him.
The highest-ranking Democrat in Congress, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, said recently that even if the Republican-majority Senate votes to acquit Trump, Democrats have succeeded in exposing Trump’s actions that they contend makes him unfit for the presidency or re-election.
Trump's lawyers, and the president himself, argue he did nothing wrong, and that his actions did not rise to the level of an impeachable offense. Trump has long described his call to Zelenskiy as "perfect."