WASHINGTON — After a vote Tuesday suggested the Senate may likely acquit former President Donald Trump at his impeachment trial, Democratic senators searched Wednesday for ways to make their case against him.
Many Republicans and Democrats conceded a Trump conviction seemed unlikely given the vote. But Senate Democratic leaders doubled down on moving forward with the impeachment trial while others suggested they try something else.
One path for Democrats is to pursue the trial scheduled to resume Feb. 9 – describing the violence that left five dead and playing videos of the Capitol under siege – as a way to document Trump’s role in the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol. Another option some senators are exploring is to censure Trump, a more modest step than conviction aimed at gaining more bipartisan support.
Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., said he was exploring offering a resolution censuring Trump as a punishment that could attract more Republicans to climb on board than conviction and possible prohibition from future office. But Kaine said he wouldn’t offer his proposal unless at least 10 Republicans joined.
“I've drafted something, I haven’t filed it yet because I'm trying to get other people's ideas about what should be in it,” Kaine said. “But I'm hoping that we might find, we might find it and it could be an alternative.”
His comments come after the Senate voted 55 to 45 Tuesday to reject a motion from Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who challenged the impeachment trial as unconstitutional because Trump has already left office. Paul lost the vote, but it signaled Trump won’t be convicted of inciting insurrection at the Capitol, which would require a two-thirds majority.
Kaine called the vote “clarifying” that there won’t be 67 votes to convict Trump. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said “you pretty much know where it's going to go.” When asked if the same 45 Republicans would vote to acquit, Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., said “that would be my guess, yeah.” Paul called the trial “dead on arrival.”
Despite the vote, Democrats are pressing forward.
Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin questioned whether the 45 Republicans who voted to avoid the trial agreed with Paul’s argument, are still loyal to Trump or "fear" his followers.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., insisted the trial would go forward.
“The evidence against the former president will be presented, in living color, for the nation and every one of us to see,” Schumer said. “Once again, no one will be able to avert their gaze from what Mr. Trump said and did, and the consequences of his actions. We will all watch what happened, we will listen to what happened, and then, we will vote.”
Durbin offered an overview of the House impeachment case against Trump from the Senate floor that was occupied three weeks earlier by a riotous mob. He recalled how the Secret Service hustled former Vice President Mike Pence out of the chamber while hearing a challenge to counting Electoral College votes. Senators who fled down the stairs could see through a window the mob that Trump is alleged to have exhorted to the Capitol.
“How can anyone who was in this chamber Jan. 6 really argue that something critical and important and horrific occurred?” Durbin asked. “It was his last desperate gasp to keep the White House, even at the expense of the Constitution and reality.”
The Senate will judge Trump’s role at the trial. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., hasn’t said how he would vote at the trial or whether his vote in support of Paul’s motion signaled a vote for acquittal.
“Well, the trial hasn’t started yet,” he said. “And I intend to participate in that and listen to the evidence.”
One of the five Republicans who voted against Paul’s motion, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, is working with Kaine to use censure as an alternative to a trial.
“It seems to me that there is some value in looking at an alternative to proceeding with the trial,” Collins said. “If the outcome of the trial is already obvious ... then the question is, is there another way to express condemnation of the president's activities with regard to the riot and the pressure that he put on state officials?"
Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, another one of the five Republicans who joined Democrats in voting against Paul’s motion, said she hasn’t seen the proposed language, but would consider it.
“I’ll have to see exactly what the censure language is,” Murkowski said.
Avoiding a trial might be a lost cause. “I appreciate their thinking outside the box," said Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss. "We’re past that point.”
The Democratic efforts come against a background of opposition or indifference by some. The second-ranking Democratic leader, Durbin, said a man at the Chicago airport last week urged him to let it go.
“Someone seated nearby said, ‘Hey, senator, get over it. Let this president ride off into the sunset.’ Those were his words,” Durbin said. “It’s hard to get over it if you’ve lived it. Many of us in this chamber did.”