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Most U.S. Senate Republicans vote against holding 2nd impeachment trial against Donald Trump

U.S. Senate Republicans voted overwhelmingly Tuesday against moving forward with Donald Trump's historic second impeachment trial, making clear a conviction of the former president for "incitement of insurrection" is unlikely.

Democrat set to preside over the impeachment trial taken to hospital hours after vote

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks to reporters on Tuesday. McConnell was among the Republicans who voted that putting Donald Trump on trial would be unconstitutional. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

All but five U.S. Senate Republicans voted in favour of an effort to dismiss Donald Trump's historic second impeachment trial on Tuesday, making clear a conviction of the former president for "incitement of insurrection" after the deadly Capitol siege on Jan. 6 is unlikely.

The 55-45 procedural vote to set aside an objection from Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul puts the Senate on record as declaring the proceedings constitutional and means the trial on Trump's impeachment, the first of a former president, will begin as scheduled the week of Feb. 8. The House impeached him two weeks ago for inciting deadly riots in the Capitol on Jan. 6 when he told his supporters to "fight like hell" to overturn his election defeat.

But at the same time, the final tally shows it is unlikely there will be enough votes for conviction, which requires the support of all Democrats and 17 Republicans, or two-thirds of the Senate. While most Republicans criticized Trump shortly after the attack, many of them have since rushed to defend him, showing the former president's enduring sway over the Republican Party.

"If more than 34 Republicans vote against the constitutionality of the proceeding, the whole thing's dead on arrival," Paul said shortly before the vote." Paul said Democrats "probably should rest their case and present no case at all."

"I think this was indicative of where a lot of people's heads are," said South Dakota Sen. John Thune, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, after the vote.

Sen. Rand Paul lost the procedural vote he prompted with an objection that would have declared the impeachment proceedings unconstitutional. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

The five Republicans who voted with Democrats to allow the trial to proceed were Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Mitt Romney of Utah, Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania — all recent critics of the former president and his effort to overturn President Joe Biden's win.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, who has said Trump "provoked" the riots and indicated he is open to conviction, voted with Paul to move toward dismissing the trial.

Presiding Democrat taken to hospital

Late Tuesday, the presiding officer at the trial, Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, was taken to the hospital for observation after not feeling well at his office, spokesman David Carle said in a statement. The 80-year-old senator was examined by the Capitol's attending physician, who recommended he be taken to the hospital out of an abundance of caution, he said. Carle said Leahy was later sent home "after a thorough examination" and was looking forward to getting back to work.

Many Republican senators, including Paul, have challenged the legitimacy of the trial and questioned whether Trump's repeated demands to overturn Joe Biden's election really constitute "incitement of insurrection."

So what seemed for some Democrats like an open-and-shut case that played out for the world on live television is running into a Republican Party that feels very different. Not only are there legal concerns, but senators are wary of crossing the former president and his legions of followers.  

As Republicans said the trial is not legitimate, Democrats rejected that argument, pointing to an 1876 impeachment of a secretary of war who had already resigned and to opinions by many legal scholars.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, seen here in January 2020, was taken to hospital late Tuesday after complaining of feeling unwell. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Democrats also say that a reckoning of the first invasion of the Capitol since the War of 1812, perpetrated by rioters egged on by a president as electoral college votes were being tallied, is necessary.

On Monday, the nine House Democrats prosecuting the case against Trump carried the sole impeachment charge of "incitement of insurrection" across the Capitol in a solemn and ceremonial march along the same halls the rioters ransacked three weeks ago.

The lead House prosecutor, Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, stood before the Senate to describe the violent events of Jan. 6 — five people died — and read the House resolution charging "high crimes and misdemeanours."

Republicans came to Trump's legal defence.

Sen. John Cornyn of Texas asked if Congress starts holding impeachment trials of former officials, what's next: "Could we go back and try President Obama?"

Besides, he suggested, Trump has already been held to account. "One way in our system you get punished is losing an election."

For Democrats the tone, tenor and length of the trial so early in Biden's presidency poses its own challenge, forcing them to strike a balance between their vow to hold Trump accountable and their eagerness to deliver on the new administration's priorities following their sweep of control of the House, Senate and White House.

Leaders in both parties agreed to a short delay in the proceedings, which serves their political and practical interests, even as National Guard troops remain at the Capitol because of security threats to lawmakers ahead of the trial.

The start date gives Trump's new legal team time to prepare its case, while also providing more than a month's distance from the passions of the bloody riot. For the Democratic-led Senate, the intervening weeks provide prime time to confirm some of Biden's key Cabinet nominees.

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