A version of this story appeared in CNN’s Impeachment Watch newsletter. To get it in your inbox, sign up for free here.
President Donald Trump was acquitted Wednesday by the US Senate of the two impeachment counts passed by the House: abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
Just the third President to face impeachment, Trump will remain in office – like Bill Clinton and Andrew Johnson – but he was robbed of the ability to dismiss the impeachment as a partisan hoax by Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, the former Republican presidential nominee, who sided with every Democrat and agreed that Trump abused his power and was guilty of “an appalling abuse of public trust.”
Read a full blow-by-blow of the day here.
52-48 vote on abuse of power – That the President would survive the impeachment was never really in question since Republicans hold a majority in the Senate and it would have taken a supermajority of two-thirds to convict him (that’s 67 senators).
53-47 on obstruction of Congress – The vote on the second article of impeachment – obstruction of Congress – followed party lines after Romney sided with Republicans on that question.
Refresher: The articles of impeachment against Trump
Romney made history as the first senator to vote to remove a President of his own party.
The GOP has changed – That he was the Republican nominee for President in 2012 shows just how far the party has traveled under Trump.
Factional fever – Before the vote, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell argued against impeachment and said it was an assault on the institutions of US government creating policy Democrats don’t like.
“We simply cannot let factional fever break the institution,” he said, later adding, “I hope we will look back on this vote and say this was the day that fever began to break. I hope we will not say this was just the beginning.”
Trump’s America – The President brushed off his impeachment, ignored the subject and painted his picture of the country at his State of the Union Address Tuesday night. I went line-by-line through the speech to cut through the hyperbole – “poverty is plummeting,” he said – and put it all in context. I also made a list of 13 key things he forgot to mention.
What we learned – Americans learned many things about what Trump and his associates did in Ukraine to pressure that country’s leader to investigate Trump’s US political opponents. We also learned some key truths about what our politics are like now. Read that here.
Is it time to freak out? Maybe.
Moderate Democrats vote to convict
On-the-fence Democrats – Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Doug Jones of Alabama – all voted to convict the President.
“The facts are clear; security aid was withheld from Ukraine in an attempt to benefit the President’s political campaign,” Sinema said in a statement to the Arizona Republic. “While White House attorneys claim this behavior is not serious, it is dangerous to the fundamental principles of American democracy to use the power of the federal government for personal or political gain.”
Romney laid out his reasoning in a thoughtful Senate floor speech Wednesday afternoon, just before the impeachment vote took place. Interviews with Fox News and other publications went live around the same time.
It was clear he struggled with the decision, which he called among the most difficult of his life.
A search for exculpatory evidence – He said he could have been swayed by exculpatory evidence if the White House had provided any. And Romney was one of two senators who voted to hear witnesses at the trial.
But at the end of the day, he pointed to his faith and how history will judge him. He does not want to be viewed as putting his party over his moral compass.
History’s rebuke – “Were I to ignore the evidence that has been presented, and disregard what I believe my oath and the Constitution demands of me for the sake of a partisan end, it would, I fear, expose my character to history’s rebuke and the censure of my own conscience,” he said.
Romney vs. Collins, Murkowski, Alexander
Romney’s decision to abandon the party line drew a sharp contrast with his GOP colleagues who criticized Trump’s behavior but opposed the impeachment.
Learned his lesson? – We’ve already examined the reasoning of Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Lamar Alexander. On Wednesday there was Maine Sen. Susan Collins, who said on CBS News that Trump “will be much more cautious in the future.”
Probably not – South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott is another Republican senator who voted to acquit Trump even though he doesn’t think the call with the Ukrainian President was “perfect.”
But Scott was a little more clear-eyed in his expectations.
“I think he thinks it was a perfect call,” Scott told Jake Tapper on CNN. “I think he actually believes that. I don’t know that you should expect anything different from President Trump.”
Republicans close ranks around Trump
Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump, Jr., called on Twitter for Romney to be kicked out of the party that once nominated him as its presidential nominee.
“Mitt Romney is forever bitter that he will never be POTUS. He was too weak to beat the Democrats then so he’s joining them now. He’s now officially a member of the resistance & should be expelled from the @GOP.”
Family split – Romney’s niece, Ronna McDaniel, who used to go by Ronna Romney McDaniel, is the current Republican National Committee chair. “This is not the first time I have disagreed with Mitt, and I imagine it will not be the last,” she said on Twitter. “The bottom line is President Trump did nothing wrong, and the Republican Party is more united than ever behind him. I, along with the @GOP, stand with President Trump.”
#RecallRomney – Activist voices on Twitter immediately started a #RecallRomney hashtag.
Utah is one of the most conservative states in the country, but the concentration of religious Mormons there also make its relationship with Trump complicated. Romney doesn’t face reelection until 2024.
What’s next for us?
The impeachment is over, but this story is not. The American system of government has been challenged to deal with a singular President and a divided country that will decide whether he should get another four years in the White House.