The U.S. Senate on Tuesday voted 55-45 to go ahead with Donald Trump's second impeachment trial, but only five Republican senators voted with Democrats, signaling that he might be acquitted because it would take at least 17 Republicans to secure conviction.
Trump's trial on the charge that he incited the Jan 6 Capitol riot isn't scheduled to begin until Feb 9, but senators were sworn in Tuesday for the first-ever trial of a former president. They immediately voted on an objection raised by Rand Paul of Kentucky that questioned the constitutional basis for the impeachment and removal of a former president.
"Impeachment is for removal from office, and the accused here has already left office," he argued on the floor, adding that the trial would "drag our great country down into the gutter of rancor and vitriol, the likes of which has never been seen in our nation's history".
After the vote, Paul said it showed that there aren't enough Republican senators willing to convict Trump. "Forty-five votes mean the impeachment trial is dead on arrival," he said.
"We're excited about it," Paul said. "It was one of the few times in Washington where a loss is actually a victory."
The 45 Republicans included Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who recently said Trump was to blame for the riot at the Capitol.
Senator John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 2 Republican senator, said he thought the vote was "indicative" of where Republicans are, but it doesn't "bind" them into voting a particular way.
Republican Senator Ron Portman of Ohio said he thought Tuesday's vote and the question of acquittal or conviction are a "totally different issue".
Two-thirds of the Senate, or 67 senators, must vote for conviction for Trump to face punishments including being barred from holding federal office in the future.
The House impeached Trump two weeks ago for inciting a deadly riot in the Capitol when he told his supporters to "fight like hell" to overturn his election defeat. It was the second time he has been impeached.
The Republican senators who voted with all 50 Democrats to affirm the trial as constitutional and allow it to move forward were Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Mitt Romney of Utah, Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania.
"My review of it has led me to conclude it is constitutional in recognizing impeachment is not solely about removing a president, it is also a matter of political consequence," said Murkowski.
Toomey declined to comment to reporters after the vote but indicated in a statement that his vote doesn't mean he will convict Trump at the end of the trial.
"When President Trump's impeachment trial begins on February 9th, I will again fulfill my responsibility to consider the arguments made by his lawyers and the House managers," he said.
Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer of New York said, "Some of my Republican colleagues have latched onto a fringe legal theory that the Senate does not have the constitutional power to hold a trial because Donald Trump is no longer in office.'
"This argument has been roundly debunked by constitutional scholars from the left, right and center. It defies precedent, historic practice and basic common sense," he added.