President Trump was acquitted of all charges this week by the U.S. Senate. This concludes the four-month impeachment inquiry announced by house Democrats on September 24. The first charge, Abuse of Power, argued Trump should be removed from office for using $400 million in congressionally approved military aid to pressure Ukraine into an investigation of Joe Biden as a smear campaign against his potential 2020 opponent. The second offense, Obstruction of Congress, argued that Trump’s refusal to give up documents and witnesses to the investigation was a cover-up and an unconstitutional defiance of Congress’ powers to oversee the White House.
The votes on the articles were 52-48 and 53-47 respectively, falling well short of the 67 votes that would be required to convict the president and remove him from office. They fell strictly along party lines, with the notable exception of Mitt Romney, a Republican Senator from Utah and the 2012 Republican presidential nominee. Romney got emotional on the Senate floor preceding his vote to convict on the first article of impeachment, which will do him no favors among Republicans. “I am sure to hear abuse from the president and his supporters. Does anyone seriously believe I would consent to these consequences other than from an inescapable conviction that my oath before God demanded it of me?” he said, calling the president’s actions “the most abusive and destructive violation of one’s oath of office that I can imagine.”
The tone from other Republicans was very different. Some, like White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham declared that “Today, the sham impeachment attempt concocted by Democrats ended in the full vindication and exoneration of President Donald J. Trump.” Other Republicans, such as Rob Portman of Ohio conceded that “I have said consistently for the past four months, since the Zelensky transcript was first released, that I believe that some of the president’s actions in this case — including asking a foreign country to investigate a potential political opponent and the delay of aid to Ukraine — were wrong and inappropriate. But I do not believe that the president’s actions rise to the level of removing a duly-elected president from office and taking him off the ballot in the middle of an election.” Others still, such as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, refused to answer the question of wrongdoing whatsoever. “Listen, we voted,” McConnell said. “It’s time to move on … as far as I’m concerned it’s in the rear-view mirror.”
It wasn’t in the rear-view mirror for Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer though, who said following the vote, “Now that our Republican colleagues have rejected a fair trial… there’s a giant asterisk next to the president’s acquittal. The asterisk says he was acquitted without facts. He was acquitted without a fair trial. And it means his acquittal is virtually valueless.”
In that, he may be right. A Quinnipiac University poll from last week showed that 75 percent of Americans supported evidence and witnesses, including a plurality of Republicans. On the other hand, Trump’s approval rating is at one of its highest points since inauguration – 43.7 percent according to FiveThirtyEight’s approval tracker. It will take some time to complete public polling about the results of the trial, but regardless of the political outcome the debate over Trump’s conduct is sure to continue throughout the election year. Evidence, such as former National Security Advisor, John Bolton’s book set to be released in mid-March will continue to come out throughout the year (though early indications show that some of Bolton’s book may be censored by the White House), and Democrats in the House may still elect to subpoena Bolton themselves.
As with all things in politics, this vote isn’t the end of the discussion, but rather the start of a new one. What that discussion looks like, and what its impacts are, remains to be seen.