The US Senate has rejected a Republican attempt to dismiss Donald Trump’s historic second impeachment trial.
The vote allows the case on “incitement of insurrection” to move forward but also foreshadows that there may not be enough votes to convict him.
The 55-45 procedural vote to set aside an objection from Senator Rand Paul puts the Senate on record as declaring the proceedings constitutional and means the trial on Mr Trump’s impeachment, the first ever of a former president, will begin as scheduled in the week of February 8.
The House of Representatives impeached him two weeks ago for inciting deadly riots in the US Capitol in Washington on January 6 when he told his supporters to “fight like hell” to overturn his election defeat.
At the same time, it 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 criticised Mr Trump shortly after the attack, many of them have rushed to defend him in the trial, 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,” Mr Paul said shortly before the vote.
He said Democrats “probably should rest their case and present no case at all”.
The senators took oaths on Tuesday to ensure “impartial justice” as jurors in the trial, proceedings that will test Republican loyalty to the former president for the first time after the deadly siege at the US Capitol.
Many Republican senators, including Mr Paul, have challenged the legitimacy of the trial and questioned whether Mr 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.
Security remains tight at the Capitol.
On Monday, the nine House Democrats prosecuting the case against Mr 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, Representative Jamie Raskin, stood before the Senate to describe the violent events of January 6 – five people died – and read the House resolution charging “high crimes and misdemeanours”.
For Democrats the tone, tenor and length of the trial so early in Mr Biden’s presidency poses its own challenge, forcing them to strike a balance between their vow to hold Mr 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.
Chief Justice John Roberts is not presiding at the trial, as he did during Mr Trump’s first impeachment, potentially affecting the gravitas of the proceedings.
The shift is said to be in keeping with protocol because Mr Trump is no longer in office.
Instead, Senator Patrick Leahy, who serves in the largely ceremonial role of Senate president pro tempore, was sworn in on Tuesday.
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