A move by Rand Paul, a Republican Senator, to stop the second impeachment trial of Donald Trump, former US President, met a bipartisan resistance of 55 senators on Tuesday.
The motion, which got the backing of 45 Republican senators, was an indication that it might be difficult to convict Trump of inciting insurrection at the Capitol Hill on January 6.
Paul’s motion on the Senate floor would have required the chamber to vote on whether Trump’s trial in February violates the U.S. Constitution, but the Democratic-led Senate blocked the motion in a 55-45 vote.
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Five Republican lawmakers joined Democrats to reject the move, far short of the 17 Republicans who would be needed to vote to convict Trump on an impeachment charge regarding Capitol assault that left six people dead.
“It’s one of the few times in Washington where a loss is actually a victory,” Paul later told reporters. “Forty-five votes means the impeachment trial is dead on arrival.”
Paul and other Republicans had argued that the proceedings were unconstitutional because Trump left office last Wednesday and the trial would be overseen by Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy, instead of U.S. chief justice, John Roberts.
Leahy, 80, was hospitalised on Tuesday evening after falling sick, his spokesman David Carle said in a statement, which did not provide further details.
Some Republican senators who backed Paul’s motion, said their vote on Tuesday did not indicate how they might come down on Trump’s guilt or innocence after a trial.
“It’s a totally different issue as far as I’m concerned,” Republican Senator Rob Portman told reporters.
The senators voted after being sworn in as jurors for the impeachment trial.
Democratic Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer, who moved to thwart Paul’s motion, dismissed the Republican constitutional claim as ‘flat-out wrong’ and said it would provide ‘a constitutional get-out-of-jail-free card’ for presidents guilty of misconduct.
There is a debate among scholars over whether the Senate can hold a trial for Trump now that he has left office. Many experts have said ‘late impeachment’ is constitutional, arguing that presidents who engage in misconduct late in their terms should not be immune from the very process set out in the Constitution for holding them accountable.
The Constitution makes clear that impeachment proceedings can result in disqualification from holding office in the future, so there is still an active issue for the Senate to resolve, those scholars have said.
Fellow Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski, who has been critical of Trump, rejected Paul’s move.
“My review of it has led me to conclude that it is constitutional, in recognising that impeachment is not solely about removing a president. It is also a matter of political consequence,” Murkowski told reporters on Tuesday.
She joined fellow Republicans Mitt Romney, Susan Collins, Ben Sasse and Patrick Toomey in opposing Paul.
Trump is the only president to have been impeached by the House of Representatives twice and the first to face a trial after leaving power, with the possibility of being disqualified from future public office if convicted by two-thirds of the Senate.
He was acquitted by the then Republican-controlled Senate last February on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress arising from his request that Ukraine investigate Democratic rival Joe Biden and his son.
The House approved a single article of impeachment, the equivalent of an indictment in a criminal trial on Jan. 13, accusing him of inciting an insurrection with an incendiary speech to supporters before they stormed the Capitol which claimed the lives of two police officers and four others.