Partisan rancour on display as senators explain their positions in Trump impeachment trial

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Senator Susan Collins, one of a handful of moderate Republicans, said she would vote for President Donald Trump's acquittal in his impeachment trial.
US Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (centre) walks from the Senate chamber on Feb 4, 2020. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - The US Senate's top Republican exhorted fellow senators on Tuesday (Feb 4) to acquit President Donald Trump in his impeachment trial, warning that the fate of the republic depended on it, even as his Democratic counterpart called Trump a threat to democracy.

The partisan rancour in the duelling speeches by Republican Senator Mitch McConnell and Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer underscored the wider polarisation in the country over Trump's impeachment on charges arising from his dealings with Ukraine.

McConnell urged the Senate, which is controlled by Trump's fellow Republicans and is expected to acquit the president in a vote on Wednesday, to stop what he called the Democrats' abuse of power in impeaching Trump in the House of Representatives.

The House impeached Trump on Dec 18 on charges of abuse of power for asking Ukraine to investigate political rival Joe Biden and his son Hunter and obstruction of Congress for blocking testimony and documents sought in the investigation.

Senators delivered a series of speeches on the Senate floor explaining how they will vote.

"We must vote to reject the House abuse of power, vote to protect our institutions, vote to reject new precedents that would reduce the framers' design to rubble, vote to keep factional fever from boiling over and scorching our republic,"said McConnell, the Senate majority leader.

Schumer, the Senate minority leader, spoke next. He said that if foreign election interference like the investigations Trump solicited made Americans believe that they are not the ones electing the nation's leaders, "that is the beginning of the end of democracy."

Trump has drawn almost uniform support against removal among Republican senators though several have called his actions wrong and inappropriate. The No. 2 Senate Republican, John Thune, seemed to hew toward this view.

"While we can debate the president's judgment when it comes to his dealings with Ukraine - or even conclude that his actions were inappropriate - the House's vague and overreaching impeachment charges do not meet the high bar set by the founders for removal from office," Thune said in his speech.

In his speech, Republican Senator Rand Paul stated the purported name of the anonymous whistleblower from the US intelligence community whose complaint about Trump's request to Ukraine triggered the House impeachment inquiry.

Paul last week put the name, reported by conservative media as the whistleblower, in a written question to be asked during the trial, but US Chief Justice John Roberts as the presiding officer declined to read it.

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Trump has called for the whistleblower's identity to be exposed. The intelligence community has not named the whistleblower, and Democrats have said identifying such individuals could expose them to retaliation and deter others from reporting wrongdoing within the government.

White House spokesman Hogan Gidley told reporters that Trump would not accept censure - a congressional rebuke short of removal floated by moderate Democratic Senator Joe Manchin.

Gidley said Trump has done nothing wrong.


Trump is seeking re-election on Nov 3. Biden, the former US vice-president, is a leading contender for the Democratic nomination to challenge Trump in the election.

McConnell expressed surprise at the Democrats' decision to impeach Trump, saying that his acquittal was always assured. A two-thirds vote is needed in the Senate to remove Trump from office and his fellow Republicans occupy 53 of the 100 seats.

McConnell echoed the arguments made by Trump's legal team that Democrats were seeking to annul the 2016 election in which Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton.

"Washington Democrats think President Donald Trump committed a high crime or misdemeanor the moment - the moment - he defeated Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election. That is the original sin of this presidency - that he won and they lost,"McConnell said.

The Constitution allows for the removal of a president for committing "high crimes and misdemeanors."

McConnell said he did disagree with the view offered by Trump's legal team that a president cannot be impeached without a violation of statutory law.

Democratic Senator Edward Markey said that if Republicans acquit Trump, "A majority in this chamber will have made President Trump a dictator."

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