WASHINGTON — A vigorous debate behind the scenes at President Donald Trump’s Senate impeachment trial on Friday was whether senators would explain from the Senate floor their votes to acquit or convict the president.
Trump will be acquitted. Just not on Friday night.
The final votes on the two articles of impeachment — abuse of power and obstruction of Congress — will be Wednesday at 3 p.m. CST.
The Senate will reconvene as a court of impeachment at 10 a.m. CST Monday for closing arguments. After that, until Wednesday, the Senate will revert to being its usual legislative body — so senators, muzzled during the trial, can explain their votes.
This much will be a fact on Wednesday night: Trump will still be the third president of the United States to be impeached and nothing he can tweet will change that.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell did not have the backing of his members to push through Trump’s acquittal vote on Friday.
Up to the Senate witness vote on Friday, everything was scripted from the start — from the number of hours for arguments, to senators knowing in advance they would be submitting written questions Wednesday and Thursday.
Senate Republicans, as expected by Friday morning, voted 51-49 to defeat a motion to call witnesses; Republicans Susan Collins of Maine and Mitt Romney of Utah were the only defectors. Though there was no suspense to the outcome, I found the vote dramatic, witnessing history from the Senate gallery as each senator stood to vote when his or her name was called.
The Senate vote officially affirmed the success of Trump’s stonewalling strategy. His trial will conclude in a few days with the Senate calling not a single witness, and the Trump administration forced to turn over no documents.
After that witness roll call, McConnell declared a recess subject to the call of the chair because it was time for some dealmaking. Democrats and Republicans retreated into their meetings to figure out the road ahead.
Democrats had been pressing for senators to have time to explain their votes. Earlier on Friday Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer told reporters: “Members have an obligation to tell the American people and to tell the people of their states why they are voting.”
Later on Friday, Schumer tried again to force witnesses and documents, failing but getting Republicans on record in a series of resolutions. Schumer asked Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, who is presiding, if he would vote in case of a tie. Roberts said he would not.
The Senate has the weekend off after a week marked by marathon sessions stretching some days until 11 p.m. EST.
That means the four Democratic senators running for president can sprint back to Iowa this weekend to campaign before the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses Monday night.
The 2020 rivals who have been forced to stay in Washington for the trial are Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Michael Bennet.
What this timetable means is that Trump will deliver his State of the Union address on Tuesday night before a joint session of Congress with his case not yet officially decided but with the outcome known. There never were 67 Senate votes to convict him.
Trump will be in the House of Representatives, whose Democratic members voted to impeach him. He will be speaking from a rostrum with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi behind him. It will be another historic day in the Trump presidency, where he has successfully defied every norm.