New York, Jan 27 : Five Republicans joined Democrats to fight off a challenge to the impeachment trial of former US President Donald Trump voting down a fellow-Republican's attempt to block it, but the vote also showed that the attempt to convict him could fail.
The Senate voted 55 to 45 on Tuesday in the body evenly divided between the parties to quash the attempt to stop Trump's second impeachment trial on constitutional grounds. Even though the vote was successful, it was 12 short of the 67 votes -- the two-thirds majority -- showing that Democrats may not have the votes they would need to eventually convict Trump.
That will make the trial set to begin in the week of February 8 a symbolic attempt at punishing Trump for the riot by his supporters rather than convict and ban him from ever running for office as the Democrats want.
Trump was acquitted at his trial last year because the Democrats couldn't get the two-thirds majority.
The impeachment -- a charge sheet for a judicial-style trial by the Senate -- that was voted by the House of Representatives accuses Trump of inciting an "insurrection" when he spoke at a rally of his supporters before a section of them stormed the Capitol on January 6 while Congress was ratifying the electoral college votes electing Joe Biden as president.
Republican Senator Rand Paul, who mounted the challenge, asserted that under the constitution only a person holding an office could be impeached and since Trump was now a private citizen he couldn't be.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, dismissed his argument asserting that "constitutional text, precedent and basic common sense" dictate the trial is legal.
Paul said that the impeachment was "dead on arrival" because even though his attempt was defeated, the Democrats could muster only a simple majority and not two-thirds.
Speaking to reporters, he ruled out any more Republicans switching sides, asking "If you voted that it was unconstitutional, how in the world would you ever vote to convict somebody for this?" Reflecting the polarisation in the nation, Paul in the Senate called the Democrats "angry, unhinged partisans, deranged." One of the five Republicans who voted with the Democrats was a former presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, with whom Trump had tangled often and insulted.
If the vote to dismiss Paul's challenge had been strictly along party lines at 50-50, Vice President Kamala Harris, who is also the president of the Senate, would have had to come in to cast the tie-breaking vote.
President Pro Tempore of the Senate, Patrick Leahy, who has been presiding over the impeachment trial took ill later in the evening and was hospitalised. The 80-year-old has been in the Senate for 46 years making him the longest-serving Democrat.
Since Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts declined to preside over the Senate trial as he had at the first impeachment of Trump last year, Leahy was tapped for the job.
Earlier on Tuesday, the senators were sworn in as jurors for the trial of Trump and summons were formally made for Trump.
The nearly two-week period before the trial resumes gives Trump time to prepare his defence and for the Senate to continue with the confirmation of Biden's top officials.
(Arul Louis can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter at @arulouis)
-- The story has been published from a wire feed without any modifications to the text