For weeks, Republicans had crowed that some House Democrats had strayed from the party line on the December impeachment votes, while GOP lawmakers stuck together. On Wednesday, the tables turned.
“It is the first Senate [presidential] impeachment trial where guilt was voted on a bipartisan basis,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.). “I think that is a historic step, undeniable by the president.”
Meanwhile, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) — one of many Republicans who decried the partisan House vote — said after the vote, “It’s a nice talking point, but it’s immaterial.”
Trump and his GOP allies indeed won the impeachment war, using their 53-seat majority to easily secure an acquittal vote. But they lost a key late skirmish by failing to win any Democratic allies, and losing Romney along the way.
By the time Romney made his intentions public, shortly after 2 p.m. Wednesday, the roster of potential Democratic defectors had narrowed. Jones had shocked the political world by winning a 2017 special election in a heavily pro-Trump state, and many in the GOP were counting on him to acquit — if only out of political self-preservation.
But Jones announced Wednesday morning he would instead convict — a decision that will compound the difficult task of keeping his seat later this year, when his name will appear alongside Trump’s on the Alabama ballot.
In a floor speech Wednesday morning and in subsequent remarks to reporters, the former civil rights lawyer and federal prosecutor said he tried to set aside politics and focus on the facts of the allegations against Trump.
“Candidly to my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, I fear that moral courage, country before party, is a rare commodity these days,” Jones said on the floor. “We can write about it and talk about it in speeches and in the media, but it is harder to put into action when political careers may be on the line.”
In the end, he concluded, “the evidence clearly proves that the president used the weight of his office and the weight of the United States government to seek to coerce a foreign government to interfere in our election for his personal political benefit.”
“His actions were more than simply inappropriate,” he added, “they were an abuse of power.”
Sinema, a Senate freshman, said virtually nothing about the trial since it began, when she pledged in a written statement to “treat this process with the gravity and impartiality that our oaths demand.”
Her silence — and the fact that she has broken with her party on some important votes, such as the confirmation of Attorney General William P. Barr — fueled speculation that she might vote to acquit Trump.
But Sinema’s statement betrayed no lack of confidence in the House’s case: “The facts are clear; security aid was withheld from Ukraine in an attempt to benefit the president’s political campaign,” she wrote in a statement. “While White House attorneys claim this behavior is not serious, it is dangerous to the fundamental principles of American democracy to use the power of the federal government for personal or political gain. Worse, they failed to assure the American people that this behavior will not continue and that future national security decisions will be made free from personal interests.”
That left Manchin, who represents a state where Trump racked up his largest victory margin in 2016 and perhaps the only congressional Democrat who has been on friendly speaking terms with Trump.
Manchin openly aired his agony on the Senate floor Monday, saying in a speech that he considered Trump’s alleged solicitation of investigations from Ukraine to be inappropriate and worthy of censure but perhaps not worthy of the politically divisive measure of impeachment.
“I am truly struggling with this decision and will come to a conclusion reluctantly,” he said.
Finally, just moments before senators assembled for the final votes, Manchin issued a statement that the case presented by House Democrats “clearly supports the charges brought against the President” and that he would vote to convict.
“I take no pleasure in these votes, and am saddened this is the legacy we leave our children and grandchildren. I have always wanted this President, and every President to succeed, but I deeply love our country and must do what I think is best for the nation,” he said.
Speaking to reporters after the vote, Manchin said he found the facts presented “overwhelming” and was swayed in large part by the White House’s decision to oppose calling additional witnesses at the Senate trial.
“I’ve never seen a trial where somebody wants to defend himself with their defense counsel not bringing witnesses and documents that would be able to do that,” he said. “So when I looked at everything, there was no other conclusion that I could come to.”
Manchin denied that he had taken his political future into account. A 72-year-old former governor, he will not face reelection until 2024.
“It’s not whether I like the president. I’ve always had a good relationship. But I love my country, and I have an obligation, responsibility, duties to my country,” he said, adding: “If this was a political decision, it was the wrong decision.”
Senator Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), who has a close relationship with Manchin, said Wednesday he learned of Manchin’s decision when it became public.
“I didn’t know where he’d come out,” he said. “I told him that he should just wrestle with his conscience . . . with God, and come to the conclusion to do the right thing. And I told him we’d be friends no matter what.”
As Wednesday dawned, Jones was the only undecided senator seeking reelection in 2020. The other three wild cards — Manchin, Romney and Sinema — each won election in 2018, and thus have more than four years to insulate themselves from the political ramifications of their vote.
But Senate observers debated whether that would make them more or less likely to break party ranks.
For Trump and Republicans, a bipartisan acquittal would have been a positive coda to the months-long impeachment process, while for Democrats, unity on Senate floor bolsters their effort to portray the GOP as wholly beholden to Trump and unwilling to stand up to him on matters of national security and constitutional wrongdoing.
The reaction to Jones’s decision Wednesday put on immediate display the political stakes for the remaining wavering senators.
Jones was immediately lambasted by his Republican rivals and even the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., who called him “former senator Doug Jones” on Twitter.
Former GOP senator Jeff Sessions, the onetime attorney general who is running to unseat Jones, called him “a foot soldier” for national Democrats, and said Jones “has made it clear that he is in the U.S. Senate to represent Washington Democrats, not the people of Alabama.”
“This is the final straw,” said another GOP rival, Rep. Bradley Byrne (Ala.). “Doug Jones continues to show his true colors and put his liberal D.C. buddies ahead of the people of Alabama.”
Leaving the Senate floor Wednesday, Jones said he was not concerned about the effect his decision would have on his reelection prospects.
“I’m making a decision based on what I think is right or wrong,” he told reporters. “Y’all are the ones that care more about the politics and the elections, and sometimes even the media should put this in nonpartisan terms.”
Jones said he came to a decision only days earlier after hours of careful review with his staff, and he dismissed the concerns of some Republican senators that the impeachment charges had emerged from a largely party-line House vote.
“This whole process has been partisan, but make no mistake: You know, partisanship, like bipartisanship, is a two-way street,” he said. “Yeah, there were some partisan Democrats, but doggone it, the president of the United States and Republicans made this as partisan as anybody, and that is unfortunate.”