WASHINGTON — Florida’s two senators voted to acquit former President Donald Trump on Saturday, as Rick Scott and Marco Rubio stood with a twice-impeached president who continues to exert immense influence over the Republican Party.
Five weeks after a pro-Trump mob bent on overturning the results of the 2020 election entered the Senate chamber with weapons and zip ties, forcing Rubio, Scott and their colleagues to evacuate, the two senators declared that any effort to convict Trump for inciting an insurrection was unconstitutional.
Their vote, alongside 41 of their Senate GOP colleagues, was never in doubt. Before the trial began Tuesday, Rubio and Scott were clear on how they would rule as jurors, with Rubio calling the trial “stupid.”
“I voted to acquit former President Trump because I will not allow my anger over the criminal attack of January 6th nor the political intimidation from the left to lead me into supporting a dangerous constitutional precedent,” Rubio said in a statement shortly after the vote. “The election is over. A new president is in the White House and a new Congress has been sworn in. Let history, and if necessary the courts, judge the events of the past.”
Scott said the trial was a “waste of everyone’s time and tax dollars.”
“The attack on the Capitol we all witnessed on January 6 was horrific, and the lawless thugs who are responsible for the disgusting violence we saw do not represent America,” Scott said in a statement after the vote. “However, this week, instead of addressing the serious issues facing our nation, Democrats in Congress put our work for the American people on hold and pushed forward with an unconstitutional impeachment trial.”
The U.S. Senate voted 57 to 43 to convict Trump, but conviction requires a two-thirds vote, or 67 senators out of 100. Despite seven Republicans voting with 48 Democrats and two independents, Trump’s acquittal was never in serious question even though the presentation from the House impeachment managers was praised by Republicans, with Rubio calling it a “good job.”
Republican Sens. Mitt Romney of Utah, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Susan Collins of Maine, Richard Burr of North Carolina and Ben Sasse of Nebraska voted to convict Trump.
“This was about choosing country over Donald Trump, and 43 Republicans members chose Trump,” said Senate Majority Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., after the vote. “They chose Trump. And it should be a weight on their conscience.”
The conclusion of the trial was thrown into doubt on Saturday morning when Democrats and five Republicans voted to allow the consideration of witnesses and documents.
Democrats wanted testimony from Republican Rep. Jamie Herrera Beutler of Washington, who said that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy told her Trump sided with the rioters as they stormed the Capitol. In response, Trump’s lawyers said they would call hundreds of witnesses, potentially delaying the trial, and after two hours Democrats relented and moved on to closing arguments.
Last month, Rubio and Scott joined 43 Republicans and voted to declare the impeachment trial itself as unconstitutional, hinting at their ultimate stance on Trump’s conduct before and during the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. Only one GOP senator of the group of 45, Cassidy, switched his vote to declare the trial constitutional on Tuesday evening after hearing opening arguments.
Rubio and Scott also joined a minority of 11 Republican senators on Tuesday to vote against the ground rules of the trial, which were agreed to by Senate leaders of both parties along with Trump’s defense team.
Trump was impeached by the House of Representatives for a second time on Jan. 14 for inciting a riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 during the counting of electoral college votes. Rioters breached the building and killed a police officer after being fed lies that the 2020 election result could be overturned by Vice President Mike Pence. Four other people died in the course of the riot, and two police officers who were on duty at the Capitol then subsequently committed suicide. More than 100 law enforcement officers were reportedly injured.
Scott and Rubio were vocal defenders of Trump throughout the impeachment process, frequently speaking with reporters and speaking on cable news to back the former president.
“I think impeachment should be to remove someone from office,” Rubio said on Feb. 10. “Once you’re no longer in office, there’s no need for impeachment. Now you are a private citizen that can be held accountable in a court of law.”
On Friday, Rubio asked the impeachment managers and Trump’s lawyers if it would be possible to impeach former Secretary of State HIllary Clinton if the Senate convicted Trump now that he’s out of office. Impeachment manager Jamie Raskin replied that Trump was impeached while he was president.
“The jurisdictional issue is over, it’s gone,” Raskin said, adding that impeaching Clinton has “no bearing on this case” because Trump was impeached for actions while in office.
Unlike Trump’s first impeachment, where Utah Sen. Mitt Romney was the only Republican to agree that Trump was guilty of abuse of power when he sought foreign interference from Ukraine to help his reelection prospects, Trump’s second impeachment garnered more bipartisan support. Ten House Republicans voted in favor of the articles of impeachment, though Miami Republican Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart, Carlos Gimenez and Maria Elvira Salazar did not join them.
“President Trump attempted to corrupt the election by pressuring the secretary of state of Georgia to falsify the election results in his state,” Romney, one of seven Senate Republicans who voted to convict, said in a statement. “President Trump incited the insurrection against Congress by using the power of his office to summon his supporters to Washington on January 6th and urging them to march on the Capitol during the counting of electoral votes. President Trump also violated his oath of office by failing to protect the Capitol, the vice president, and others in the Capitol. Each and every one of these conclusions compels me to support conviction.”
In a statement after the vote, Trump characterized the trial as a “witch hunt” and praised his defense team.
Democrats and Republicans expressed a willingness to conduct a swift trial, noting that the events of Jan. 6 were public from the beginning and members of Congress were directly affected by the riot. Additional witnesses and documents were not part of the trial, which was conducted over the course of five days.
During the trial, Scott said the proceedings were a “complete waste of time” and was observed studying what appeared to be a map of Southeast Asia while Democrats made their arguments.
“Look, I’ve been clear that that I wish the president had said something faster when they broke into it, but, you know, I’ve watched what he said,” Scott said on Feb. 10. “He’s never said when somebody should break in — (he) actually said that people should do this peacefully.”
Rubio and Scott could both run for president in 2024, and Trump remains popular with many Republican primary voters. Rubio is also up for reelection in 2022, and some Trump supporters have supported a primary opponent against the two-term senator after Trump decisively won Florida during the 2020 election.
“I don’t believe the facts are largely in dispute about what happened that day or the nature of it, what happened on January 6, it was unpatriotic, un-American, treasonous, a crime, unacceptable,” Rubio said. “The fundamental question for me is whether an impeachment trial is appropriate for someone who is no longer in office…I don’t believe that it is.”
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