What's Next After Donald Trump's Impeachment Acquittal — for Him and the Democrats?
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell could barely contain a smile Wednesday as he gave thanks to those who had presided over President Donald Trump‘s impeachment trial: first to Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, then the Senate pages and then his fellow Republican lawmakers who had, with one exception, all found Trump not-guilty of wrongdoing in the Ukraine scandal.
McConnell’s grin was a closing image of Trump’s impeachment and the face of a political victory for the president, who has insisted he did nothing wrong, despite the House Democrats’ months-long investigation otherwise, including testimony from Trump’s own government officials.
Democrats had impeached Trump on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, saying he withheld support of Ukraine’s government to pressure them to investigate his political rivals. On Wednesday, that prosecution ended in Trump’s acquittal.
“I will be making a public statement tomorrow at 12:00pm from the @WhiteHouse to discuss our Country’s VICTORY on the Impeachment Hoax!,” Trump wrote on Twitter following the Senate vote Wednesday that cleared him of any wrongdoing. (His children Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump were similarly pleased.)
The Republican-controlled Senate voted 52-48 to acquit Trump on the allegation of abuse of power and 53-47 to acquit on that of obstruction of Congress.
The Democratic-led House of Representatives had impeached Trump in mid-December on those charges after an investigation found the president withheld some $400 million in military aid to Ukraine while pressuring the country to dig up dirt on Joe Biden, the former vice president who is one of the biggest rivals Trump has standing in the way of his 2020 re-election bid.
The impeachment and the ensuing trial in the Senate, which decided whether Congress would remove the president from office, carried out for more than four months.
“What I’m here to talk about today is the political impact of this,” Sen. McConnell told reporters in a news conference following the final Senate vote. “We’ve completed it, we’ve listened to the arguments, we voted, it’s in the rear-view mirror.”
What’s next? The enormously consequential, every-four-year battle for the presidency — whose importance, in 2020, is underlined by the stakes laid out in Trump’s impeachment: either of a Democratic Party desperate to enact revenge or of a president unconstrained by laws to pursue his own goals.
Moments after Trump’s acquittal, McConnell labeled the impeachment process a “colossal political mistake” for Democrats and called it a “loser for them.” Trump followed suit by sending a mocking tweet joking that he would stay in office forever, poking further at the Democrats who remain steadfast in the belief that Trump needs to be removed from office now before his actions escalate.
Democratic Sen. Mazie Hirono, of Hawaii, warned the Senate on Wednesday ahead of its vote that in acquitting Trump, it too would be “complicit in his next scheme.”
In response to Trump’s tweet, some critics claimed his acquittal — which was ultimately decided without additional testimony from key witnesses, in a first for any presidential impeachment trial — did not mean exoneration.
In a blow to conservative unity, Republican Sen. Mitt Romney, of Utah, voted to convict Trump on abuse of power. The onetime Republican presidential nominee said it was a difficult choice, but impossible otherwise.
“I believe that attempting to corrupt an election to maintain power is about as egregious an assault on the Constitution as can be made and for that reason, it is a high crime and misdemeanor,” Romney, 72, said in his Senate speech explaining his choice. “I have no choice under the oath that I took but to express that conclusion.”
On Tuesday, ahead of his long-expected acquittal, Trump delivered his State of the Union address touting the message of “The Great American Comeback,” while Democrats protested in various ways — some by refusing to show up and others by walking out, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi ripped up a copy of the president’s speech as soon as he finished talking.
“It was the courteous thing to do considering the alternative,” she explained afterward, calling it a “dirty speech,” while the White House criticized the gesture as disrespectful.
Trump had also ignored Pelosi’s offered handshake prior to his address.
Such acrimony is not soon to dissipate.
“Today, the sham impeachment attempt concocted by Democrats ended in the full vindication and exoneration of President Donald J. Trump. As we have said all along, he is not guilty,” White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement on Wednesday, adding that the Trump administration believed the impeachment to be an effort by Democrats “aimed at overturning the results of the 2016 election.”
While Democrats now work over the next several months to rally behind a candidate to challenge Trump, some lawmakers said they weren’t ready to be done with Ukraine — even if impeachment was resolved.
Rep. Jerry Nadler, the House Judiciary Committee chairman and a leading lawmaker in the impeachment investigation, said this week he would “likely” subpoena former National Security Advisor John Bolton — a Trump official who recently came forward claiming to corroborate the Democrats’ case.
“I think it’s likely, yes,” Nadler told reporters early Wednesday when asked if he’d subpoena Bolton. “When you have a lawless president, you have to bring that to the fore, you have to spotlight that, you have to protect the Constitution despite the political consequences.”