Missouri Sens. Hawley, Blunt try to end Trump impeachment trial before it starts

Austin Huguelet
Springfield News-Leader

Missouri’s Republican senators backed a bid to scuttle President Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial Tuesday in what could be a preview of the final verdict.

Both Sen. Roy Blunt and Josh Hawley were among 45 Republicans voting for a motion declaring the trial unconstitutional because Trump is no longer president.

Democrats quashed the motion 55-45 with support from five GOP senators crossing the aisle, meaning the trial will go on next month as scheduled.

But with 67 votes required to convict Trump on the House’s charge he incited the riot at the Capitol Jan. 6, the outcome may already be a foregone conclusion.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, who sponsored the failed motion, said the vote means the trial is “dead on arrival.”

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In comments Tuesday, Blunt and Hawley suggested that’s just as well.

“The constitutional purpose for presidential impeachment is to remove a president from office, not to punish a person after they have left office,” Blunt said in a statement.

Trump stands accused of “incitement of insurrection” for his role in encouraging people who stormed the U.S. Capitol Jan. 6 while Congress was meeting to accept the results of the presidential election he lost.

The impeachment article from Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Maryland, says Trump’s comments to the crowd included false claims that he won the election and lines encouraging violence, such as “If you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.”

Hawley, for his part, allowed that some of Trump’s remarks to the crowd supporters Jan. 6 were “inflammatory and “irresponsible,” but said that was no excuse for violating the Constitution.

“To me, this is an incredibly abusive process,” he said.

Democrats rejected such arguments as ridiculous.

“The theory that the impeachment of a former official is unconstitutional is flat-out wrong by every frame of analysis,” said Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, added that the Constitution does not directly prohibit the practice and that if it did, officials could resign to avoid the embarrassment and possibility of being barred from holding office in the future.

(Trump, for his part, remains eligible to run for another term as president, and there is speculation he could try again in 2024.)

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“Whether somebody resigns or runs out the clock, it makes no difference,” Blumenthal said. “They can still be held accountable, and there's nothing in the spirit or the letter of the impeachment provisions in the Constitution that argues against it.”

The Senate itself took a similar position in 1876, when it held a trial for Secretary of War William Belknap even though he’d already resigned in an attempt to dodge the House impeachment vote. Belknap was ultimately acquitted.

Trump’s trial is scheduled to begin on Feb. 8.

USA Today contributed to this report.

Austin Huguelet is the News-Leader's politics reporter. Got something he should know? Have a question? Call him at 417-403-8096 or email him at ahuguelet@news-leader.com.