WASHINGTON (CN) — Seen as the Democratic Party’s most vulnerable target in this fall’s elections, Senator Doug Jones from deep-red Alabama said Wednesday that his decision to vote to convict the president is not a profile in courage but a matter of right and wrong.
“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,” Jones said from the Senate floor. “His actions were more than simply inappropriate, they were an abuse of power.”
Jones had secured his seat narrowly in a 2017 special election against former judge Roy Moore, a year after Donald Trump won in the state by nearly 30 points. Republicans had viewed Jones as a potential swing vote who could deliver Trump a bipartisan acquittal this afternoon, but the senator told reporters exiting the chamber that he’s not worried about his re-election.
“It has never crossed my mind,” Jones said with a laugh. A former federal prosecutor, Jones said he made the decision to convict Trump without input from his Democrat colleagues, putting in a lot of hours with his staff to weigh the case against the president.
Republicans have accused House Democrats of maneuvering the Senate into a partisan impeachment to remove Trump from office. But Jones said the president and his party are just as much to blame for the tensions dividing Washington.
“Yeah, there was some partisan Democrats,” Jones said. “But doggone it, the president of the United States and Republicans made this as partisan as anybody. And that is unfortunate.”
Standing at the Senate desk that once belonged to President John Kennedy, Jones recalled an Alabama judge who referred to a colleague who violated ethics rules as having “left his post.”
“Sadly, President Trump has left his post with regard to the withholding of military aid to Ukraine and a White House visit for the new Ukrainian president,” Jones said. “And in so doing he took the great powers of the office of the president of the United States with him.”
While Jones said he was “deeply troubled by the partisan nature” of the impeachment proceedings — echoing a common Republican critique of the House investigation — he believes House managers proved their case that Trump abused his power by pressuring Ukraine to announce investigations that would benefit him politically.
Trump was impeached in the House last year on evidence that he withheld a $391 million military aid package and a coveted White House meeting for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky until Ukraine announced investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden and a discredited theory about the 2016 presidential election.
As for the obstruction of Congress charge, Jones called Trump’s blanket instruction that officials in his administration defy all House subpoenas a direct threat to Congress’ ability to act as a check on presidential power.
Since House managers and the president’s defense team delivered their closing arguments on Monday afternoon, senators have taken to a mostly empty Senate chamber for up to 10 minutes at a time to explain their votes.
Given the GOP majority in the Senate, the result of the acquittal vote has never been in serious doubt, though both Republicans and Democrats are still hoping to have bipartisan support on their respective sides of the final tally.
Utah Senator Mitt Romney remains the only Republican who could vote to convict Trump after Senators Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski and Lamar Alexander came out this week saying they would vote to acquit.
Romney and Collins bucked Republican leadership and voted this past Friday for the trial to feature new witnesses, including former national security adviser John Bolton, while Murkowski and Alexander fell in line to help wrap up the proceedings as the first presidential impeachment trial not to include additional voices and evidence not introduced by the House.
Meanwhile, Trump’s hopes of a bipartisan acquittal hinge on a group of Democrats who have kept their intentions quiet.
Senator Joe Manchin, whose state of West Virginia overwhelmingly backed Trump in the 2016 election, said Monday he was still undecided on the acquittal vote. Manchin has prepared a censure resolution that faults Trump for his actions in Ukraine without removing him from office, though the Republican-controlled Senate has given the idea a cool reception.