WASHINGTON (CN) — After sitting silently for more than two weeks in President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, senators regained control of their chamber Monday afternoon and launched into speeches detailing how they will come down on an acquittal vote expected Wednesday.
Given the Republican majority in the Senate, the result of that vote is all but certain. A handful of key senators are still not on the record, however, about how they will vote when the decisive question of whether Trump remains in office comes before them later this week.
Under the microscope are Democrats in politically divided states, including Senator Joe Manchin whose state of West Virginia awarded five electoral college votes to Trump during the 2016 presidential election. Manchin announced his indecision on the Senate floor Monday, saying the Framers of the Constitution had chosen senators to make the choice, as it was more likely to be impartial and impassionate.
The process of removing a president should not be a decision made on party affiliation, he said. Manchin said he never saw a path to removing the president since the trial’s genesis, but that another option was possible.
Offering up an alternative to removal from office, Manchin said he would support censuring Trump.
“Censure would allow this body to unite across party lines and as an equal branch of government, formally denounce the president’s actions and hold him accountable. His behavior cannot go unchecked by the Senate and censure would allow a bipartisan statement condemning his unacceptable behavior in the strongest terms.”
Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski, who cast the swing vote this past Friday that quashed a Democrat motion for new witnesses and evidence, confirmed from the Senate floor Monday evening that she could not vote to convict the president.
“Removal from office and being barred from ever holding another office of honor, trust or profit under the United States is the political death penalty,” Murkowski said, quoting Article One of the Constitution.
Echoing a common GOP argument throughout the trial that presidential impeachment in an election year is inappropriate, the Alaska senator said: “The voters will pronounce a verdict in nine months. And we must trust their judgment.”
Murkowski blamed Democrats for “rushing through” the House impeachment investigation and said the neighboring body should have pursued censure before turning to impeachment, the “remedy of last resort.”
The moderate GOP senator also expanded on her statement from Friday that Congress as an institution has failed.
“The House failed in its responsibilities. The House failed in its responsibilities,” Murkowski said. “And the Senate, the Senate should be ashamed by the rank partisanship that has been on display here.”
The GOP senator made no mention of working with her congressional colleagues on a censure of Trump as the impeachment trial winds to a close. Senator Manchin, meanwhile has put together a 3-page censure resolution that faults Trump for his conduct in Ukraine but does not remove him from office.
"Whereas future generations of Americans must know that — (1) such behavior is not only dangerous to our national interest but does not align with American values and the principles of the Constitution of the United States and (2) such actions bear grave consequences, including loss of integrity, trust and respect," the resolution states, in part.
Talk of a censure has been rolling on Capitol Hill throughout the impeachment process without gathering much momentum. Senate Republicans have given it a cool reception, and Senator Roy Blunt, a member of GOP leadership, dismissed it Monday out of hand.
"Too late," the Missouri Republican told reporters when asked about the possibility of a censure vote. "It's too late."
Murkowski, while giving no indication of whether she believes censure remains a proper check on the president, individually condemned Trump’s actions on Ukraine.
“The president's behavior was shameful and wrong. His personal interests do not take precedence over those of this great nation,” Murkowski said. “The president has the responsibility to uphold the integrity and the honor of the office, not just for himself, but for all future presidents.”
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