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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - WASHINGTON — US senators were sworn in for the second impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump on Tuesday amid an immediate challenge to the constitutionality of the trial from a Republican ally of the former president.
Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky forced a procedural vote on the constitutionality of the trial Tuesday afternoon, in what amounted to the first test of how Senate Republicans view the upcoming trial, the substance of which will begin with arguments next month. The Senate voted to table, or kill, Paul's point of order, 55 to 45, with just five Republicans joining Democrats to vote against dismissing the trial.
The five Republicans who voted against Paul were Sens. Mitt Romney of Utah, Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania.
The Kentucky Republican said Tuesday that he forced the procedural vote to show there already aren't sufficient votes to convict Trump, which would require two-thirds of senators. Many Republicans have taken the position in recent days that the trial is not constitutional because Trump is no longer President, in what's become the most common argument to acquit Trump.
"I think it showed that impeachment is dead on arrival," Paul said after the vote. "If you voted it was unconstitutional, how in the world would you ever vote to convict somebody for this?"
Tuesday's test vote showed that it's likely next-to-impossible for Democrats to find 17 Republican votes for the two-thirds needed to convict and bar Trump from running for office again. Several Republicans said they were surprised Tuesday they were already taking a vote on the constitutionality of the trial, as the question is something that both the House impeachment managers and Trump's legal team are likely to address in their presentations next month.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has said he's going into the trial with an open mind about Trump's guilt, voted with Paul on Tuesday, suggesting he has constitutional concerns about the trial.
The trial began on Tuesday afternoon with the swearing-in of Sen. Pat Leahy of Vermont, the Senate president pro tempore, who will preside over the trial. Leahy then swore in the rest of the Senate, and senators went four at a time to sign an "oath book" as jurors for the trial.
The Senate passed its pre-trial organizing resolution, laying out the rules heading into the trial, 83-17, before the Senate adjourned as a "court of impeachment" until February 9, when the trial arguments are scheduled to begin.
At their party lunch on Tuesday ahead of Paul's planned vote, Senate Republicans hosted conservative legal scholar Jonathan Turley, one of the lead scholars arguing that impeaching Trump when he is out of office is unconstitutional.
Turley has written extensively in recent days about his belief that while reasonable people can disagree about whether or not it is constitutional to hold an impeachment trial for a former president, he wrote recently on his blog, "even if the Senate does not view this as extraconstitutional, it should view this trial as Constitutionally unsound."
Given the limited language in the Constitution on impeachment, legal experts disagree about whether the Senate can convict a former president. But Democrats have pointed to legal scholars on both ends of the political spectrum who say a trial is constitutional because the Senate has held trials previously for former officials.
Sen. Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, charged that Republicans were fixated on the constitutional issue because "they don't want to be held accountable for President Trump's incitement of a mob to attack the United States Capitol."
"They don't want to be held accountable on that vote so they're going to try to make it another argument that is all about the Constitution," Durbin said.
Several Senate Republicans say they agree it's constitutional, including Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who said her review "has led me to conclude that it is constitutional, in recognizing that impeachment is not solely about removing a president, it is also a matter of political consequence."
Sen. Thom Tillis, a North Carolina Republican who just won reelection, said on Tuesday, "I think there's probably a constitutional basis for it."
"I have more problem with the process and the expedited nature of it," he added.
Several Republicans have pointed to the fact that Chief Justice John Roberts will not be presiding over the trial, while the Constitution says the chief justice should preside for the trial of a president.
"That would send a pretty clear signal to me what Roberts thinks of the whole thing," said Sen. Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican, who declined to say how he would vote on Paul's motion. — Courtesy CNN
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