After hearing three long days of detailed evidence that Donald Trump used his office to solicit foreign interference to help his re-election campaign, not a single Republican senator appears willing to vote in favour of ejecting the President from office.
As the prosecution rested its case, two questions loomed over the impeachment proceedings in an era of intense political polarization: Was there any point to the exercise when its outcome always seemed predetermined? And what effect – if any – will the episode have?
Adam Schiff, the Democratic congressman serving as the Senate trial’s de facto lead prosecutor, has repeatedly argued that letting Mr. Trump stay in the White House would jeopardize the fairness of the coming election and set a dangerous precedent by expanding the accepted limits of executive power.
“Donald Trump must be convicted and removed from office, because he will always choose his own personal interest over our national interest. Because in America, right matters, truth matters,” he said late Thursday evening on the floor of the Senate in an impassioned plea that went viral among liberal voters. “If not, no constitution can protect us.”
It was a refrain his Democratic colleagues in the Senate echoed during breaks in proceedings.
Senator Patrick Leahy said Mr. Trump’s probable acquittal will motivate future presidents to also refuse to co-operate with Congress. The President ordered his officials not to testify or turn over any documents in the House’s impeachment inquiry.
“It will be a very bad mark, and almost an encouragement for bad actions by other presidents, if they think they can just stonewall everything,” he told The Globe and Mail.
But Mike Braun, an Indiana Republican, argued that the impeachment process itself – regardless of how it ends – was a powerful deterrent. Future presidents would steer clear of emulating Mr. Trump’s actions to avoid a repeat of the conflagration that has consumed his administration for the past five months, he said.
“Going through the process of this would be punishment in and of itself,” Mr. Braun contended. “You’d be more careful or you might end up in this engagement again.”
Mr. Braun offered his own convoluted rationale for not convicting the President: While he emphasized that he didn’t necessarily condone Mr. Trump’s conduct, he suggested the President should be acquitted because his attempt to press Ukraine to tarnish Joe Biden, one of his presidential rivals, ultimately failed.
Mr. Trump has repeatedly dismissed the proceedings as a waste of time.
“The Do Nothing Democrats just keep repeating and repeating, over and over again, the same old ‘stuff’ on the Impeachment Hoax,” he tweeted on Friday. “They ought to go back to work for our great American people!”
Mitch McConnell, the leader of the Senate’s Republicans, has worked to minimize impeachment. His rules for the trial envision a swift process that could be done as soon as next week. On Tuesday, he had his caucus vote down Democratic attempts to call witnesses and subpoena documents. And he imposed restrictive rules on media covering the event.
No news cameras are allowed in the Senate chamber, leaving only a single government-operated feed. In the lobby outside, reporters must conduct interviews in cordoned-off pens rather than roaming the hallways as usual – thus helping senators avoid them.
Legislators themselves are subject to strict decorum protocols that ban all computers and mobile phones from the chamber, and mandate complete silence.
Mr. McConnell often seemed to be the only senator capable of obeying those rules this week, as he sat stone-faced, listening intently to hour after hour of evidence. Others quickly grew restless. Bill Cassidy stood up and slowly paced the back of the room. Mike Rounds played with a yellow fidget spinner. Chuck Schumer occasionally whispered with his staff and held his head in his hands.
“This is boring,” Florida Republican Senator Rick Scott complained outside the chamber. Asked if hearing from witnesses and examining new documents, both of which Mr. Scott voted against, would have alleviated his ennui, Mr. Scott laughed.
Saikrishna Prakash, a constitutional law expert at the University of Virginia, said the effect of the impeachment process will largely depend on whether Mr. Trump is re-elected. If he is re-elected, it could put a chill on future efforts to impeach presidents. If Mr. Trump loses, future legislators are more likely to see the procedure as an effective exercise.
But the chasm in U.S. politics is so deep, he said, it’s not clear the President’s impeachment will actually change anyone’s historic perception of him.
“It’s an interesting point Nancy Pelosi raised, that he is ‘impeached forever,’ but I don’t know what people take away from that,” Prof. Prakash said, referring to the House Speaker’s contention this week that, whatever the outcome of the trial, the President can never erase the asterisk next to his name. “If you think he was guilty, it’s a stain on his reputation. If you think he wasn’t, you view it as an abuse of power by the people who did it.”
He pointed to Bill Clinton. Democratic voters largely do not see the former president’s impeachment as a black mark, but as a sign of how relentlessly partisan Republicans tried unsuccessfully to take him down.
Christine Hartman, a Los Angeles small-business owner who travelled to Washington to show her support for impeachment, said the process would still be worthwhile even if Mr. Trump is acquitted. For one, she said, the President’s actions couldn’t be allowed to pass without challenge. For another, the inquiry put reams of information about Mr. Trump’s behaviour on the public record.
“It will fire up people to defeat Trump in November,” Ms. Hartman said outside the Capitol on Friday afternoon, holding a sign calling for Mr. Trump’s removal from the White House. “The core of our republic is at stake.”
Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.