Lead prosecutor Jamie Raskin wiped his eyes and appeared to suppress a sob as he narrated how his daughter, who had come to the Capitol that day said she would never want to return there…writes Arul Louis.
After a day of tearful arguments and harrowing videos, Democrats have managed to pry only one more Republican Senator to their side as the second impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump started and they were still 11 votes short of the number needed to convict him.
For all the drama on Tuesday, with more to come in the next two days as the Democratic prosecutors continue presenting their case, it still seemed likely that they will not have the 67 votes to convict Trump on the charge of inciting an insurrection making the trial a spectacle rather than a vehicle of punishment.
The vote on the constitutionality of the impeachment trial was 56-44 in the 100-member Senate, with six Republicans joining the 50 Democrats to vote for it.
The other 44 Republicans closed ranks to oppose the preliminary measure required for the trial to proceed.
In an earlier vote on the same issue on January 26, only five Republicans had gone over to the other side and on Tuesday they were joined by one more, Bill Cassidy.
He attributed his change of heart to the “terrible job” done by Trump’s lawyers.
The Democrats were doing a “great job” and as “an impartial juror, I’m going to vote for the side that did the good job”, he said.
Even Trump’s lead lawyer Bruce Castor conceded during his argument that the prosecution had performed well.
Under the US political system, the House of Representatives frames charges against the President or other officials and sends the chargesheet to the Senate for a judicial-style trial with the senators acting as jurors.
A two-thirds majority of Senators, which is 67, has to vote to convict.
In February 2020, Trump was impeached for the first time on charges of abuse of authority and impeding the work of Congress. But he was acquitted by the Senate as Democrats could not muster the two-thirds majority.
The first day of arguments in the second impeachment on Tuesday was supposed to have been filled with dry legal arguments on the constitutionality of impeaching Trump, who was already out of office, but the Democratic Party prosecutors brought in drama with videos of the deadly January 6 Capitol riots and also one shocking clip of a police officer firing into the mob killing a woman protester.
Lead prosecutor Jamie Raskin wiped his eyes and appeared to suppress a sob as he narrated how his daughter, who had come to the Capitol that day said she would never want to return there.
Raskin even brought up Warren Hastings, the colonial Governor-General of India, who was impeached by the House of Commons in Britain and tried by the House of Lords years after he had left office to buttress his case that Trump can be impeached even though he was no longer President.
Trump’s defence, and most Republican lawmakers, contended by a narrow reading of the Constitution that only a sitting President could be impeached because the penalty for conviction was removal from office.
The Democrats who cited the other penalty of being barred from future office, which could be imposed on Trump, prevailed in the voting.
Over the next two days, the Democrats will make their case for convicting Trump because they say he incited the mob attack on the Capitolwhile Congress was in the process of confirming the Electoral College votes that elected Joe Biden as President and Kamala Harris as Vice President.
They will be followed by Trump’s lawyers who will also have 16 hours over two days to present their defence.
After both sides make their concluding statements, the Senate will vote early next week whether to convict Trump.
The leaderships of both parties agreed on having a short trial so that they can get on with the work of confirming key nominees for the Biden administration and proceeding with the President’s agenda, especially on Covid-19 relief, and Republicans to put the Trump episode behind them.
While the prosecutors showed action-filled videos of the attacks to make the Senators relive the moments of terror, Trump’s lawyers countered with clips of various Democrats calling for his impeachment right from the start of his term.
One of them had Democratic Representative Rashida Tlaib calling Trump a “m**********r”, with the obscenity bleeped out.
Several Republican Senators complained about the performance of Trump’s lawyers.
Senator Ted Cruz told reporters: “I don’t think the lawyers did the most effective job.”
But that was also of Trump’s making. His original set of lawyers, who had agreed to take on his case after several others had turned him down, dropped out about 10 days ago.
According to media reports it was because of differences over how to make the defence arguments and Trump interfering with their briefs.
That left little time for his current defence team to prepare their case.
They and Trump count on the continuing staunch support of his base to keep enough of the Republican senators in line to deny the votes needed to convict.