Republicans have a sneaky way to help seal Trump’s conviction in the Senate impeachment trial, even if they haven’t got the guts to publicly vote against him.
They could simply skip the vote.
Former President Trump is widely expected to be acquitted in the trial that starts today, thanks to the two-thirds majority required for conviction. Yet Trump’s critics don’t actually need the 67 votes commonly cited in the press as the number required to win.
The Constitution specifically says that an impeachment conviction requires two-thirds of the senators present. And that word present makes all the difference: It means that if a significant number of Republicans simply didn’t show up, the number of votes necessary would fall significantly.
“If 20 senators don't show up, then the Senate could convict with only 54 senators,” said Ric Simmons, a professor at the Ohio State University Moritz College of Law—citing a number one less than the 55 senators who publicly voted earlier this month to support the trial.
In fact, if enough Republicans didn’t show up, Democrats could convict Trump without any GOP votes at all, noted Richard Arenberg, who spent 30 years as a staffer on Capitol Hill and wrote a book on Congressional procedure.
At least 51 senators have to show up to have the vote, Arenberg said. But at that lowest possible number, then “in theory, the former president could be convicted without any Republican votes—as few as 34 [votes in favor],” Arenberg said.
Still—could any Republicans go for it?
None have publicly indicated that they’re considering this option. And none of the GOP senators contacted for comment by VICE News through their offices called back to explain their thoughts on simply bailing.
Yet several high-profile Republican senators have expressed frustration with Trump, while demonstrating an unwillingness to cast a vote against him.
The wily GOP Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, for example, chastised Trump for inciting the insurrection—shortly before voting against holding the impeachment trial at all. McConnell blasted Trump for feeding “lies” to the “mob” that attacked the Capitol Building on January 6.
Republican Sen. John Thune of South Dakota slammed Trump’s actions as indefensible.
Asked if he could defend Trump’s actions, Thune replied bluntly: “No, not at all.”
Thune continued: “The way he handled the post-election, both in terms of his public statements and things that he tried to do to change the outcome, no."
But Thune then voted against holding the trial at all, along with a majority of Republicans in the Senate. In a procedural vote that occurred shortly after the House of Representatives impeached Trump on a single count of inciting insurrection, 45 Republican senators voted to dismiss the impeachment article on the grounds that a former president can’t be impeached—even though Democrats say the real point is to bar Trump from holding office in the future, and lots of legal experts say convicting a former president seems totally fine.
That Senate vote has been widely interpreted as a sign of support for Trump. Yet arguing that the process is illegitimate could plausibly be turned into a reason to skip the vote altogether.
Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana told “Meet the Press” on Sunday that his vote could change—even though he, like Thune and McConnell, initially voted to dismiss the impeachment trial.
“I think it depends upon that which is presented,” Cassidy said. “We will now have, hopefully, presentations from both sides, and we will consider the evidence as impartial jurors.”
In short: Republicans unhappy with Trump but unwilling to be seen casting their vote against him have another avenue to vent their displeasure besides simply voting yay or nay.
And if enough of them went that route, then Trump’s critics could theoretically already have enough votes to convict him, and bar him from office for life.
That would put Trump out of the running for the presidency in 2024—an outcome that, surely, those GOP senators planning to run for president themselves would welcome.