Kentucky’s junior Sen. Rand Paul forced the Senate to vote on whether the impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump is constitutional, in an attempt to derail it.
The Senate rejected Paul’s effort with a vote of 55 to 45. But the move was in some ways a test balloon for how many Republican senators would be open to convicting Trump on charges that he incited the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol.
Five Republicans joined all 50 Democratic senators in striking down Paul’s motion. But Kentucky’s senior Sen. Mitch McConnell, who has so far avoided weighing in on what he thinks about impeaching Trump, joined the ranks of Republicans criticizing the trial as unconstitutional.
Paul called for the vote claiming it’s unconstitutional to impeach someone who isn’t in office anymore.
“Democrats claim to want to unify the country, but impeaching a former president, a private citizen, is the antithesis of unity,” Paul said.
“Private citizens don’t get impeached, impeachment is for the removal from office. And the accused here has already left office.”
Trump was already impeached by the Democratic-led House of Representatives earlier this month, but the Senate has only recently begun the impeachment trial. It would take 67 senators—two thirds of the chamber—to convict the former president.
Paul’s claim that it’s unconstitutional to impeach a former official isn’t backed by history. In 1876, former War Secretary William Belknap was impeached by the House and convicted by the Senate following his resignation.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York, argued against Paul’s claims.
“The theory that the Senate can’t try former officials would amount to a constitutional get out of jail free card for any president who commits an impeachable offense,” Schumer said.
McConnell’s vote in favor of Paul’s effort is significant, after reports that McConnell has privately been considering impeaching Trump and urging senators to “vote their conscience.”
And McConnell directly tied Trump to the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol when he said the rioters were “provoked by the president and other powerful people.”
The impeachment trial is scheduled to begin the week of Feb. 8.
If lawmakers vote to convict Trump, the Senate will then vote on whether to bar him from seeking federal office in the future.