Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins announced Tuesday that she will vote to acquit President Donald Trump of impeachment charges, a decision that could affect her reelection bid in a state frayed over the president’s rhetoric and conduct.
Collins’ decision was contrasted by her counterpart, independent U.S. Sen. Angus King, who said in a speech from the Senate floor that he would vote for the conviction and removal of the president.
In a speech from the Senate floor, Collins attributed her acquittal votes to weaknesses in the case to remove Trump presented by the Democratic-controlled House — a case that could have been strengthened had enough Republicans in the Senate joined her last week in voting for additional documents and witnesses.
“I do not believe that the House has met its burden of showing that the president’s conduct, however flawed, warrants the extreme step of immediate removal from office,” Collins said.
Like several other Republican senators, Collins said the president was wrong to pressure Ukraine to announce investigations into his political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter.
However, she also noted gaps in a House investigation that resulted in the president’s impeachment, including its decision to not go to the courts to enforce subpoenas that the White House ignored.
Collins also said voters should judge the president’s actions in November.
“It is my judgment that except when extraordinary circumstances require a different result, we should entrust to the people the most fundamental decision of a democracy, mainly who should lead their country,” she said.
Trump was impeached by the House for alleged abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. He was accused of withholding military assistance to Ukraine in exchange for that country’s investigations of Biden and his son. Hunter Biden served on the board of Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company, while his father was vice president.
King, who secured a second six-year term in 2018, warned that acquitting Trump on obstruction charges could have lasting effects on the ability of Congress to check the president and his successors.
King also disputed arguments that voters should decide Trump’s fate. He said the president will be emboldened by an acquittal. He also noted that Trump had been impeached for attempting to undermine the integrity of the 2020 election.
“And he gives every indication that he will continue to do so,” King said. “He has expressed no understanding that he did anything wrong, let alone anything resembling remorse.”
King joined Democrats last week in subpoenaing additional witnesses and testimony at the beginning of the Senate trial. The White House blocked those witnesses and documents from the House inquiry. Collins did not support the Democrats’ efforts, but she has touted an amendment that she helped secure from Senate Leader Mitch McConnell that allowed for votes on witnesses and documents after opening arguments. She eventually voted with Utah Republican Sen. Mitt Romney to subpoena former national security advisor John Bolton.
But efforts to wrangle four Republican senators to join Democrats to call those witnesses failed on Friday. Collins was immediately criticized for not doing enough to help the cause.
Democrats have claimed that Collins’ votes for witnesses were engineered by McConnell to provide her cover in a U.S. Senate race that could decide which party controls the chamber in 2021.
On Tuesday, Maine Democratic Party chairwoman Kathleen Mara said the Senate trial was a sham and that Collins was complicit.
“Mainers demanded a fair trial, but it is clear Senator Collins was more interested in keeping Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump happy than doing the job that voters elected her to do,” Mara said in a statement. “She has abandoned her commitment to the truth in favor of her pursuit of power and Mainers can see through her craven political charade.”
Collins told Maine Public on Saturday that her reelection bid played no role in her decisions on impeachment and she rejected claims that she cleared her votes with McConnell.
Nonetheless, Collins’ bid for a fifth term could be tied to a president she didn’t vote for.
Collins declared Trump unfit for office prior to his victory in 2016 in an Op-Ed in the Washington Post. She wrote that she had hoped Trump would moderate his behavior after securing the GOP nomination.
“But the unpleasant reality that I have had to accept is that there will be no ‘new’ Donald Trump, just the same candidate who will slash and burn and trample anything and anyone he perceives as being in his way or an easy scapegoat,” she wrote. “Regrettably, his essential character appears to be fixed, and he seems incapable of change or growth.”
During an interview with CBS News, Collins said she believes the president has learned from impeachment.
“The president has been impeached. That’s a pretty big lesson,” she said. “I’m voting to acquit because I do not believe that the behavior alleged reaches the high bar in the Constitution for overturning an election and removing a duly elected president.”
Trump has insisted that he has done nothing wrong and that his impeachment was unfair.
Collins’ 2016 Op-Ed prompted former Maine Gov. Paul LePage to declare that Collins “was done” in the state GOP.
LePage has since backed Collins’ reelection bid and recent polling of her favorability suggests she’s gained some Republican support following votes for the Republican tax law and to confirm U.S. Supreme Court Judge Brett Kavanaugh.
But gains among Republicans appear to have come with a loss of support among Collins’ traditional strength: independent and moderate Democratic voters.
In making their case for convicting the president, House impeachment managers told senators that Trump will continue to pursue corrupt errands that benefit him and could hurt their legacies.
“If you find that the House has proved its case and still vote to acquit, your name will be tied to his with a cord of steel and for all of history,” California U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff warned during Monday’s closing arguments. “But if you find the courage to stand up to him, to speak the awful truth to his rank falsehood, your place will be among the Davids who took on Goliath.”
The president’s lawyers countered that voters should determine the president’s fate in November.
“We put our faith in the Senate because we know you will put your faith in the American people. You will leave this choice to them, where it belongs. We believe that they should choose the president,” said White House attorney Pat Cipollone.
The Senate will conclude the impeachment trial on Wednesday with a vote likely to acquit the president.