Senate Agrees Trial Is Constitutional, as Trump Consolidates Votes for an Acquittal

WASHINGTON — A divided Senate voted on Tuesday to proceed with Donald J. Trump’s second impeachment trial, narrowly rejecting constitutional objections after House prosecutors opened their case with a harrowing 13-minute video capturing the deadly Capitol riot he stands accused of inciting.

Though the presentation stunned senators who lived through the rampage into silence, only six Republicans joined Democrats in clearing the way for the case to be heard, the second indication in two weeks that Mr. Trump is all but certain to be acquitted.

“The result of this trial is preordained,” Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, said flatly after the 56-to-44 vote. “President Trump will be acquitted.”

Even so, the nine House Democrats prosecuting the former president aimed their opening arguments squarely at Republicans who had the power to change the outcome. They cited a wide array of conservative legal scholars to argue that the Senate not only had the right to try a former president for official misconduct, but an obligation. And they offered a raw and deeply emotional appeal from the well of the Senate, where a month before lawmakers had taken shelter as the pro-Trump mob closed in.

“Senators, this cannot be our future,” said Representative Jamie Raskin of Maryland, the lead manager, as he fought back tears. He described being locked inside the House chamber while colleagues called loved ones “to say goodbye” and his own daughter and son-in-law feared for their lives nearby.

“This cannot be the future of America,” he continued. “We cannot have presidents inciting and mobilizing mob violence against our government and our institutions because they refuse to accept the will of the people.”

It was the start of a case that Mr. Raskin and his team will begin prosecuting in full on Wednesday that seeks to prove that Mr. Trump spent his final months in office trying to overthrow the election, then organized his supporters to rally against his loss and ultimately egged them on to march to the Capitol and stage a violent riot as Congress met to formalize President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s victory.

They faced off against a hastily assembled defense team for Mr. Trump that offered an at-times meandering presentation, ultimately arguing that trying the former president would violate the Constitution. It began with a circuitous presentation from Bruce L. Castor Jr., who complimented the compelling case made by the House managers and then launched into a speech that appeared to confuse and bore some senators in both parties.

His partner David I. Schoen was sharper, asserting that Democrats were driven by an “insatiable lust” to destroy Mr. Trump, and warning that they would instead damage the country by setting a new standard to pursue former officials.

The Trump Impeachment ›

What You Need to Know

    • A trial is being held to decide whether former President Donald J. Trump is guilty of inciting a deadly mob of his supporters when they stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, violently breaching security measures and sending lawmakers into hiding as they met to certify President Biden’s victory.
    • The House voted 232 to 197 to approve a single article of impeachment, accusing Mr. Trump of “inciting violence against the government of the United States” in his quest to overturn the election results. Ten Republicans joined the Democrats in voting to impeach him.
    • To convict Mr. Trump, the Senate would need a two-thirds majority to be in agreement. This means at least 17 Republican senators would have to vote with Senate Democrats to convict.
    • A conviction seems unlikely. Last month, only five Republicans in the Senate sided with Democrats in beating back a Republican attempt to dismiss the charges because Mr. Trump is no longer in office. On the eve of the trial’s start, only 28 senators say they are undecided about whether to convict Mr. Trump.
    • If the Senate convicts Mr. Trump, finding him guilty of “inciting violence against the government of the United States,” senators could then vote on whether to bar him from holding future office. That vote would only require a simple majority, and if it came down to party lines, Democrats would prevail with Vice President Kamala Harris casting the tiebreaking vote.
    • If the Senate does not convict Mr. Trump, the former president could be eligible to run for public office once again. Public opinion surveys show that he remains by far the most popular national figure in the Republican Party.

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