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Democrats appeal to senators’ faith in final argument to convict President Trump

Sen. Mike Lee called House managers’ closing arguments a ‘pep rally speech for Democrats.’ The Senate will reconvene Wednesday to render a verdict

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, arrives on Capitol Hill, Monday, Feb. 3, 2020 in Washington.
Alex Brandon, Associated Press

WASHINGTON — House impeachment managers, failing to get the Senate to subpoena witnesses in the trial of President Donald Trump, turned their sights Monday to the long-shot goal of removing a president from office for the first time in history.

In impassioned speeches, several laced with religious language and messages, the prosecutors asked senators to be numbered among the “Davids who slew Goliath” by exercising faith in the Founding Fathers and to convict Trump, who is “guilty as sin.”

“They gave you a remedy and they meant for you to use it. They gave you an oath and they meant for you to observe it,” lead House manager Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said forcefully. “We have proven Donald Trump guilty, now do impartial justice and convict him.”

House Democratic impeachment managers, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., right, and Rep. Sylvia Garcia, D-Texas, left, walk to the Senate chamber for the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump at the Capitol Friday, Jan 31, 2020, in Washington.
Steve Helber, Associated Press

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., was momentarily at a loss for words to describe why he was so moved by Schiff’s final remarks. “I hope maybe it pierced the hardness ... of so many of our Republican colleagues. Let’s hope and pray,” Schumer said to reporters after the closing arguments. “If that didn’t do it, I don’t know what would.”

But Utah Republican Sen. Mike Lee, who will vote Wednesday to acquit the president, said Schiff wasn’t talking to his GOP colleagues.

“One of my colleagues said as we were leaving, ‘I don’t think the House managers’ case today was designed to persuade any Republicans. It appears to be a sort of pep rally speech for Democrats,’” Lee said. “There may be some truth to that.”

Closing arguments took place on the eve of Trump’s State of the Union speech, where he will speak in the chamber where lawmakers impeached him more than a month ago. Trump said Sunday that he will tout the strong economy and other accomplishments. Many Republicans agree he should take that approach, but they also said anything could happen, including talking about impeachment and his all but certain acquittal by the Senate.

“I think there’s plenty to talk about, and it’s an opportunity to move on,” Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said, according to The New York Times. “But the other option is to address it head on — and he is often a head on kind of guy.”

Trump became the third president in American history to be impeached when the House passed two articles of impeachment in December. The first charges him with abuse of power for allegedly pressuring Ukraine to conduct investigations that would benefit him politically. The second accuses Trump of obstructing Congress during the House investigation into his dealings with Ukraine.

It would take a two-thirds vote of the 100-member Senate to convict Trump and that is unlikely with Republicans holding 53 seats in the chamber. Senators reconvene Wednesday at 4 p.m. to render a verdict.

While Lee has said he will vote to acquit, Utah GOP Sen. Mitt Romney has not revealed his decision, if he has made one.

Several Republican senators have said since Friday that while they don’t condone Trump’s dealings with Ukraine — some called it “wrong” — his actions did not rise to the level of impeachment with an election about nine months away.

And Trump’s defense team stressed that point in their closing arguments.

“You are being asked to do this when tonight citizens of Iowa are going to be caucusing,” attorney Jay Sekulow said, referring to Monday’s first presidential primary. “The answer is elections, not impeachment.”

Sekulow showed video clips with pulsating background music of Democrats calling for impeachment dating back to before Trump took office to argue this was the “first totally partisan presidential impeachment in our nation’s history, and it should be our last.”

Both sides gave contrasting explanations of the facts behind the impeachment, namely why Trump withheld $391 million in military aid to Ukraine while asking its newly elected President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate potential Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.

Trump’s legal team argued Biden’s involvement in Ukraine when he was vice president was an example of corruption Trump wanted rooted out of Ukraine before committing aid to the country, and once the president was satisfied Zelenskiy’s administration would address corruption the aid was released.

White House counsel Pat Cipollone, left, and Jay Sekulow, President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, right, step into an elevator after the Senate heard closing arguments in the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, at the Capitol in Washington, Monday, Feb. 3, 2020.
J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press

House managers countered that the aid was only released after Trump “got caught” trying to enlist a foreign power to meddle in the upcoming election.

But Schiff got personal in telling senators Trump can’t be trusted and poses a threat to national security and the integrity of the elections. “You will not change him. You cannot constrain him. He is who he is. Truth matters little to him. What’s right matters even less, and decency matters not at all,” Schiff said.

House managers also appealed to the religious sensibilities of senators — and the viewing public — referencing biblical passages and calling on their personal faith to guide their decisions.

Deploying the rhetorical tools of a skilled preacher, New York Democratic Rep. Hakeem Jeffries called on senators to “walk by faith through the ups and the downs, the highs and the lows, the peaks and the valleys, the trials and the tribulations of this turbulent moment. Walk by faith; faith in the Constitution, faith in our democracy, faith in the rule of law, faith in government of the people, by the people and for the people. Faith in almighty God. Walk by faith.”

But Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, explained in her floor remarks following the adjournment of the trial that she had no faith that a fair trial could be held in the Senate “when the foundation upon which it rested was rotted.”

Murkowski and Romney were among a small group of senators who forced GOP leaders to allow for a vote to consider witnesses at the end of closing arguments. But she said the “rank partisanship” in the Senate leading up to the trial and the House’s rush to impeach doomed the chance of a trial before senators acting as impartial jurors.

She blasted Trump for weakening the office of president by conduct that was “shameful and wrong.” But Murkowski sided with the White House that the response shouldn’t be to impose the “political death penalty” and remove him from the 2020 ballot.

“The House could have pursued censure and not immediately jumped to the remedy of last resort,” she said. “I cannot vote to convict. The Constitution provides for impeachment but does not demand it in all instances.”