Montana’s senior U.S. senator, Democrat Jon Tester, said Tuesday he’ll vote to remove President Donald Trump from office because the president is “absolutely and unequivocally guilty” of both articles of impeachment.
“Fair elections are a foundational issue for this country, and to corrupt our election is something that we need to hold people accountable if they’ve done it, and I will tell you that the prosecution proved that point beyond a shadow of a doubt,” Tester said from the Senate floor Tuesday.
The GOP-majority Senate is expected to vote Wednesday to acquit the president on two articles of impeachment, one claiming Trump abused his power by withholding aid to Ukraine until that country announced an investigation into a political rival and the other that Trump obstructed Congress’ investigation into his actions.
Montana’s junior Sen. Steve Daines, a Republican, has been opposed to impeachment from its start in the House. It’s long been clear Daines would vote to acquit Trump, and Tuesday he told the Senate the impeachment process was driven by partisan politics.
“Our Founding Fathers would be grieved by the careless use of this most powerful tool,” Daines said. “Impeachment is not a tool to overturn the results of a past election. It is not a tool to change the outcome of an upcoming election.”
After closing arguments from the House impeachment managers and Trump’s defense team Monday, senators were given time Tuesday to make speeches. Tester and Daines’ remarks showed deeply divergent views of the Senate trial.
For Daines, there was ample material to make an informed decision, in the form of recorded testimony from the House proceedings and addition information from House managers and Trump's attorneys.
“I sat in this very desk the past two weeks, listening to over 65 hours of trial proceedings,” Daines said. “During that time, we heard from 13 witnesses, viewed 193 video clips, over 28,000 pages of documentation, and senators asked over 180 questions.”
Tester, however, said the proceedings were lacking because there was no new testimony from those with firsthand knowledge of the president's actions, amounting to “robbing the American people” of their right to hold elected officials accountable.
“In this particular case there was very little transparency, and none if the president would have had his way, or information coming to this body during the trial,” Tester said.
Holding up two books full of his notes from the trial, Tester laid out his reasons for voting to remove the president. On the obstruction charge, Tester said the president’s actions kept the Senate from doing its job. On abuse of power, the Democratic senator said even Republicans don’t dispute Trump withheld the aid. For Tester, it’s an abuse of power serious enough to remove the president from office.
“I am here to tell you if anybody in this country, especially the president of the United States, corrupts an election, and that’s not an impeachable offense for the president of the United States, I don’t know what is,” Tester said. “ … Based on the evidence that was available to me at this trial, I believe President Trump abused his power by withholding military aid from an ally for personal political gain and that he obstructed legitimate oversight by a co-equal branch of government.”
Daines said the impeachment articles were lacking because they did not accuse Trump of a crime. The trial in the Senate, to Daines, amounted to overreach by Democrats.
“Never before have we seen such a partisan presidential impeachment process,” Daines said, pointing to when party lines were crossed in votes on the Nixon and Clinton impeachments. “ … This is wrong and it has damaged our country.”
Citing newspaper headlines from before and right after Trump's election and swearing in, Daines said Democrats have been out to impeach Trump for three years as a way to overturn the 2016 election.
“Supporting this impeachment means ignoring the voices of Montanans who voted for President Trump in the last election,” Daines said. “And it means silencing Montanans who plan to vote for President Trump in the 2020 election.”
Tester said he’s been critical of Trump when he felt it was necessary, from trade wars to pulling troops out of Syria, but that his removal vote will be based on the president's actions with Ukraine and holding information from Congress. Montanans expect him to hold government to account, Tester said.
“I was critical of the president, and we should be. That had nothing to do with the impeachment. But it absolutely has everything to do with our freedom of speech,” Tester said.
Both senators said they were concerned about what Trump’s impeachment and expected acquittal will mean for the United States, though for different reasons.
Daines thinks impeachment is now a weaponized process.
“This is wrong and it has damaged our country,” Daines said. “We now need to fear for future presidents, Democrats or Republicans, who will hold the oath of office in this newly hyperpartisan era,” Daines said.
Tester said an acquittal vote creates a troubling precedent for future presidents.
“If you think this president's gonna stop doing these actions, you're living on a different planet than I'm living on," Tester said. “This will empower him to do anything he wants. And at some point in time, if we want to listen to what the framers said, at some point in time we're going to have to do our constitutional duty. It doesn't appear we're going to do it this time.”
Get Government & Politics updates in your inbox!
Stay up-to-date on the latest in local and national government and political topics with our newsletter.