WASHINGTON — Utah Sen. Mitt Romney announced Wednesday he would vote to convict President Donald Trump in the impeachment trial, becoming the only Republican to vote to remove the president from office.
The president faced two charges: abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. Romney said he will vote to convict on the first article of impeachment and acquit on the second. He is the first senator in US history to vote to remove a president of the same party from office.
The vote took place just after 4 p.m. Wednesday. Trump, however, will not be removed from office. Sixty-seven senators were needed to convict him on the impeachment charges and Romney was the only Republican to join Democrats.
"I acknowledge that my verdict will not remove the president from office. ... My vote will likely be in the minority in the Senate — but irrespective of these things, with my vote, I will tell my children and their children that I did my duty to the best of my ability, believing that my country expected it of me," Romney said on the Senate floor. "I will only be one name among many, no more, no less, to future generations of Americans who look at the record of this trial. They will note merely that I was among the senators who determined that what the president did was wrong, grievously wrong."
Romney is the only Republican in the impeachment saga to oppose the president, and Trump's team has repeatedly argued that impeachment and removing him from office are not bipartisan. No House Republican voted to impeach Trump in December — but two Democrats, one of whom has since joined the Republican Party, voted against impeachment. (Rep. Justin Amash, a longtime Republican who switched to independent last year, voted for impeachment.)
On the Senate side, other moderate Republicans who were viewed as possible votes to convict Trump announced they would not do so Wednesday, including Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.
Romney spoke for just under 10 minutes Wednesday afternoon. He became visibly emotional and stopped speaking to fight back tears as he focused on the way his Mormon faith influenced his decision.
“As a senator juror, I swore an oath before God to exercise impartial justice,” he said. “I am profoundly religious. My faith is at the heart of who I am. I take an oath before God as enormously consequential. I knew from the outset that being tasked with judging the president, the leader of my own party, would be the most difficult decision I’ve ever faced. I was not wrong.”
Trump was impeached by the House in December over his role in withholding vital military aid from Ukraine while pressuring the country to investigate a political rival, Joe Biden, and his family. Romney called the president’s actions “a flagrant assault under electoral rights, our national security, and our fundamental values.”
Romney rebutted a series of Republican talking points from the Senate’s trial during his remarks, including the argument that it is not Trump who is corrupt but instead Biden and his son, Hunter, who served on the board of Burisma, a Ukrainian gas company. Trump’s legal team had argued that the president wanted Ukraine to investigate real concerns about Hunter Biden’s role at the company for national security reasons, even if it also helped Trump’s reelection.
“With regards to Hunter Biden, taking excessive advantage of his father’s name is unsavory but also not a crime,” Romney said on the floor. “Given that in neither the case of the father nor the son was any evidence presented by the president’s counsel that a crime had been committed, the president’s insistence that they be investigated by the Ukrainians is hard to explain other than as a political pursuit. There is no question in my mind that were their names not Biden, the president would never have done what he did.”
Republicans have also argued that the articles of impeachment are invalid because they do not include a statutory offense committed by the president. Romney said he disagrees.
“The grave question the Constitution tasks senators to answer is whether the president committed an act so extreme and egregious that it rises to the level of a ‘high crime and misdemeanor,’” he said. “Yes, he did.”
Romney also addressed the defense team’s position that the Senate shouldn’t convict a sitting president in an election year and instead leave the decision of removal to the voters.
“While that logic is appealing to our democratic instincts, it is inconsistent with the Constitution's requirement that the Senate, not the voters, try the president," he said.
Romney spoke to a mostly empty chamber Wednesday afternoon. Just three senators, all Democrats — Sens. Patrick Leahy, Brian Schatz, and Chris Murphy — were in the room when Romney made his announcement.
Murphy said after the vote that Romney's speech will go down in history. "I think a lot of people are going to read that speech for centuries," he said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called Romney's speech "very courageous."
Rep. Adam Schiff, who led the impeachment prosecution for House Democrats, applauded Romney’s decision on Twitter ahead of the final vote, writing, “Having proven Trump guilty, I asked if there was just one Republican Senator who would say ‘enough.’ Who would stand up against this dangerously immoral president. Who would display moral courage. Who would do impartial justice as their oath required and convict. And there is.”
The White House was reportedly unaware of Romney’s decision and quickly disinvited reporters from a meeting scheduled for Wednesday afternoon. A White House official later said that closing the meeting to press was unrelated to Romney's announcement, according to CNN.
Ronna McDaniel, the chair of the Republican National Committee and Romney’s niece, said in a statement following his remarks, “This is not the first time I’ve disagreed with Mitt, and I imagine it will not be the last. The bottom line is President Trump did nothing wrong, and the Republican Party is more united than ever behind him."
During his speech, Romney said he’d received many calls and text messages demanding he “stand with the team.” He added that he expects abuse from the president, his supporters, and members of the Republican Party — but he said his faith, the oath senators took before the trial began, and the Constitution would not allow him to ignore the evidence.
“But my promise before God to apply impartial justice requires that I put my personal feelings and my political bias aside,” he said.
Donald Trump Jr., the president’s son, was quick to respond on Twitter, saying Romney was “bitter” he lost the presidential election eight years ago.
“He was too weak to beat the Democrats then so he’s joining them now,” he tweeted. “He’s now officially a member of the resistance & should be expelled from the GOP.”
It wasn’t immediately clear what Trump Jr. meant by “expelled.”
Utah’s other senator, Sen. Mike Lee, will vote to acquit the president. The split ultimately represents the state's simultaneous resistance to both Trump and impeachment. A December poll found that 47% of Utahns opposed impeachment and 43% supported it — a remarkably high backing for a state that, in 2012, voted for Romney over former president Barack Obama by nearly 50 points.
In 2016, Trump won the state by only 18 points. A poll released Wednesday found that 46% of Utah voters said they would vote for Trump in November, up from 41% in October of last year. The survey also found that more Utah voters disapprove of than approve of both Romney and Lee, who had 46–51 and 43–47 approval ratings, respectively.
The Senate trial began in January and lasted just over two weeks.
This story was updated with comment from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.