The U.S. Senate voted 51-49 Friday night against allowing testimony from witnesses in the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump, making his acquittal in the chamber a virtual certainty and triggering outrage across the country.
"We know these truths to be self evident: Trump is guilty and removal is our only option for dealing with dangerous leaders in power," said impeachment advocacy group By the People executive director Alexandra Flores-Quilty. "Yet, Trump's defenders are saying that our Constitution does not apply to the powerful few."
"This is a crisis of democracy," Flores-Quilty added.
Trump was impeached by the House in December for an ultimately unsuccessful scheme to withhold military aid to pressure Urkainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to announce publicly he had launched an investigation into Hunter Biden, son of former Vice President Joe Biden, one of Trump's political rivals. Hunter Biden's employment by Ukrainian gas company Burisma would have been the focus of such an investigation.
By voting down the possibility of hearing more testimony on the matter, the chamber's Republican leadership has effectively shut the door on removing the president for his involvement in the scandal. That, said Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington executive director Noah Bookbinder, means the Senate has relinquished its oversight power.
"This is a dereliction of duty and an abdication of constitutional responsibilities," said Bookbinder. "51 senators voted to create a dangerous and embarrassing partisan precedent that will limit the functioning of our system of checks and balances going forward."
Sens. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) crossed party lines to vote in favor of allowing witnesses but the partisan vote shot down the proposal. Reported revelations from a forthcoming book by former National Security Advisor John Bolton about Trump's level of involvement in the Ukrainian scheme made Bolton a flashpoint the debate.
"Senate Republicans have thrown all democratic norms and decades of precedent out of the window by preventing witnesses from testifying before the Senate," Stand Up America founder and president Sean Eldridge said in a statement. "This is an abhorrent dereliction of duty."
Protests erupted across the country as the vote drew near, including at the Capitol.
Associated Press reporter Mary Clare Jalonick captured the scene in a photo posted to Twitter showing demonstrators holding lit-up letters reading, "FIRE TRUMP."
In the minutes after the witness vote was taken, protesters heard outside Capitol yelling “Fake! Fake!”— Mary Clare Jalonick (@MCJalonick) January 31, 2020
They are visible from Senate windows, holding light-up letters that spell “FAKE TRIAL” pic.twitter.com/Hp7VpM12dn
In a statement, oversight group Common Cause's president Karen Hobert Flynn said that the vote was indicative of a greater rot at the heart of the Senate—and the country.
"These votes are doing lasting damage to our democracy by normalizing presidential abuses of power and giving free reign to a president who has continued to invite foreign interference in our elections and will now see no reason to stop," said Hobert Flynn. "The President's abuses of power, and the Senate's refusal to check them, tear at the very fabric of our democracy."
The Senate plans to vote on whether to remove Trump from office or acquit him on Wednesday, after the Iowa primary caucuses on Monday and the State of the Union on Tuesday.