Republican Mitt Romney of Utah became the primary U.S. senator to vote to get rid of a president from his own party on Wednesday after he brought a surprising twist to the top of Donald Trump’s impeachment trial.
In the only GOP defection of Trump’s acquittal by the Senate, Romney voted to convict the president on one abuse of power charge. He was the only lawmaker to interrupt from party ranks to support Trump’s removal on the only article, making him the primary senator in U.S. history to vote for the removal of a president from his own party.
“The president’s purpose was personal and political. Accordingly, the president is guilty of an appalling abuse of charitable trust ,” Romney said during a floor speech. “What he did wasn’t perfect, no. it had been a flagrant assault under electoral rights, our national security and our fundamental values. Corrupting an election to stay one’s self in office is probably the foremost abusive and destructive violation of one’s oath of office that I can imagine.”
The Senate voted against removing Trump from office—48-52 on abuse of power and 47-53 on obstruction of justice charge—making him the third president in U.S. history to be acquitted from articles of impeachment approved by the House. The Senate-led chamber needed 67 votes, two-thirds, to convict Trump, a longshot outcome given the political makeup of the members.
Romney acknowledged during his remarks that his decision will likely be “vehemently denounced” by the GOP and draw “strenuously” disapproval from his conservative colleagues. “I’m bound to hear abuse from the president and his supporters,” he said.
Other GOP senators who had previously indicated doubt of Trump’s innocence—including Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine—voted along party lines to acquit the president. The Democratic senators who were once considered toss-ups—Doug Jones of Alabama, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema or Arizona—voted with their party to convict.
Romney’s support for a conviction refused Trump the unanimous support from Republicans that he hoped for and quickly drew an outsized amount of criticism from the president and his allies.
“Mitt Romney is forever bitter that he will never be POTUS. He was too weak to beat the Democrats then so he’s joining them now.” Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son, tweeted. “He’s now officially a member of the resistance & should be expelled from the @GOP.” GOP chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, Romney’s niece, said she stood by the president “who did nothing wrong.”
Amid the avalanche of backlash, Romney’s GOP colleagues ruled out formally punishing the senator for his vote. Senator Mike Braun of Indiana denounced any suggestion that Romney are going to be expelled from the GOP as “silly.”