Sen. Mitt Romney walked to the well of the U.S. Senate chamber on Wednesday to explain why he would become the only Republican to vote to convict President Donald Trump of the abuse of power charge filed by House Democrats.
As the former Republican Party presidential nominee launched into what some consider the most stunning rebuke of Trump’s presidency, just one of his Republican colleagues sat inside the chamber: Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi.
During Romney’s 10-minute speech, however, Wicker stood from his desk and walked out of the chamber mid-speech.
“What he (Trump) did was not perfect. No, it was a flagrant assault on our electoral rights, our national security and our fundamental values,” Romney said right around the time Wicker left the chamber. “Corrupting an election to keep oneself in office is perhaps the most abusive and destructive violation of one’s oath of office that I can imagine.”
Stopped by a Politico reporter a few minutes later, Wicker said simply of Romney: “This is his hour.”
Wicker was not in the chamber during Romney’s speech to be swayed. He’d made his mind up before the Senate trial began, as did Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, Mississippi’s junior senator. In the hyper-partisan moment in history, neither of Mississippi’s senators strayed from the loyalty they and a majority of their constituents have to the president.
The Senate voted Wednesday to acquit Trump of both impeachment articles, abuse of office and obstruction of Congress — both votes along party lines with the exception of Romney, who voted with Democrats 48-52 to convict Trump on the abuse of office charge.
While both Wicker and Hyde-Smith stretched to appear neutral in public statements and in initial interviews with reporters, neither senator attempted to be impartial arbiters of the House arguments.
“Was there the remotest chance when this trial began that I would be convinced that President Trump should be removed from office? Not really,” Wicker told Mississippi Today from his Washington office on the third full day of the impeachment trial.
The day before the Senate voted to acquit Trump of both impeachment charges on Wednesday, Wicker gave his own floor speech to defend his votes of acquittal.
“As I consider the high bar of impeachment, tomorrow, I will vote not to convict,” Wicker said in a speech. “I will do so because, there is not overwhelming evidence, because no high crimes are shown, because there is not a broad consensus among my countrymen, only articles passed on a narrowly partisan basis.”
Hyde-Smith was less subtle about her stance in the days before and during the Senate impeachment trial. Hyde-Smith showed unwavering support for Trump on social media, referring to the impeachment trial as a sham and a hoax, brushing aside the notion of impartiality.
“As the impeachment hearings begin, I will be fighting for President Trump,” she tweeted on Jan. 22, the second day of impeachment hearings in the Senate.
On the day before the Senate voted to acquit, Hyde-Smith gave a short floor speech defending her vote.
“This trial exposed that pure political partisanship fueled a reckless investigation and the subsequent impeachment of the President on weak, vague, and noncriminal accusations,” Hyde-Smith said. “The Democrats’ case, which lacked the basic standards of fairness and due process, was fabricated to fulfill their one, long-held hope to impeach President Trump.”
Wicker, who shaped his floor speech this week around the Constitution Framers’ intentions of impeachment, wrapped up his argument for the historic vote of acquittal with a nod to history itself.
“Let us ask ourselves today, do Hamilton and Madison and Franklin walk these venerable halls at midnight?” Wicker said. “Do these Founding Fathers traverse the stone corridors of this great building, this symbol of stability and rule of law? If they do, they caution us, as they always have, to be careful. To avoid rash decisions, to resist the urges of partisanship, to let the Constitution work.”
Wicker continued: “I hope my colleagues will heed their counsel.”