Iowa’s U.S. Senators vote against Trump impeachment trial

U.S. Sens. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, voted against holding a Senate trial to convict former President Donald Trump following his impeachment by the House.



Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) speaks during Supreme Court Justice nominee Judge Amy Coney Barrett's Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing for Supreme Court Justice on Capitol Hill on October 12, 2020 in Washington, DC. With less than a month until the presidential election, President Donald Trump tapped Amy Coney Barrett to be his third Supreme Court nominee in just four years. If confirmed, Barrett would replace the late Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. (Patrick Semansky/Pool/Getty Images/TNS)

Brian Grace, Politics Reporter

In alignment with the majority of the Republican Party, U.S. Sens. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, voted against continuing with former President Donald Trump’s upcoming Senate trial following his Jan. 13 impeachment by the U.S. House.

The Senate voted 55-45 on Tuesday to reject a measure brought by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, claiming the trial was unconstitutional. Five Republicans joined Democrats in the vote to continue with a trial that could convict Trump of inciting violence against the United States government in a speech given just moments before rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol, which resulted in five deaths.

In a conference call with reporters on Tuesday, Ernst said Trump showed poor leadership leading up to the events in the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 but wasn’t sure whether or not that meant he was guilty.

“Certainly I believe that he should have been out sooner telling the crowd, you know, we’re peacefully protesting, don’t do these actions,” Ernst told reporters. “But does that mean he is guilty of inciting insurrection? And there is a very specific legal definition for that…I don’t believe that maybe it does meet that definition, but again I’ll listen to those arguments, but the broader question is is it constitutional.”

She said her role in Congress is to abide by the U.S. Constitution, and if Trump is truly guilty, the U.S. has avenues of accountability in the court system. If Trump is convicted by the Senate, Congress can hold a vote that would prevent Trump from running for another federal office.

The trial is scheduled for Feb. 8. Only five Republican senators voted alongside Democrats, signaling that getting the required 17 Republican votes a Trump conviction requires is unlikely.

As previously reported by The Daily Iowan, both Grassley and Ernst said they question the constitutionality of pursuing an impeachment trial for a president who is no longer in office.

President Joe Biden’s Jan. 20 inauguration speech hinged on a theme of unity and a future of bipartisan policy, but Ernst said the looming impeachment trial in addition to Biden’s initial executive orders aren’t making unity easily achievable.

“I don’t know that there is a way to bring unity right now, especially with these actions,” Ernst said Tuesday. “Certainly we will have to look at the precedent as well; trying to try a person who is a private citizen and the implications that could have on future presidencies as well as former presidents.”

Former University of Iowa political science professor Cary Covington said in a statement to The Daily Iowan that because the Senate has sole authority in all matters regarding impeachment trials, the Senate also has the ability to rule the trial either constitutional or unconstitutional.

However, Covington said if the Senate votes that trial is constitutional, there’s no grounds for voting against conviction based on constitutionality.

“The Senate already ruled that it is,” Covington said of the vote that took place Tuesday in the Senate. “That’s why Sen. Paul’s motion was so important: the Senate ruled that it is constitutional to try Trump. Once that happened, the only grounds for voting to convict or acquit for senators who respect the rules of their chamber can be the facts of the case.”

Covington said alternatively, if the Senate ruled the trial constitutional and members of the Senate thought Trump was not guilty, they would simply vote for acquittal and not mention the constitution.

“Senators who persist in saying they’re voting to acquit because the trial is unconstitutional are violating their oath of office, because they are flouting the ruling of their own chamber,” Covington said. “Why would they do that? I can think of only one reason: they cannot bring themselves to vote on the facts of the case. They know the president is guilty but they want to avoid saying so.”