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How Each Senator Is Likely To Weigh Removing Trump

It’s been just over a month since the House of Representatives voted to impeach President Trump on a largely party-line vote. Last week, the House voted, also largely along party lines, to officially transmit the articles of impeachment to the Senate, officially handing over the reins to the impeachment process. The Senate’s trial of Donald J. Trump starts today.

Just before Trump was impeached, we took a look at how the trial vote was likely to break down in the Senate. So, now that the ball is in the Senate’s hands, has anything changed? We’ve updated that original article below.

The biggest issue to crop up since we last checked in is the question of what the Senate trial will actually look like. (You can read more about that, and about what we might learn during the trial, in this piece by Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux.) The transmission of the articles didn’t occur sooner largely because House Speaker Nancy Pelosi didn’t want to turn over the impeachment process to the GOP-controlled Senate until she had assurances that the Senate would hold a trial that included witnesses. It’s not clear if Pelosi succeeded or failed. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has not committed to allowing witnesses during the trial. But three Republicans — Maine’s Susan Collins, Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski and Utah’s Mitt Romney — have already signaled that they want to have witness testimony.

So it’s possible that a majority exists — the chamber’s 47 Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents joining with four Republicans — that would support having witnesses. And a majority vote could force McConnell’s hand.

This is really not a debate about whether to call witnesses, but which witnesses can be called. Democrats want to hear from people in Trump’s orbit, particularly former National Security Adviser John Bolton, who might offer more details about the Trump administration’s attempts to force the Ukrainian government to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter. But McConnell and other Republicans are likely to insist that, if there are witnesses, the list should include at least one of the Bidens to testify about how Hunter Biden got a high-paying role with the Ukrainian gas company Burisma. (Democrats broadly think that forcing Hunter or Joe Biden to testify is improper and basically rewarding Trump’s bad behavior.)

So I think it’s possible that McConnell pushes for a trial that includes testimony from both Bolton and Hunter Biden — knowing that a bipartisan Senate majority opposes that kind of agreement. (Essentially, in that scenario, Democrats would be trying to shield Joe Biden from public testimony that might be uncomfortable for him, and Republicans would be limiting the potential that new details of the Ukraine scheme might emerge that could their likely votes to acquit Trump harder to justify.) The result would be no witnesses.

Then again, all of this wrangling over the parameters of the trial may not matter much. At least at the start of this trial process, the Democrats seem well short of the 67 votes that would be needed to remove the president. It’s still hard to see any Republican voting to remove Trump, and there may be a few Democrats who are inclined to oppose Trump’s removal.

But it’s worth explaining exactly why we think the Senate won’t vote to remove Trump. So let’s break down the vote among all 100 senators — we expect a mostly party-line vote, but there are a number of incentives at work beneath the surface. (Again, we first published this breakdown of the possible Senate vote on Dec. 11, and fundamentally nothing has changed about the Senate voting calculus since then.)

Let’s start with the Democrats.

Almost certain to vote for removal: 44 Democrats

Trump’s removal is supported by 47 percent of Americans and more than 80 percent of Democrats. So if you’re the typical Democratic senator who represents a blue-leaning state, the safe and obvious vote is for Trump’s removal. And that’s without even considering the strong evidence that Trump pressured Ukraine to investigate the Bidens in exchange for a White House meeting and military aid.

It’s hard for me to see even Democrats who like to emphasize their bipartisanship — Chris Coons of Delaware, for example — or those up for reelection in 2020 in blue-tinged swing states — Gary Peters of Michigan, Tina Smith of Minnesota — voting against impeachment. Impeachment is popular enough among Democratic voters that any Democratic senator in a state that’s not solidly red would have serious electoral problems voting against it.

Swing votes based on centrism: 2 Democrats

There are two Democrats, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, who are not up for reelection in 2020 but who might still vote against removal.

Sinema, who was elected last November, is known to be fairly centrist and comfortable breaking with her party. She was one of only three Democrats who backed the confirmation of William Barr to be attorney general, for example. Manchin is friendly with Trump and voted for Barr and Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. The West Virginian has taken the same position as the Trump White House on key votes about 31 percent of the time in the current Congress, making him the chamber’s most Trump-aligned Democrat. Sinema is No. 2, backing the president’s position 21 percent of the time.

In terms of partisan lean,1 Arizona leans red, and West Virginia is super conservative. But I doubt electoral considerations matter that much to either Manchin nor Sinema — they aren’t up for reelection until 2024, when Trump’s impeachment will likely be a distant memory.

So I would bet that both Manchin and Sinema vote against Trump’s removal, preserving their brands as separate from the broader Democratic Party.

Swing vote based on electoral considerations: 1 Democrat

Like Manchin and Sinema, Doug Jones of Alabama also voted for Barr. Unlike Manchin and Sinema, Jones is up for reelection in 2020. My read on Jones is that he’s not that personally centrist; instead, he seems to be trying to figure out how to stay in his seat in pro-Trump Alabama. Jones has taken Trump’s position on 18 percent of Senate votes this year, making him the third most Trump-aligned Democrat, after Manchin and Sinema. But relative to his state’s politics, Jones ranks behind only Jon Tester of Montana in bucking his state’s pro-Trump preferences.

My starting assumption is that Jones will vote against Trump’s removal, hoping that the vote helps his reelection bid. But he could also decide that Trump’s behavior is too extreme to condone and back removal, electoral consequences be damned. Or perhaps Jones votes for Trump’s removal both because he opposes the president’s conduct but also because the Alabama Democrat sees little chance of winning reelection anyway and is basically auditioning for a spot in the next Democratic president’s cabinet. (In 2016, presidential and Senate voting were highly correlated — no U.S. Senate candidate won in a state where his or her party’s presidential nominee lost. It’s hard to imagine the Democratic presidential nominee winning in Alabama in 2020, so Jones seems like an underdog.)

So that’s at least 44 votes for removal just among Democrats, and possibly as many as 47. The removal of Trump would require another 20-23 votes. Those would have to come from among the chamber’s 53 Republicans. And I think removal is 20 to 23 votes short of passing.

At least right now, I don’t think any Republican is likely to vote for Trump’s removal. My guess is that lots of Republicans privately disapprove of Trump’s Ukraine moves. But GOP senators face significant pressure not to publically break with Trump if they want to maintain their standing within the party and not annoy GOP voters who they need on their side to win primaries and general elections.

Still, there are some gradations among the likely noes. Let’s go through the GOP blocs, from the most likely to vote for Trump’s removal to the least likely.

Trump-skeptical, limited electoral considerations: 2 Republicans

Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Mitt Romney of Utah are among the most Trump-skeptical Republicans in Congress, with the Utah senator, in particular, occasionally bashing the president very sharply. Neither has too much to worry about electorally — Murkowski isn’t up for reelection until 2022, and Romney isn’t up until 2024. Trump isn’t super popular in Utah, and the state’s Republicans knew they were supporting someone who was not particularly pro-Trump when they nominated Romney in 2018. Murkowski lost a GOP primary in 2010 and then won the general election as a write-in candidate, so she probably isn’t that afraid of breaking with the party, either.

That said, only 8 percent of Republican voters support removing Trump from office. Chiding Trump over some of his more outlandish comments is one thing; supporting the removal of a president who has such strong support within your party is something else.

Trump-skeptical, significant electoral considerations: 2 Republicans

Cory Gardner of Colorado and Susan Collins of Maine are both up for reelection in 2020 in Democratic-leaning states. Both have a history of breaking with Trump. They were part of a group of Republicans who publicly said they would not vote for Trump in the run-up to the 2016 election, for example. And Collins, in particular, has remained fairly critical of the president since he came into office. So there are some reasons to think that both could support the president’s removal.

That said, there was some evidence that Republican congressional candidates who broke with Trump in 2016 did worse than those who remained supportive of him, in part because those candidates lost some support from Trump-aligned voters. Perhaps Collins and Gardner would gain support from more centrist Romney-Clinton voters if they backed Trump’s removal, making up for any losses among conservatives. But that’s a risky bet. Both senators need Republican voters in the general election.

Also, voting for removal has the potential to result in an organized campaign to defeat Collins or Gardner in their respective GOP primaries. The deadlines to file for the Senate in Colorado and Maine are in mid-March. That’s not a ton of time for a challenger to ramp up a campaign, since the Senate is likely to vote on impeachment sometime in January. But it would likely be fairly easy for even an obscure Republican to find support among GOP activists and donors if he or she were running against a GOP incumbent who had voted for Trump’s removal. And in Maine, there is a very prominent pro-Trump Republican may challenge Collins the moment she votes for Trump’s removal, ex-Gov. Paul LePage.

In short, for Collins and Gardner, the safest electoral route is to oppose removal.

Trump-skeptical, huge electoral considerations: 1 Republican

Ben Sasse of Nebraska was among Trump’s most vocal GOP critics during the president’s first two years in office. But as Sasse’s 2020 reelection bid has neared, the Nebraska senator has changed course — not quite embracing Trump, but not going out of his way to emphasize their disagreements either. Not coincidentally, Sasse already has a primary challenger arguing that he is too anti-Trump.

If Sasse voted to remove Trump, I think he would be defeated in Nebraska’s May 12 primary. So I don’t think his vote is much in question.

Pro-Trump, retiring (so no electoral pressure): 4 Republicans

This group includes Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Richard Burr of North Carolina, Mike Enzi of Wyoming, Pat Roberts of Kansas.2

If Trump was truly in danger of being removed, you’d expect to see the first signs of it in this group. I think Alexander, in particular, would be part of any such movement. He’s conservative on policy, but more of an old-school Republican (think Bob Dole) in terms of temperament. He’s not particularly close to the president.

Similarly, Burr, Enzi and Roberts have no particular loyalty to Trump and no political reason to be wary of supporting his removal. That said, all four are longtime loyal party members. It’s just really hard to see them breaking with the party’s president on this kind of vote.

Pro-Trump, with significant electoral considerations: 4 Republicans

This group of Republicans — John Cornyn of Texas, Joni Ernst of Iowa, Martha McSally of Arizona, Thom Tillis of North Carolina — has a lot in common with the previous group (neither particularly anti-Trump nor especially pro-Trump), except they’re all up for reelection in 2020 in relatively swingy states. In other words, this is a bit of a complicated vote for them.

The safest course — and the one I would expect all four to take — is to oppose Trump’s removal, therefore preventing a major primary challenge and ensuring Republican voters in their states are strongly behind them for the 2020 general election. That said, for all four, voting against Trump’s removal ties their political prospects even closer to the president’s. If 2020 is an anti-Trump wave year, I think it’s possible that Democrats win Senate seats in Arizona, Iowa, North Carolina and/or Texas — the same Senate-presidential vote alignment that is likely to doom Jones in Alabama would also doom some of these members.

But let’s pause here for a moment. Imagine that everyone in the groups listed so far voted for impeachment. (Again, I don’t think that’s at all likely, but let’s just pretend.) That would still give removal “just” 60 votes — seven short of the required number. That makes this next group of Republicans essentially the deciders in the impeachment process.

Pro-Trump but looking at the polls: 32 Republicans

This is a big group; I’d include: John Barrasso of Wyoming, Roy Blunt of Missouri, John Boozman of Arkansas, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Mike Crapo of Idaho, Ted Cruz of Texas, Steve Daines of Montana, Deb Fischer of Nebraska, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, John Kennedy of Louisiana, Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, Josh Hawley of Missouri, John Hoeven of North Dakota, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, James Lankford of Oklahoma, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Mike Lee of Utah, Jerry Moran of Kansas, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Rob Portman of Ohio, Jim Risch of Idaho, Marco Rubio of Florida, Mike Rounds of South Dakota, Dan Sullivan of Alaska, Tim Scott of South Carolina, Richard Shelby of Alabama, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, John Thune of South Dakota, Todd Young of Indiana, Roger Wicker of Mississippi.

And at first glance, you might not think these members should be in the same group. After all, Graham has been one of Trump’s strongest defenders amid the Ukraine scandal, while some of these senators — Lee and Paul in particular — have fairly low Trump scores and occasionally break with the president on policy. But what ties all these senators together, in my view, is that they generally rose to power pre-Trump and are probably more interested in preserving the GOP and their own electoral standing than in defending Trump himself. And none of them are up for reelection in 2020 in swing states, so they are probably looking more at the broader landscape for Republicans than their own reelection prospects.

I don’t see them breaking with Trump unless it’s very politically expedient. Let’s say, at some point, 75 percent of Americans support Trump’s removal, including 35 or 40 percent of Republicans. This is the bloc of Republicans that I think would go to the White House and urge Trump to step down. They would be the most potent messengers in such a situation — they rarely attack Trump and so can’t be written off as “Never Trumpers,” a categorization the president’s allies have used to dismiss criticism from people like Romney. More importantly, if this group broke with Trump, it would provide the numbers needed to actually remove him from office. (Again, though, that all seems very unlikely at the moment.)

Always Trumpers: 8 Republicans

These Republicans — Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, Mike Braun of Indiana, Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Kevin Cramer of North Dakota, Cindy Hyde-Smith of Mississippi, Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue of Georgia, and Rick Scott of Florida — either rose to power post-Trump or are closely allied with the president on immigration issues in particular (Cotton and Perdue). I don’t think they will ever, ever break with the president. If Trump’s political standing worsens, Loeffler and Perdue would be making a somewhat risky move in sticking by him because they represent swingy Georgia (and both are on the ballot in 2020), but I still don’t see any circumstances in which they break with the president. Or, to put it slightly more cautiously, this group of Republicans would likely be Trump’s last defenders.

There are a lot of competing incentives at work in the Senate regarding impeachment. The way it all shakes out, however, is that the removal vote is at about 56-44 in Trump’s favor. That could, of course, change — based on additional evidence emerging, public opinion shifting and senators changing their minds. But right now, it’s just hard to see the Senate trial taking place with any real chance that 67 senators will support removing him from office.

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  1. Partisan lean is the average difference between how a state votes and how the country votes overall, with 2016 presidential election results weighted at 50 percent, 2012 presidential election results weighted at 25 percent and results from elections for the state legislature weighted at 25 percent. The partisan leans here were calculated before the 2018 elections; we haven’t calculated FiveThirtyEight partisan leans that incorporate the midterm results yet.

  2. Burr has said he is not seeking reelection in 2022; the other three will end their tenures after the 2020 elections.

Perry Bacon Jr. was a senior writer for FiveThirtyEight.