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WASHINGTON — Hawaii’s two Democratic senators voted to convict President Donald Trump on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
That was no surprise.
More unusual was the emotional reaction U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz found himself having as he listened to Republican Sen. Mitt Romney explain why he felt compelled to defy Trump and his party and vote against the president.
He was the only Republican to do so and his vote immediately drew a series of hateful Twitter attacks by Trump.
The Utah Republican voted to convict Trump of abuse of power for his attempts to convince Ukraine to investigate his political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, and his son, Hunter.
But Romney did not find Trump guilty of the second charge of obstruction of Congress for his refusal to turn over documents to the U.S. House of Representatives and restrict top officials within his administration from testifying under oath.
In the end Trump was acquitted of both articles of impeachment, 48 to 52 and 47 to 53.
Schatz had cleared his schedule so he could hear Romney speak on the Senate floor about why he would be voting to convict a president of his own party, the first time in history a senator has gone against their own party in an impeachment trial vote.
Schatz was one of only a handful of people in the chamber at the time and he teared up as Romney spoke. Then he went over and shook Romney’s hand.
“Senator Romney’s speech gave me, on a personal level, hope that, ‘Country above party,’ is not just a slogan, but an imperative,” Schatz said in an interview with Civil Beat.
“For me, it was just a glimmer of hope in an otherwise dark couple of weeks in our country.”
Hawaii Sen. Mazie Hirono said that if Wednesday’s vote proved anything it’s that the Republican Party, with the exception of Romney, is the property of Trump. She suspects many of her colleagues across the aisle are troubled by Trump’s actions, but are unwilling to speak out against him.
“The kind of fear that permeates my Republican colleagues is a sad thing for them,” Hirono said. “They’re going to need to contend with that, that they’re so afraid of this president.”
From the beginning, Schatz and Hirono had different approaches to the impeachment trial.
Schatz was optimistic that at least some Republicans could be convinced that what Trump did was wrong and worthy of removal from office.
Those hopes were dashed, at least in part, when the majority of Republicans banded together to block new evidence and witnesses — and particularly testimony from former National Security Advisor John Bolton — from coming in to the trial.
There were hints of bipartisanship, such as when Romney and Maine Republican Susan Collins sided with Democrats in their quest to call witnesses.
Schatz also partnered with Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski when submitting a question to Chief Justice John Roberts, a rare show of cross-party politics playing out during one of the most rancorous shows of partisanship in Senate history.
Still, the numbers were all but impossible. If Democrats wanted to oust Trump they would need at least two thirds of the Senate — or 67 votes — to do so.
That meant at least 20 Republicans would have to abandon their loyalties.
Given the math all Schatz could hope for was that the final vote wasn’t completely partisan.
“It’s easy in this business to get cynical about politics and assume everyone’s making a series of calculations and calibrations,” Schatz said. “But I think he did what was expected of all of us, which was to consult our conscience. It gives me hope for this institution, but also for the country.”
Hriono was more cynical. She was under no illusion her Republican colleagues would break with their president.
Instead, she used her platform to broadcast her views that the president was corrupt and what he had done was wrong so that the American people could come to the same conclusion she had — that he was guilty.
She said those efforts are not over, especially given the many policy differences she has with Trump, from immigration to health care.
“It is an ongoing challenge to counter what is pushed out by this administration every single day, and the assault on the body politic that emanates from this president every single day,” Hirono said. “So I will keep on keeping on.”
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