Romney's impeachment vote didn't change the outcome but it did change the narrative

First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
Image: Mitt Romney
Mitt Romney walks from the senate chamber during a break in the Senate impeachment trial of President Donald Trump at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 31, 2020.Brendan McDermid / Reuters file

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By Chuck Todd, Mark Murray and Carrie Dann

WASHINGTON — At the end of the day, the U.S. Senate didn’t need to censure President Trump over the Ukraine scandal — because Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, did it for the chamber on Wednesday afternoon.

“The president asked a foreign government to investigate his political rival,” Romney said.

“The president withheld vital military funds from that government to press it to do so.”

“The president delayed funds for an American ally at war with Russian invaders.”

“The president’s purpose was personal and political.”

“What he did was not ‘perfect.’ No, it was a flagrant assault on our electoral rights, our national security, and our fundamental values. 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.”

And Romney concluded with this: “My vote will likely be in the minority in the Senate. But irrespective of these things, with my vote, I will tell my children and their children that I did my duty to the best of my ability, believing that my country expected it of me. I will only be one name among many, no more, no less, to future generations of Americans who look at the record of this trial. They will note merely that I was among the senators who determined that what the president did was wrong, grievously wrong.”

While Romney was the only Republican senator who voted to convict President Trump in his impeachment trial, he wasn’t some random GOP senator – he was the party’s last presidential nominee.

If Democrats were only going to get one GOP vote, he was one to get.

It helps explain why no Democratic senators — including Joe Manchin, Kyrsten Sinema and Doug Jones — broke from their party.

And it puts pressure on moderate and at-risk GOP senators – like Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Cory Gardner and Martha McSally – to explain why they didn’t see the same simple facts above that Romney saw.

Today, Mitt Romney stands alone in his party.

The question we have is whether anyone else will join him a year from now.

A lot is hanging on what happens in November.

Trump to deliver response to his acquittal

In the end, the Senate voted to acquit President Trump on Wednesday — by a 48-52 vote on the abuse of power article of impeachment (where Romney joined Democrats), and by a 47-53 on the obstruction of Congress (where Romney joined with Republicans).

Democrats needed 67 votes to convict the president.

And today at noon ET, Trump will deliver remarks reacting to his acquittal.

It will be interesting to see if he directly responds to Romney’s speech from yesterday.

Especially over whether that July 25 call was “perfect.”

2020 Vision: Three days later, Buttigieg, Sanders are virtually tied in Iowa

With 97 percent of the results in, here’s where the delegate race stands in Iowa:

  • Buttigieg: 550 (26.2%)
  • Sanders: 546 (26.0%)
  • Warren: 381 (18.2%)
  • Biden: 331 (15.8%)
  • Klobuchar 255 (12.2%)
  • Yang 21 (1.0%)
  • Steyer 6 (0.3%)

On the campaign trail today

All of the activity is in New Hampshire, with the primary five days away: Pete Buttigieg hits Merrimack… Elizabeth Warren stumps in Derry… Amy Klobuchar is in Manchester… Andrew Yang holds town halls in Plymouth, Durham, Dover and Exeter… Tom Steyer, Michael Bennet, Tulsi Gabbard and Deval Patrick also are in the Granite State… And beginning at 8:00 p.m. ET, Bernie Sanders, Buttigieg, Klobuchar and Patrick participate in CNN town halls from New Hampshire.

Dispatches from NBC’s campaign embeds

Joe Biden reacted to coming in fourth in Iowa during a CNN town hall in New Hampshire, NBC’s Marianna Sotomayor reports: “Biden admitted that he ‘expected to do better’ and hoped that ‘our organization would perform better’ in the Iowa caucuses. However, he couched his loss by talking delegate math, saying that at the end of the day he has enough delegates to remain competitive in the race.” Read more about Biden’s “gut punch” from the caucuses here.

And Andrew Yang is focused on his technology and innovation message in the Granite State, playing off the app difficulties from the caucuses. At one town hall in New Hampshire, per NBC’s Julia Jester, Yang said, “Many, many organizations and resources throughout the country that would have been thrilled to have been involved” in the caucuses could have prevented the Iowa debacle, including private companies and individuals. “Right now, we're putting some of these processes in the hands of individuals that don't have technology as a core competence or an area of expertise, and as a result, we're putting Americans in position where they actually are questioning the integrity of our system and it doesn't need to be this way.”

Tweet of the day

Data Download: The number of the day is … $5.5 million

$5.5 million.

That’s how much Bernie Sanders is planning to spend on a TV and digital ad buy in 10 states, per NBC’s Gary Grumbach.

The buy is split between: Arkansas, Colorado, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, California and Texas.

Sanders also announced this morning that he raised $25 million in January.

The Lid: On to the next one

Don’t miss the pod from yesterday, when we looked at what the Iowa mess means and doesn’t mean for New Hampshire.

ICYMI: News clips you shouldn’t miss

Here’s the latest on Sanders closing the gap with Pete Buttigieg in Iowa.

Trump’s acquittal is raising the stakes for Democrats, with some fretting that their 2020 candidates can’t get the job done.

Don’t overlook Mitch McConnell’s role in delivering an impeachment win for Trump.

The Biden camp is doing damage control after getting pummeled in Iowa.

Pete Buttigieg’s campaign sure looks like it’s soliciting super PAC help.

Elizabeth Warren is highlighting her ties to Obama in a new ad.

Trump Agenda: Fear and loathing in DC

Sherrod Brown writes in a New York Times op-ed that many GOP senators voted for acquittal out of fear.

And Marie Yovanovitch also weighs in with an op-ed in the Washington Post.

The Washington Post calculates how many Americans voted for senators who voted to convict Trump.

AG Bill Barr has ordered a new review process for FBI investigations into 2020 candidates.

2020: Shifting strategies

Here’s how Biden and Warren are shifting their strategies after Iowa.

Warren says she needs to be “careful” with money now.

Trump is courting black voters, but it’s not going well.