GOP Sen. Susan Collins, facing tough re-election, announces she will vote to acquit Trump

But the Maine lawmaker, who wanted to hear testimony from witnesses, said the president's conduct was wrong.

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By Dareh Gregorian and Julie Tsirkin

Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, one of only two Republicans to vote to hear witnesses at President Donald Trump's impeachment trial, announced Tuesday that she will vote to acquit him.

Collins said Trump's request that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy investigate Joe Biden and his son in a phone call on July 25 was "improper and demonstrated very poor judgment."

"It was wrong for President Trump to mention former Vice President Biden on that phone call, and it was wrong for him ask a foreign country to investigate a political rival," Collins said. But, she added, "I do not believe the House has met its burden of the showing the president's conduct, however flawed, warrants the extreme step of removal from office."

"It has been 230 years since George Washington first took the oath of office. There are good reasons why during that entire time the Senate has never removed a president," she said, noting that she'd also voted to acquit President Bill Clinton at his impeachment trial in 1999.

Collins, who is facing a tough re-election battle in November, had been one of the Republicans who Democrats had hoped would cross party lines and vote to convict the president of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. The other Republican who voted to hear witnesses, Mitt Romney of Utah, has not said how he will vote Wednesday.

Collins told NBC News after she made her statement that she would have considered censuring Trump but that she believed that the impeachment proceedings had likely taught the president enough of a lesson.

He's "only the third president to be actually impeached in history, and [that] both Republican senators such as myself and Democratic senators have criticized his conduct strikes me as a reprimand."

Full coverage of President Donald Trump's impeachment trial

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., urged all senators to vote to acquit the president earlier Tuesday, arguing that it was House Democrats who had abused their power, not Trump.

"It insults the intelligence of the American people to pretend this was a solemn process reluctantly begun because of withheld foreign aid," McConnell said on the Senate floor.

McConnell said House Democrats had been plotting to impeach Trump "for years" for having defeated Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election, and he derided their arguments that they were trying to protect democracy.

He said Democrats were the ones shattering norms, adopting the "absurd proposition" that "we think this president is a bull in a china shop, so we're going to drive a bulldozer through the china shop to get rid of him."

McConnell, who said before the trial that he was working in "total coordination" with the president's defense team, said partisan fever "led to the most rushed, least fair and least thorough presidential impeachment inquiry in American history."

"We must vote to reject the House's abuse of power," McConnell said, and "vote to keep factional fever from boiling over and scorching our Republic."

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., dismissed McConnell's "talking points" and accused Senate Republicans of working with the White House to cover up the president's wrongdoing.

"This is the first impeachment trial of a president or impeachment trial of anybody else that was completed with no witnesses and no documents. The American people are just amazed," he said.

A trial with no witnesses "fails the laugh test," Schumer said. "It makes people believe, correctly in my judgment, that the administration, its top people and Senate Republicans are all hiding the truth. They are afraid of the truth."

Other senators took to the Senate floor to declare how they'll vote Wednesday and why, and they were clearly split down partisan lines.

Rob Portman, R-Ohio, took a stance similar to Collins' — that Trump's actions were "inappropriate and wrong" but not at the level required to remove him from office.

Republicans John Thune of South Dakota, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Joni Ernst of Iowa, Deb Fischer of Nebraska, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Pat Roberts of Kansas, John Hoeven of North Dakota, Mike Rounds of South Dakota, Steve Daines of Montana and Roger Wicker of Mississippi said that what Trump is accused of — withholding almost $400 million in aid to pressure Zelenskiy into announcing an investigation into Biden and his son Hunter Biden — doesn't rise to the level of an impeachable offense and that House managers hadn't proven their case.

Republicans James Lankford of Oklahoma and John Boozman of Arkansas also announced that they would vote to acquit, decrying the House investigation as rushed and flawed. Boozman said he would "reject the weaponization of Congress' authority to impeach the duly elected president of the United States."

While none of those lawmakers criticized Trump for his actions, Republicans Ted Cruz of Texas, John Kennedy of Louisiana and David Perdue of Georgia went further, saying the president's actions involving the Bidens were appropriate because he was concerned about "corruption."

Republican Rand Paul of Kentucky also announced that he'd vote to acquit — and he used his speech to again name a person who has been identified in conservative media as the whistleblower who alerted congressional committees to Trump's Ukraine request.

Paul said that he doesn't know whether the person is the whistleblower or not but that the American people should know the identity. As he spoke, he had on display behind him a question he tried to ask during the impeachment trial that included the person's name. Chief Justice John Roberts, who is presiding over the trial, refused to read it aloud.

In remarks on the Senate floor Tuesday, Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said attempts to "out" a whistleblower to "score a political point aren't helpful."

"It's not the treatment any whistleblower deserves," he said.

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Democrats Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, Tina Smith of Minnesota, Robert Menendez and Cory Booker of New Jersey, Edward Markey of Massachusetts and Gary Peters of Michigan said that the managers had proven their case and that they would vote to convict on both articles of impeachment.

Democrat Dianne Feinstein of California, who'd said she was concerned about voting to remove a president during an election year, said she felt she had no choice but to convict.

"President Trump has taken the position that there are no checks on his presidential authority, effectively placing himself above the law, and I don't believe the Senate can let this stand," she said.

Democrat Jon Tester of Montana, a frequent Trump target from a state Trump won decisively in 2016, said he, too, would vote to convict.

Democrats Tim Kaine and Mark Warner of Virginia, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and Tom Carper of Delaware said they would vote to remove Trump, as well.

"While the president's actions have not been surprising, the Senate's capitulation has surprised me," Kaine said.

Angus King, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, said he'd vote to convict the president, and he disagreed with Collins, his fellow senator from Maine, that Trump was likely to have learned his lesson.

"This president in this matter was attempting to undermine [this] very election, and he gives every indication that he will continue to do so," King said. "He has expressed no understanding that he did anything wrong, let alone anything resembling remorse."

Garrett Haake contributed.