By Susan Cornwell, David Morgan and Richard Cowan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate’s top Republican exhorted fellow senators on Tuesday to acquit President Donald Trump in his impeachment trial, warning the fate of the country depended on it, even as his Democratic counterpart called Trump a threat to democracy.
The partisan rancor in the dueling speeches by Republican Senator Mitch McConnell and Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer underscored the wider polarization in the country over Trump’s impeachment on charges arising from his dealings with Ukraine.
Several of Trump’s fellow Republicans said they disapproved of his efforts to pressure Ukraine last summer to investigate a political rival. But they said those actions were not serious enough to remove him from office.
Others in the Republican-controlled chamber said voters would have a chance to render a verdict on Trump in the November presidential election.
As the day drew on, it appeared Senate Republicans might be unanimous in voting to acquit Trump when the vote takes place on Wednesday.
Senator Susan Collins, one of a handful of moderate Republicans, said she would vote for Trump’s acquittal. That appeared to leave the vote of only one other Republican, Senator Mitt Romney, in play. His office said only that he would make a floor speech before the vote.
The Democratic-led House of Representatives impeached Trump on Dec. 18 on charges of abuse of power for asking Ukraine to investigate political rival Joe Biden and his son Hunter and obstruction of Congress for blocking testimony and documents sought in the investigation.
McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, warned that impeachment risked becoming just another partisan weapon.
“We must vote to reject the House abuse of power, vote to protect our institutions, vote to reject new precedents that would reduce the framers’ design to rubble, vote to keep factional fever from boiling over and scorching our republic,” he said.
Schumer, the Senate Democratic leader, said it “is the beginning of the end of democracy” if Americans believe their elections are being manipulated through foreign interference, such as that solicited by Trump.
Trump has drawn almost uniform support against removal among Republican senators, although several have called his actions wrong and inappropriate.
“It was wrong for him to ask a foreign country to investigate a political rival,” said Collins, who faces re-election this year in Maine.
Republican Senator Rand Paul stated the purported name of the anonymous whistleblower from the U.S. intelligence community whose complaint about Trump’s request to Ukraine triggered the House impeachment inquiry.
Paul last week put the name, reported by conservative media as the whistleblower, in a written question to be asked during the trial, but U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts as the presiding officer declined to read it.
Trump has called for the whistleblower’s identity to be exposed. The intelligence community has not named the whistleblower, and Democrats have said identifying such individuals could expose them to retaliation and deter others from reporting wrongdoing within the government.
White House spokesman Hogan Gidley told reporters that Trump would not accept censure – a congressional rebuke short of removal floated by moderate Democratic Senator Joe Manchin. Gidley said Trump had done nothing wrong.
Biden, the former U.S. vice president, is a contender for the Democratic nomination to challenge Trump in the election.
McConnell expressed surprise at the Democrats’ decision to impeach Trump, saying that his acquittal was always assured.
A two-thirds vote is needed in the Senate to remove Trump from office and his fellow Republicans occupy 53 of the 100 seats.
The Constitution allows for the removal of a president for committing “high crimes and misdemeanors.” McConnell said he disagreed with the view offered by Trump’s legal team that a president could not be impeached without a violation of statutory law.
Democratic Senator Edward Markey said that if Republicans acquit Trump, “a majority in this chamber will have made President Trump a dictator.”
GRAPHIC-Impeachment of U.S. President Donald Trump link: https://tmsnrt.rs/30NregM)
(Reporting by Susan Cornwell, Alexandra Alper, David Morgan, Makini Brice, Richard Cowan, Lisa Lambert, Patricia Zengerle and Susan Heavey; Writing by Will Dunham; Editing by Andy Sullivan and Peter Cooney)