Nebraskans wondered whether one of former President Donald Trump’s most vocal critics, U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse, would match his condemnation of Trump with a vote to convict him.
Saturday, Sasse was one of seven Republicans who voted to convict Trump of inciting an insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
House impeachment managers secured 57 Senate votes; 43 voted to acquit. Conviction would have required a two-thirds vote of senators present, or 67 votes with all 100 senators attending.
The remaining members of the Senate from Nebraska and Iowa, Nebraska’s Sen. Deb Fischer and Iowa Sens. Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley, all Republicans, were among those voting to acquit Trump.
The six other Republicans who voted to convict were Sens. Mitt Romney of Utah, Richard Burr of North Carolina, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania.
Sasse said in a statement that he viewed his vote as a public declaration of what a president’s oath of office means and what behavior that oath demands of future presidents.
“But here’s the sad reality,” Sasse said. “If we were talking about a Democratic president, most Republicans and most Democrats would simply swap sides. Tribalism is a hell of a drug, but our oath to the Constitution means we’re constrained to the facts.”
Sasse said Trump lied by saying he had won the 2020 presidential election by a landslide. He said Trump lied about widespread voter fraud despite losing 60 straight court challenges, including in front of judges that Trump appointed.
Sasse said Trump tried to urge Georgia election officials to “find votes” and overturn the state’s election results. He also said Trump falsely insisted that his vice president, Mike Pence, could disregard his oath and declare a different winner.
“The president repeated these lies when summoning his crowd — parts of which were widely known to be violent — to Capitol Hill to intimidate Vice President Pence and Congress into not fulfilling our constitutional duties,” Sasse said. “Those lies had consequences, endangering the life of the vice president and bringing us dangerously close to a bloody constitutional crisis.”
Fischer, in a statement, said Congress lacks the constitutional authority to impeach a former president. Trump was impeached while still in office. Constitutional law experts said the impeachment was allowable.
Fischer also echoed the line argued by Trump’s attorneys that the president was denied his due process rights. House impeachment managers asked the former president if he would like to testify; he declined. His lawyers also opposed calling witnesses on his behalf.
“I voted to acquit President Trump,” Fischer said. “It is now time to come together and move forward.”
Nebraska Republican Party executive director Ryan Hamilton, in a statement, said he was glad to see an end to an “unconstitutional process from the beginning.” He said the country faces bigger challenges and is hurting.
“Perhaps now the Senate and those in it who love to pay lip service to the Constitution can stop the show trials and get to work on their constitutional duty to represent the American people,” he said.
Nebraska Democratic Party chair Jane Kleeb criticized Fischer for toeing the GOP line and doing “as she was told.” She praised Sasse for “listening to the evidence” and said she hoped he would continue to back up his words.
“Senator Fischer wants to run for governor in 2022, and there is no question that Nebraskans will remember that she continues to stand with Trump even as he incited a deadly mob that killed a police officer,” Kleeb said.
Grassley and Ernst largely echoed Fischer’s concerns about the process. Grassley said House managers had failed to prove their case.
“What happened here at the Capitol was completely inexcusable,” he said. “Undoubtedly, then-President Trump displayed poor leadership in his words and actions. I do not defend those actions and my vote should not be read as a defense of those actions.”
In an interview with The World-Herald on Saturday, Sasse said he had heard from thousands of Nebraskans in recent weeks, including “lots of Republicans on both sides of this issue.” He said his duty was to the truth, not to put his finger in the wind and figure out the best short-term political choice.
Sasse said he hopes Nebraskans will remember that he gave them his word in 2014 that he would do what he could to make sure Congress stood up to attacks on its constitutional prerogatives. He said Congress would only get weaker if it allowed an attack by the executive branch on the legislative branch to go unanswered.
To him, the most compelling evidence concerned the timeline of the president’s words and tweets and inaction concerning the safety of Pence. Sasse said House managers laid out that Trump had described Pence as weak and called him out on Twitter as he was doing his duty by accepting counted votes.
Trump also did not deploy the National Guard for hours, Sasse said, including after the president knew the vice president and members of Congress were in danger from the Capitol mob.
“That timeline is really devastating and difficult for the president’s counsel to answer,” Sasse said. He said Trump’s lawyers never addressed the timeline issue.
Sasse’s vote and those of the six other Republicans answered a key question of Trump’s second impeachment trial: which Republicans would back the charge that Trump incited the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol.
The trial ended as expected, with Senate acquittal of the House impeachment charge that Trump had incited hundreds of his supporters to storm the Capitol during the formal counting of Electoral College votes.
Most political observers expected a quick resolution of the impeachment trial Saturday, but a vote on whether to consider allowing witnesses briefly slowed things down.
Sasse and four fellow Republicans joined the majority in a 55-45 vote that made calling witnesses possible. Fischer, Ernst and Grassley voted against witnesses.
After a delay, House managers, negotiating with leaders from both parties and Trump’s legal team, decided against calling witnesses in exchange for Trump’s team accepting a GOP House member’s statement.
Washington state Republican Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler’s statement confirmed a Jan. 6 call between Trump and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy during the invasion of the Capitol.
Herrera Beutler said McCarthy told her that he told Trump the mob was made up of Trump supporters and he asked Trump to publicly “call off the riot.”
McCarthy told her that Trump then said, “‘Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are.’”
The Senate, after two wins by Democrats in Georgia, is split 50-50 among those who caucus with Republicans and those who caucus with Democrats.