US senator Mitt Romney said he will vote to convict President Donald Trump, becoming the first and probably only Republican to break ranks during the Senate’s impeachment trial and favour removing Mr Trump from office.
In a remarkable spectacle, Mr Romney’s decision meant the Republican party’s unsuccessful 2012 presidential nominee would be voting to oust a Republican president who seldom hides his contempt for the well-mannered party establishment that the patrician Mr Romney symbolises.
As Mr Trump plunges into his re-election effort, Mr Romney’s move also denied Mr Trump a campaign talking point of asserting he had been unanimously acquitted by Republicans in a strictly partisan drive to remove him.
And it stood as the most noteworthy vote of rebellion against Mr Trump by a congressional Republican since 2017.
At that time, senator John McCain pointed his thumb downward in a post-midnight vote that derailed Mr Trump’s signature effort to dismantle president Barack Obama’s health care law.
Mr Romney announced his decision during an eight-minute speech on the Senate floor, as the Republican party’s 2012 presidential nominee became the first senator to bolt what so far has been a strict party-line divide over whether to oust Mr Trump.
The two men have had a tumultuous relationship since Mr Trump began his successful presidential campaign.
Mitt Romney is forever bitter that he will never be POTUS. He was too weak to beat the Democrats then so heâs joining them now.— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) February 5, 2020
Heâs now officially a member of the resistance & should be expelled from the @GOP.
Mr Romney said he believed Mr Trump was guilty of “an appalling abuse of public trust” when he pressured Ukraine’s leaders to investigate political foe Joe Biden.
Mr Romney said as a “profoundly religious” person, he was bound by the oath senators took to administer impartial justice.
“My faith is at the heart of who I am,” he said.
After he made that remark, he paused for about 11 seconds, seemingly struggling with his emotions.
“The grave question the constitution task senators to answer is whether the president committed an act so extreme, so egregious, that it rises to the level of a high crime and misdemeanour,” Mr Romney said. “Yes, he did.”
In a statement released by his office, Mr Romney said he would vote to convict Mr Trump for the impeachment article accusing him of abuse of power, but to acquit the president on the second count of obstructing Congress’ investigation of his actions toward Ukraine.
Mr Romney called his decision on how to judge Mr Trump “the most difficult decision I have ever faced”.
Mr Trump is virtually certain to be acquitted by the Republican-run Senate, where a two-thirds majority, 67 votes, would be required to remove him.
The final votes on the two articles of impeachment were scheduled for later Wednesday.