US Democrats’ efforts to convict Donald Trump at his impeachment trial suffered a fresh blow on Tuesday when almost all Republican senators backed dismissing the case, underlining the former president’s continuing hold over the party.
The motion failed after all 50 Democrats and only five Republicans in the Senate did not support the push to throw out the case before the trial has begun.
The result confirmed Democrats will struggle to persuade 17 Republican senators — the number needed for the required two-thirds majority — to vote to convict Trump.
Rand Paul, Republican senator from Kentucky, raised a point of order to hold a vote on the constitutionality of the impeachment trial as Trump has left office.
Democrats then called for a vote to kill the point of order, winning 55-45.
Paul said afterwards “that 45 Senators agreed that this sham of a ‘trial’ is unconstitutional... This ‘trial’ is dead on arrival in the Senate”.
Patrick Leahy, the 80-year-old senator presiding over the trial, was hospitalised after Tuesday’s proceedings during which he sounded hoarse and unwell as lawmakers were sworn in as jurors.
“The attending physician recommended that he be taken to a local hospital for observation, where he is now, and where he is being evaluated,” his spokesman said.
Leahy, who was elected in 1974, is presiding as he is the senior senator of the party with the majority in the Senate, currently the Democrats.
The House of Representatives on Monday presented a single article of impeachment to the upper chamber accusing Trump of inciting the storming of the Capitol earlier this month, setting in motion the first-ever impeachment trial of a former president.
The trial of Trump, who was impeached by the Democratic-majority House for an unprecedented second time, is to begin in the week of February 8.
Trump — winner of 74 million votes in his loss to Biden on November 3 and reportedly sitting on some $70 million in campaign funds — wants Republican senators to consider their own futures before they dare cross him.
Trump’s main way of applying pressure while out of office is to threaten disloyal legislators with support for their challengers in party primary votes ahead of the 2022 midterms.
Trump’s endorsement on Monday of his former White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders in her bid to become governor of Arkansas was a first flexing of political muscle.