Moment of truth: Romney to speak on impeachment around 2 p.m. ET; Update: Romney votes to remove on one count; Update: Sinema on both counts; Update: Manchin too

Manchin hasn’t announced his intentions yet but it’s clear enough from his interest in a censure resolution that he’s uncomfortable voting to remove. If you doubt that, go back and rewatch his speech from a few days ago, where he makes the case against removal at some length. He’s in the bag for Trump.

There’s real suspense around Kyrsten Sinema, who’s eager enough to show her independence and bipartisanship that she stood to applaud Trump several times during last night’s SOTU while some of her colleagues sat. That points towards her voting for acquittal too. Who would give a standing O to a president whose removal they’re prepared to support less than 24 hours later? But I continue to think that a pol like Sinema who clearly has a national future can’t afford to disappoint her party on a vote this big. Lefties already dislike her for her centrism; if she votes to acquit, they’ll never condone her as a potential president or vice-president. Maybe she’s calculating that for someone like her to become viable as a nominee it would mean that the party had already shifted far enough to the center that she’d be forgiven a vote to acquit Trump, even if newly marginalized progressives hate her for it. I’ve thought all along she was likely to remove in order to protect her left flank but after last night’s applauding it’s hard to believe she won’t acquit.

Which brings us to you-know-who, the only vote Republicans care about.

I have little to add to what I said in this post last week so read that if you missed it. I still believe Romney’s *slightly* more likely to acquit than convict, although the argument Adam Schiff aimed at him on Monday afternoon — is there one man of courage who’ll say “enough”? — was probably effective. And I wonder if Doug Jones’s decision this morning to ignore his own electoral interests in Alabama and pull the trigger on removal might give Romney the little nudge he might be looking for to do the same. There are some things more important than winning an election, Jones seems to be saying. (Never mind that he was destined to lose this fall anyway and will earn lots of goodwill from the next Democratic administration with his vote today.) Plus, sounds like Romney’s on the presidential sh*t list no matter what he does:

With Senate Republicans on track to acquit Donald Trump on Wednesday, Washington is bracing for what an unshackled Trump does next. Republicans briefed on Trump’s thinking believe that the president is out for revenge against his adversaries. “It’s payback time,” a prominent Republican told me last week. “He has an enemies list that is growing by the day,” another source said. Names that came up in my conversations with Republicans included Adam Schiff, Jerry Nadler, Mitt Romney, and John Bolton. “Trump’s playbook is simple: go after people who crossed him during impeachment.”

But like I say, read last week’s post. There are reasons why he might not want to cast a meaningless vote to remove even if he feels it’s warranted. If he were in the final year of his Senate term, headed for retirement, that would be one thing. As it is, he has nearly five years left and may have to serve all of them under Trump. (Increasingly likely, even.) He’ll be a pariah within the caucus for awhile if he votes to remove and a punching bag for his colleagues, as Kelly Loeffler has already demonstrated. Nothing’s stopping him from criticizing Trump in his floor speech before lamenting that removal with an election so close would be too disruptive to the country or that he can only judge based on the evidence before him and that evidence doesn’t include John Bolton’s testimony, alas. It’d be easy to justify an acquittal. Especially since, if he votes the other way, he hands the other party a valuable talking point that in the end they had bipartisan support for removing Trump.

No senator has ever cast a vote to remove a president from his own party. That’ll be Romney’s political legacy if he defies that precedent. Is that the legacy he wants? “The only Republican during the Trump era to support the president’s ouster”? We’ll know imminently. In the meantime, here’s Jones with a point aimed at no Republican in particular, I’m sure.

Update: I didn’t think he had it in him.

That’s his legacy, whatever else happens from here.

Update: Looks like Romney whispered his decision in advance to McKay Coppins of The Atlantic, because this story went live at 2 p.m. just as he was making his announcement.

In the end, the evidence was inescapable. “The president did in fact pressure a foreign government to corrupt our election process,” Romney said. “And really, corrupting an election process in a democratic republic is about as abusive and egregious an act against the Constitution—and one’s oath—that I can imagine. It’s what autocrats do.”…

Romney confessed that he’d spent much of the impeachment trial hoping a way out would present itself: “I did not want to get here.” In fact, that was part of the reason he wanted former National Security Adviser John Bolton to testify about what Trump had told him. “I had the hope that he would be able to say something exculpatory and create reasonable doubt, so I wouldn’t have to vote to convict,” Romney said.

Still, he found the case presented by the president’s defense team unpersuasive. Romney had a hard time believing, for example, that Trump had been acting out of a desire to crack down on corruption when he tried to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter. The Bidens’ alleged conflicts of interest may have been “ugly,” Romney said, but it was never established that they warranted a criminal investigation. “No crime was alleged by the defense, and yet the president went to an extreme level to investigate these two people … and for what purpose?” The only motive that made sense, he determined, was a political one…

“I get that a lot—‘Be with the president,’” Romney told me, sounding slightly perplexed. “And I’ll say, ‘Regardless of his point of view? Regardless of the issue?’ And they say yes. And … it’s like, ‘Well, no, I can’t do that.’”

“I was under the misimpression that what brought Republican voters together was conviction in a certain number of policy points of view,” he told Coppins at any point, acidly. That was indeed a misimpression. The bottom line here is actually simple: If the president were a Democrat and accused of the same things Trump is accused of on the same set of facts, every last vote in the chamber would flip — except Romney’s. That’s his real legacy.

Update: I mean, obviously. Is anyone even pretending otherwise at this point?

Update: For the moment, and probably only for the moment, the vote to remove Trump is bipartisan and the vote to acquit is not. I suspect Manchin and Sinema will change that, but Romney’s defection gives them a little more cover to vote to remove now if they’re willing to do so. All they have to say to angry Republicans back home is, “Hey, the case made by House Democrats was strong enough to persuade a member of your own party.”

Update: As I’m writing this, Romney is announcing that he’s voting to acquit on the second article of impeachment, obstruction of Congress. That article was certainly weaker than the first since Democrats never insisted on their constitutional prerogative in some cases, like calling Bolton. Executive privilege is a legitimate claim in some cases. House Dems didn’t prove that Trump’s use of it was illegitimate this time. They just sort of asserted it.

Update: This is correct:

Effectively this is a vote to censure. Various Republicans (Collins, Alexander, Portman) have accused Trump of having behaved “inappropriately” towards Ukraine but not one has had the nerve to say they’d support a formal censure resolution, let alone removal.

Update: Here’s his full speech.

Coming soon: A furious Trump tweetstorm, some dutiful on-the-record grumbling by a few Republican senators, and some grudging on-background praise from other Republican senators that he did the right thing. Some of the senators in each group might be the same people! Oh, and lots of fulsome praise from Democrats who’d never have had the guts to vote the way Romney just did if a president from their own party was in the dock.

Update: Just to return to an earlier point, this is going to make it even harder for Sinema to acquit. It’s one thing to betray your party to protect your right flank in a reddish state. It’s another thing to do it when there’s a Republican from a deep red state willing to risk his own electoral neck by voting against Trump. Now lefties have a new attack line against her if she flips: “Mitt Romney had the smarts and guts to say this was wrong and our ‘Democratic’ senator didn’t?”

Update: Time to go after Romney and Romney’s family, just like the Framers would have wanted it.

Update: This is also assuredly true. All the lefty hacks praising Romney today were flagellating themselves over “binders full of women” in 2012 and Mitt’s insolent insistence that Russia was our primary international foe. They’ll find something new to hate him for soon enough.

Update: Trump Jr is taking the news well.

Update: The RNC is now dutifully attacking a party incumbent even though his vote means nothing to the outcome in the Senate, not even in getting Schumer to 50 votes.

Update: Ben knows that this advice won’t be taken but offers it nonetheless.

It’s a fair point, but I think Trump and his inner circle will counter that punishment must be inflicted ruthlessly pour encourager les autres. You let Romney slide and it might give Collins ideas about how much leeway she has to vote no on the next SCOTUS nominee. “Heads on pikes,” remember? That’s how you inspire fear. I mean “loyalty”!

Update: I got tripped up by her SOTU applause last night but my initial instinct about Sinema was right. No matter how friendly she is to Republicans and eager she is to appear independent, a young pol with a future as a Democrat just can’t cross the party on this one. She’s voting to remove on both counts, ensuring her national viability in 2024 and beyond.

I’d kill to know when she decided. Did Romney’s decision this afternoon give her the cover she needed to tilt towards removal?

Manchin is the only remaining undecided as of 3:50 ET. In the very unlikely event that he votes to remove, Democrats will have managed bipartisan support for removal with only GOP opposition to it.

Update: Senate Republicans are not keen on Trump Jr’s advice to oust Romney from the caucus for a non-policy vote.

Update: I’m bowled over. This is more shocking to me than Romney’s vote.

All I can think is that Schumer went nuclear on him and told him that they absolutely had to have a unified caucus now that Romney had crossed the aisle. The only “win” left for them in this process was the ability to say that the vote to remove was bipartisan while the vote to acquit was not. In the end, thanks to Romney, it all came down to Manchin.

Which means, in a weird way, Romney’s vote could end up benefiting the GOP. If his defection forced Manchin and Sinema to walk the plank and support removal, those removal votes might be held against them in their next elections in West Virginia and Arizona, respectively. They could end up replaced by Republicans. Whereas Romney will certainly be replaced by a member of his own party when he eventually leaves the Senate.

Reminding you here that Manchin said early in January at one point that failing to call John Bolton to testify would make the trial a “sham.” I guess he meant it.