Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) shocked his fellow Republican senators and surprised much of the nation…

Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneySusan Collins challenger: ‘I would vote to remove’ TrumpGOP senators label Trump’s behavior ‘shameful’ but not impeachableCollins will vote to acquit TrumpMORE (R-Utah) shocked his fellow Republican senators and surprised much of the nation on Wednesday with a dramatic floor speech announcing he would vote to convict President TrumpDonald John TrumpDemocrats tear into Trump’s speech: It was a ‘MAGA rally’READ: Speaker Pelosi’s response to Trump’s State of the Union addressPelosi hammers Trump’s speech: ‘A manifesto of mistruths’MORE on the impeachment charge of abuse of power.
Romney announced his decision in a nearly empty Senate chamber just hours before the Senate voted to acquit Trump and after fellow GOP colleagues such as Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsCollins: It would be ‘helpful’ for Trump to apologizeSusan Collins challenger: ‘I would vote to remove’ TrumpGOP senators label Trump’s behavior ‘shameful’ but not impeachableMORE (Maine) and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiGOP senators label Trump’s behavior ‘shameful’ but not impeachableOvernight Energy: BLM weighs plan to cut environmental reviews | Meet the woman who wants to reinvent recycling | Murkowski says energy plan coming soonCollins will vote to acquit TrumpMORE (Utah) had already announced they would not vote to convict Trump.
Just as surprising as his vote was the intensity of the 2012 Republican presidential nominees language.
While other Senate Republicans chided Trump for inappropriate conduct, Romney said the president is guilty of an appalling abuse of public trust and a flagrant assault on our electoral rights.
The grave question the Constitution tasks senators to answer is whether the president committed an act so extreme and egregious that it rises to the level of a high crime and misdemeanor. Yes, he did, he said.
Romney, however, voted against the second article of impeachment accusing the president of obstruction of Congress, which failed along strict party lines.
Senate Republicans along with most of the rest of the political world thought Trump would be acquitted on a straight party-line vote after Collins, who faces a tough reelection race this year in a state carried by Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonClinton advises checking your voter registration during Trump’s State of the UnionHillicon Valley: Iowa chaos highlights misinformation threat | Officials blame app for delayed results | Company offers ‘regret’ | Nevada officials drop plans to use app | Ohio ramps up election securityBiden allies spin after disappointing results trickle in from IowaMORE in 2016, said she would vote against conviction.
If anything, it appeared more likely that Democrats would suffer defections.
Instead, Democrats won a key talking point from Romneys vote, which they will surely use in the weeks and months to come.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDemocrats tear into Trump’s speech: It was a ‘MAGA rally’Omar: Trump address reads ‘as if a coequal branch of government doesn’t exist’Trump bashes ‘Medicare for All’ in swipe at Sanders MORE (R-Ky.) after the vote said he had hoped to replicate the unanimous Republican vote against the articles that GOP leaders mustered in the House.
He said he was surprised and disappointed by Romneys vote, indicating he received little if any advance warning.
Still, he tried to downplay the defection.
I think theyre pretty clearly party lines both ways. I think thats what you can take out of it, pretty much party line in both chambers, he said when asked to assess the final Senate and House votes.
Democrats were elated by Romneys announcement.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) called his vote momentous, while Sen. Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetUse of voting tabulation apps raise red flags on Capitol HillDemocratic senators ask banks to prohibit funding Arctic drilling The Memo: Trump threatens to overshadow Democrats in IowaMORE (D-Colo.) said it restores my faith in democracy.
Republicans were caught off guard, though GOP senators, for the most part, didnt lace into Romney.
I am surprised, said Sen. Josh HawleyJoshua (Josh) David HawleyOvernight Health Care Presented by Philip Morris International Trump officials to allow Medicaid block grants | WHO declares emergency over coronavirus | CDC reports first coronavirus case that spread in USMcConnell group to host Super Bowl weekend fundraiserRand Paul to ‘insist’ on whistleblower question blocked by John RobertsMORE (R-Mo.), one of the presidents most ardent Senate defenders. Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzDemocrat attacks Trump’s rhetoric, policies in Spanish-language State of the Union responseTrump supports Iowa’s first-in-the-nation voting status after Democratic caucus chaosFeehery: No, this is not the worst of times in WashingtonMORE (R-Texas), another staunch Trump ally, said, I disagree with his decision. I think its a mistake.
In a statement, the White House described Romney as a failed Republican presidential candidate, and Donald Trump Jr. called on the Senate GOP to expel Romney from its conference.
The White House press office abruptly canceled a press availability for Trump and Venezuelas opposition leader, Juan Guaidó, that was scheduled to take place in the Oval Office minutes after Romney announced his decision. It did not offer an explanation for the move, stirring speculation that officials were caught off guard by the news.
A Republican senator who requested anonymity to comment on Romneys vote said he was disappointed but didnt want to add any fuel to the fire by bashing his colleague.
The person most impacted by Romneys vote may be Collins, who has been running ads in Maine stressing her brand as an independent.
By breaking with Republicans on what could be the most defining vote of his career, Romney has set a new standard for independence for GOP lawmakers, who have been reluctant to forcefully challenge the president during his first three years in office.
It puts Sen. Collins in a real bad spot to have someone run in that independent [lane] that she typically does. This is such a tough vote for her, said a Senate Republican aide.
Collins later told reporters, Every senator has to make his own decision. I dont agree with Mitts decision.
But when asked if Romney should be punished with expulsion from the conference, Collins said, Of course not.
Romney said he fully expected to be denounced for breaking with his party on such a politically charged vote but that he felt compelled to vote according to his conscience and moral values.
The Utah senator paused for several seconds and looked down at his desk, appearing to choke up with emotion, at the start of his speech, the first sign that he was about to drop a bombshell on the Senate floor.
I am a profoundly religious person. I take an oath before God as enormously consequential. I knew from the outset that being tasked with judging the president, the leader of my own party, would be the most difficult decision I have ever faced, he said.
His vote could give momentum for a bill introduced by Utah state Rep. Tim Quinn (R) that would allow voters to recall a U.S. senator with a ballot measure.
A Senate Republican aide, however, dismissed the legislation as an unconstitutional infringement on federal power.
Asked how long Romney would be in the doghouse, McConnell said, We dont have any doghouses here. The most important vote is the next vote.
Other Republicans flatly rejected the idea of kicking Romney out of the conference or stripping him of his committee assignments.
Sen. Mike BraunMichael BraunThe Hill’s Morning Report – App flap delays Iowa caucus resultsOvernight Defense: VA deputy secretary fired | Impeachment trial winds down with closing arguments | Pentagon watchdog to probe use of cancer-linked chemicalSenate drama surrounding Trump trial starts to fizzleMORE (R-Ind.) waved off talk of expelling Romney from the conference as silly talk.
Other Republicans urged tolerance for different points of view.
Sen. Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderGOP senators label Trump’s behavior ‘shameful’ but not impeachableGiuliani: Trump should ‘absolutely, 100 percent’ keep investigating BidenNow it’s all about the electionMORE (R-Tenn.) said every senator has a right to vote how he or she feels, while Sen. Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbySenate drama surrounding Trump trial starts to fizzleSenate fails to get deal to speed up fight over impeachment rulesRoberts under pressure from both sides in witness fightMORE (R-Ala.), one of the Senates most senior lawmakers, said the party ought to be a big umbrella.
Jordain Carney, Morgan Chalfant and Brett Samuels contributed.