The Senate voted 56-44 to move forward with the trial, with six Republicans joining Democratic lawmakers, but the conviction, which still seems unlikely, will need nearly a dozen additional Republican votes.

The US Senate votes on the rules to govern the trial as it begins the second impeachment trial of former US president Donald Trump on the floor of the Senate chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, US, on February 9, 2021.
The US Senate votes on the rules to govern the trial as it begins the second impeachment trial of former US president Donald Trump on the floor of the Senate chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, US, on February 9, 2021. (Reuters)

The US Senate has voted to proceed with the impeachment trial of former president Donald Trump, rejecting defence arguments that it was unconstitutional.

Defense lawyers had argued that Trump should not face a trial in the Senate for inciting insurrection because he was no longer president.

But the Senate voted 56-44 on Tuesday to proceed with the trial, with six Republicans joining Democratic lawmakers.

House Democrats opened Donald Trump’s historic second impeachment trial showing the former president whipping up a rally crowd to march to the Capitol and “fight like hell” against his reelection defeat, followed by graphic video of the deadly attack on Congress that came soon after.

The lead prosecutor told senators the case would present “cold, hard facts” against Trump, who is charged with inciting the mob siege of the Capitol to overturn the election he lost to Democrat Joe Biden. 

Senators sitting as jurors, many who themselves fled for safety that day, watched the jarring video of Trump supporters battling past police to storm the halls, Trump flags waving.

“That's a high crime and misdemeanour,” said Representative Jamie Raskin, D-Md, in opening remarks. 

“If that's not an impeachable offence, then there's no such thing.”

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First ever in US history

Trump is the first president to face impeachment charges after leaving office and the first to be twice impeached. 

The Capitol siege stunned the world as hundreds of rioters ransacked the building to try to stop the certification of Biden’s victory, a domestic attack on the nation’s seat of government unlike any in its history. Five people died.

Acquittal is likely, but the trial will test the nation’s attitude toward his brand of presidential power, the Democrats’ resolve in pursuing him, and the loyalty of Trump’s Republican allies defending him.

Trump's lawyers are insisting that he is not guilty of the sole charge of “incitement of insurrection,” his fiery words just a figure of speech as he encouraged a rally crowd to “fight like hell” for his presidency. 

But prosecutors say he “has no good defence” and they promise new evidence.

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'Base hatred'

Trump’s defence team has focused on the question of constitutionality, which could resonate with Republicans eager to acquit Trump without being seen as condoning his behaviour.

Lead lawyer Bruce Castor said that no member of the former president’s defence team would do anything but condemn the violence of the “repugnant” attack, and “in the strongest possible way denounce the rioters.”

Yet Trump’s attorney appealed to the senators as “patriots first,” and encouraged them to be “cool headed” as they assess the arguments.

At one pivotal point, Raskin told the personal story of bringing his family to the Capitol the day of the riot, to witness the certification of the Electoral College vote, only to have his daughter and son-in-law hiding in an office, fearing for their lives.

“Senators, this cannot be our future,” Raskin said through tears.

“This cannot be the future of America.”

Trump attorney David Schoen turned the trial toward starkly partisan tones, the defence showing its own video of Democrats calling for the former president's impeachment.

Schoen said Democrats are fuelled by a “base hatred” of the former president and “seeking to eliminate Donald Trump from the American political scene."

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Conviction unlikely

Under an agreement between Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Republican leader Mitch McConnell, the substantive opening arguments will begin at noon Wednesday, with up to 16 hours per side for presentations. 

The trial is expected to continue into the weekend.

Trump's second impeachment trial is expected to diverge from the lengthy, complicated affair of a year ago. 

In that case, Trump was charged with having privately pressured Ukraine to dig up dirt on Biden, then a Democratic rival for the presidency.

This time, Trump's “stop the steal” rally rhetoric and the storming of the Capitol played out for the world to see.

The Democratic-led House impeached the president swiftly, one week after the attack, although his conviction remains unlikely.

Five people died, including a woman shot by police inside the building and a police officer who died the next day of his injuries.

Finding him guilty would require a two-thirds majority, meaning that at least 17 Republicans would need to join the Senate's 48 Democrats and two independents in voting against Trump, who remains his party's most powerful figure even out of office.

READ MORE: Trump lawyers blast impeachment trial as 'political theatre'

Source: TRTWorld and agencies