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Susan Collins’s rationale for acquitting Trump aged poorly before she could even cast her vote

Collins: Trump has learned from getting impeached. Trump: No, I haven’t.

President Trump Gives State Of The Union Address
Collins at the State of the Union on Tuesday.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The rationale Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) gave for voting for acquit President Donald Trump aged poorly before she even had a chance to officially cast it.

Following a speech on the Senate floor on Tuesday in which she announced she’ll vote to acquit, Collins told Norah O’Donnell of CBS that she believes Trump “has learned from this case” and “will be much more cautious in the future.”

Getting impeached “is a pretty big lesson,” Collins said — the implication being that Trump will be chastened going forward from trying to pervert diplomacy into an opposition research opportunity, as he did with the Ukrainian government.

Collins’s hopefulness about Trump changing his behavior is absurd on his face. Trump has spent five months insisting that a phone call he had with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that’s at the heart of his impeachment — one in which Trump implicitly linked military aid to Ukraine with the country helping him with investigations of his political rivals — is “perfect.”

It’s well established that Trump isn’t big on apologies or remorse. Just look at the circumstances surrounding the Zelensky call. It happened on July 25 — one day after special counsel Robert Mueller wound down his investigation of Trump by testifying to Congress and saying Trump could be indicted after his term for obstructing justice because of his interference with the Russia investigation.

But instead of responding to the end of the Russia investigation by cooling his jets, Trump was on the phone with the Ukrainian president the very next day trying to solicit political favors — the very same conduct that fueled suspicions about his Russia dealings in the first place.

So Collins’s rationale was hard to buy to begin with. And as if on cue, Trump told reporters during an off-the-record lunch on Tuesday that, indeed, he doesn’t feel he has any lessons to learn from getting impeached.

Josh Dawsey and Philip Rucker have the details for the Washington Post:

The president covered a wide range of topics at the luncheon.

When he was asked about Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) saying he had learned a lesson during impeachment, the president said he’d done nothing wrong: “It was a perfect call.”

While Collins claims to have principled reasons for voting to acquit Trump — she told O’Donnell that “I don’t believe that the behavior alleged reaches the high bar in the Constitution for overturning an election and removing a duly-elected president” — it’s also the case that she’s running for reelection and facing perhaps her toughest race yet, and in that position she can’t afford to cross the undisputed leader of her party. (Collins partially walked back her CBS comments on Wednesday, telling a Maine reporter that “hopes” would’ve been a better word for her to use than “believes” when it comes to Trump learning lessons.)

But Collins’s desire to win another term doesn’t totally explain why she’s pushing such an implausible talking point. On Meet the Press last Sunday, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), who’s retiring next January, deployed the same rationale to justify his vote for Trump’s acquittal.

“if a call like that gets you an impeachment, I would think he’d think twice before doing it again,” Alexander said, and he even stuck by that claim after Chuck Todd pressed him to explain “what example in the life of Donald Trump has he been chastened.”

“I haven’t studied his life that close,” Alexander replied, after a pause.

Indeed, few if any examples of Trump being chastened could be cited, and the timeline of the Ukraine scandal indicates it’s folly for Republicans to believe he won’t try to cheat again. But partisanship is a hell of a drug.

The news moves fast. To stay updated, follow Aaron Rupar on Twitter, and read more of Vox’s policy and politics coverage.

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