Mitch McConnell was among Republican senators who sought to declare Donald Trump’s impeachment trial unconstitutional, signalling that the the US Senate does not have enough votes to convict the former president.
Senator Rand Paul failed to pass a motion to rule the former president’s trial unconstitutional because he is no longer in office. The vote to table the measure passed by 55-45.
Just five Republican senators – Mitt Romney, Ben Sasse, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski and Pat Toomey – were among the votes to table the measure.
The former president is the nation’s first to be twice impeached in the House of Representatives. An article of impeachment for his role inciting the insurrection at the Capitol on 6 January was delivered to the upper chamber of Congress on Tuesday.
"If we are going to put every politician in jail, are we going to impeach every politician who has used the words 'fight' figuratively in a speech? Shame," said Senator Paul, who accused Democrats of being “deranged by their hatred" of the former president.
Watch: Senate receives impeachment article as Republicans are split on convicting Trump
Mr Trump spent several months accusing Democrats of manipulating the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.
The trial is set to begin on 8 February. Senators were formally sworn in as impartial jurors on Tuesday. Senator Pat Leahy, the president pro tempore, will preside.
At least 17 Republicans must vote with all 50 Democrats and independent senators who caucus with them in order to convict Mr Trump and prevent him from holding federally elected office again in the future. That would require support from senators who now have put on record that they believe the trial is unconstitutional.
“The whole thing’s dead on arrival,” Senator Paul declared.
A growing number of Republicans have appeared to back away from convicting the former president despite widespread condemnation from members of his own party for bearing much of the blame for inciting the deadly attacks, which killed five people and threatened to derail the election of Joe Biden as well as lawmakers in both chambers of Congress as they met to formally certify the results.
Watch: Senate nixes GOP effort to thwart impeachment