When President Andrew Johnson was impeached in 1868, not a single Democratic senator voted for his removal.
When President Bill Clinton was impeached in 1998, his fellow Democrats were similarly unanimous in their support for acquittal.
Those two facts make what Sen. Mitt Romney (R–Utah) announced on Wednesday afternoon pretty significant. In a speech on the Senate floor, Romney said he plans to vote for President Donald Trump's removal from office.
"The president is guilty of an appalling abuse of the public trust," Romney said. Trump's purpose in asking the Ukrainain government to investigate Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, was "personal and political," Romney added.
There are two important caveats here. First, Romney's vote is highly unlikely to derail Trump's acquittal by the Senate—the final vote is expected later today.
Second, Romney's home state of Utah is about as anti-Trump as a red state can be in 2020. When he was elected to the Senate in 2018, Romney promised to be an independent voice within the increasingly Trumpy Republican Party—despite his earlier flirtations with a possible cabinet position in the Trump administration.
In an interview with The Atlantic, Romney talked about relying on his Mormon faith to help make what the senator said was "the most difficult decision I have ever had to make in my life." That's certainly an appeal to his constituents, and his vote against Trump is certainly a less risky bet than it would have been for many other GOP senators.
And yet. This is an historic vote, and one that will plant a target firmly on Romney's back. There is no world in which casting this vote makes it easier for Romney to continue to do his job, or to win another term in office. As tempting as it always is to roll one's eyes when an elected official talks about "doing the right thing," this is a rare instance where a senator is doing exactly that—or, at least, believes that he is.
Not surprisingly, the announcement earned Romney some praise from Rep. Justin Amash (R–Mich.), the only other current or former Republican to vote in favor of impeaching Trump.
Thank you, @SenatorRomney, for upholding your oath to support and defend the Constitution. You will never regret putting your faith in God and doing right according to the law and your conscience.
— Justin Amash (@justinamash) February 5, 2020
But the vote is unlikely to win Romney praise from his fellow Republicans. Sen. Josh Hawley (R–Mo.), who is widely regarded as one of the White House's closest allies in the Senate, told CNN's Manu Raju that he was "surprised and disappointed" by the announcement. Other rebukes will surely use harsher language.
As he concluded his remarks on Wednesday, Romney tried to downplay the historic nature of the vote he was promising to cast.
"The results of this Senate court will in fact be appealed to a higher court: the judgement of the American people," he said. "I will tell my children and their children that I did my duty to the best of my ability, believing that my country expected it of me."
"I will only be one name among many," he added. "No more, and no less."
But on Wednesday evening, Mitt Romney's name will likely stand alone.