It has been clear for some time that President Trump would be impeached. Even so, anyone with a sense of history and a commitment to the U.S. Constitution felt a shudder Wednesday night when the House of Representatives approved two articles of impeachment stemming from the president’s outrageous attempt to induce a foreign country to investigate a political rival.
Republicans in Congress, who have struck a collective profile in cowardice in defending Trump regardless of the evidence, would have you believe that Wednesday’s vote was preordained by Democratic hostility to Trump and resentment over his surprise victory in the 2016 election. Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) claimed that “Democrats have been searching for a reason to impeach President Trump since the day he was elected.”
Don’t believe it. The Democrats didn’t bring us to this unhappy moment; Trump did. That he has become only the third president in U.S. history to be impeached is the result of his own abuse of power and contempt for Congress, not a partisan “witch hunt.” It is not an attempted “coup” by Democrats that led to this shameful outcome, but Trump’s own disrespect for laws, rules, institutions and the office he holds.
Yes, some Democrats wanted to impeach the president virtually from the day he took office. But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi long resisted the idea, deciding to authorize a formal impeachment inquiry only after a whistleblower complained about Trump’s outrageous efforts to strong-arm Ukraine into investigating former Vice President Joe Biden, a prospective 2020 Trump opponent. The accusation suggested such a significant abuse of office that Pelosi was left with little choice but to move forward.
The hearings that followed produced persuasive testimony that Trump’s notorious July 25 telephone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was indeed part of a larger campaign, guided by Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, to pressure Ukraine to announce investigations favorable to Trump’s reelection. That troubling narrative forms the basis for the first article of impeachment accusing Trump of abuse of power.
The second article of impeachment appropriately accuses Trump of obstruction of Congress. When Congress learned of Trump’s improper actions and sought testimony and documents that would provide additional information, Trump directed administration officials not to cooperate. (Fortunately, several patriotic officials and former officials did their duty and testified anyway.)
That these articles were approved on essentially a party-line vote doesn’t prove that impeachment is a plot by vengeful Democrats. A better explanation is that Republicans, fearful of alienating Trump’s base, closed ranks to support the president.
But the process is not yet over; there is more to be done to decide whether the president deserves to be removed from office. The proceedings will now move to the Senate, where Trump is to stand trial on charges that he committed “high crimes and misdemeanors.” Ideally, senators of both parties would take seriously their oath to “do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws.” In fact, some senators from both parties have already made up their minds.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) was frank about it. “I am trying to give a pretty clear signal I have made up my mind,” hesaid. “ I’m not trying to pretend to be a fair juror here.” Graham dismissed the case for impeachment as “partisan nonsense.”
One thing that might shake up the proceedings, which at the moment seem on a path to a quick and dismissive acquittal, would be if the Senate were able to obtain testimony that was denied to the House, including that of acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and former national security advisor John Bolton. If the Republicans are so sure the president did nothing wrong, you’d think they’d be pressing for that testimony.
But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell reportedly favors a quick trial without witnesses. “It’s not the Senate’s job to leap into the breach and search desperately for ways to get to guilty,” McConnell said (apparently discounting the possibility that new witnesses might help Trump’s defense). Concerns about procedures for a Senate trial have led some House Democrats to suggest that Pelosi not transmit the articles of impeachment to the Senate until those concerns are addressed.
The House’s vote to impeach Trump is a historic rebuke, but it is only the first step. If the Constitution is to be honored, the Senate must also play its part by treating these allegations with the serious consideration they deserve — and listen to the arguments with an open mind.