Last Friday, the House Judiciary Committee voted to send a bill of impeachment of President Trump to the full House of Representatives. That bill of impeachment details abuses of power and obstruction carried out by the president, and while there are plainly politics at play, impeachment is based on presidential abuses, not on political differences.
As expected, every vote taken in committee was decided on party lines. Later this week, the full House of Representatives will exercise one of the most important duties assigned to it by the Constitution, to vote on that bill. Most, but not all Democrats will vote to impeach, as Democratic party leadership declared this is a matter of law and personal evaluation of the evidence. Republicans have made this a matter of loyalty to Donald Trump. If, as expected, the bill passes, Donald Trump will be impeached. The House will have decided there is sufficient and compelling reason to declare that the President’s actions meet the Constitutional criteria for removing him from office. The Senate will then be the jury in a trial, prosecuted by the House and presided over by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, to decide whether to convict the president.
Senators take this oath when they are elected: “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.” When they begin considering the articles of impeachment, they will take an additional oath: “I solemnly swear (or affirm) that in all things appertaining to the trial of Donald John Trump, now pending, I will do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws, so help me God.” This is a more demanding oath than the ones they took when they were sworn into their positions. Not only must they keep their promise to uphold the rule of law, they swear before God to put party politics aside and judge the case before the president only on the facts in evidence.
In every other trial, potential jurors who cannot exercise impartial judgment are excluded from serving on a jury. Before the Judiciary Committee had even voted, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell went on Fox TV to announce Republican plans for the trial. “Everything I do during this, I’m coordinating with the White House counsel. There will be no difference between the president’s position and our position as to how to handle this.” In every other trial, if a defendant’s lawyers colluded with a juror to fix the results, both would find themselves in jail — and that is precisely what Trump and McConnell are up to, and we have McConnell’s public testimony as hard proof.
Trump will continue trying to suppress evidence and block testimony, so that will also be McConnell’s plan. He made his decision before the trial begins, before he takes that juror’s pledge, before evidence supporting or challenging the charges enter the record. Moreover, he is demanding that everyone in the Republican caucus join him. At least one other Republican senator, Lindsey Graham, has made his intentions clear. He announced, “I’m not trying to pretend to be a fair juror here.” Graham just told America that he has every intention of breaking the oath he will have sworn before God. Republicans spent the entirety of their time and energy decrying the House procedures. Now they are shamelessly trying to cook the proceedings and rig the vote.
Trump’s actions aren’t the only things on trial. The Constitution and the rule of law are, too. The Senate will decide if the Constitution will govern our nation, or if Donald Trump will. You cannot have both.
A half-century ago, Richard Nixon said, “when the president does it, it is not illegal.” Last July, Trump said, “I have an Article 2, where I have the right to do whatever I want as president.” Nixon saw his actions as a matter of lawfulness. Trump sees his through the prism of personal privilege. Despite all his other flaws and abuse of power, Richard Nixon realized that continuing in office would only divide the country. In his resignation speech, he said, “as president, I must put the interest of America first.” Despite his sloganeering, nothing in Trump’s deeds, and certainly not “I would like you to do us a favor, though” put America’s best interests first.
Soon the Senate will be challenged to reach a verdict. Individually and collectively, each member must decide whether she or he will honor the oaths they have taken and will take. The evidence should determine whether the president is convicted. Members of both parties will be called on to put aside partisanship when they vote. Two are on record. The other 98 still can do what is right.
Mitch Edelman writes from Finksburg. His column appears every other Tuesday. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org