January 14, 2021

Senate Democrats Have A Chance to Do This Trump Impeachment Right

Senate Democrats Have A Chance to Do This Trump Impeachment Right

On Wednesday, even though just a week remained in the presidential term, and even with prospects for conviction in the Senate highly uncertain, the House of Representatives was one hundred percent right to impeach Donald Trump for the second time. 

The facts, our values, and the nation’s security demanded that the House act. Trump’s ugly rally speech exhorting his supporters to go to the Capitol and fight to block certification of Joe Biden’s victory caused the MAGA assault that overcame weak security planning and killed five people, including a police officer, and left many more injured. The terrorist mob had guns and zip ties, and they were seeking out Vice President Pence, Speaker Pelosi, and other lawmakers. If not for brave law enforcement officers on the scene, it could have been far bloodier.

However criminal and reckless, though, Trump’s speech was only the match that lit the fire. He had been spreading the gasoline for months, spewing evidence-free claims of voting fraud, filing reams of frivolous lawsuits, and personally pushing and threatening state officials, Members of Congress, and finally Vice President Pence to violate the law — all in service of the big lie that he won the election, and won by a landslide, the big lie that fueled his zombie minions. 

Even after the assault began, Trump was sending messages of love and support to the terrorists, rather than working effectively to defeat them. And even after the terrorists left the Capitol, other than some tepid statements opposing violence, there was no sign Trump would undercut his mobs by conceding the election, or that he was done trying to overturn it. He may not be done yet. 

Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the House Democrats were driven by the urgent circumstances to a fuss-free, rapid impeachment this time, and it worked.

So the House impeached Trump Wednesday for incitement of insurrection, with 10 House Republicans mustering the decency and integrity to join all Democrats voting for a resolution declaring that Trump “gravely endangered the security of the United States and its institutions of Government… threatened the integrity of the democratic system, interfered with the peaceful transition of power… betrayed his trust as President, to the manifest injury of the people of the United States….  has demonstrated that he will remain a threat to national security, democracy, and the Constitution if allowed to re1main in office, and has acted in a manner grossly incompatible with self-governance and the rule of law.” 

For all the illegal, corrupt, and vile acts Trump has committed in office, it was notable that both House impeachments arose out of Trump’s efforts to keep himself in power for four more years — the ultimate corrupt, unlawful acts of a would-be autocrat. 

So now what?

Trump will be out of the White House, one way or another by January 20, but a Senate conviction would cement his status as our most lawless president, and likely lead to imposition, by a separate vote, of a constitutionally-provided punishment barring Trump from ever holding federal office again. Getting Trump out of the 2024 race would be an enormous relief for many Democrats and also some Republicans, although it obviously would inflame Trump’s still-enormous base. 

But some Democrats were immediately worried that a Senate impeachment trial would slow progress on Biden legislation and nominees, would give Trump more of the attention he craves and rile up his supporters, and could ultimately backfire if the 67 Senate votes for conviction, with at least 17 Republicans needed, aren’t there.

Further, some, including Senator Tom Cotton, who surprised many people by not joining his fellow 2024 opportunists Hawley and Cruz in backing Trump’s effort to block Biden’s win, now claim the Senate has no power to try Trump once he’s out of office, although others strongly disagree.

Also, the vote count looks dicey, as any inclination by Republican senators to act with integrity, and from their initial outrage, could fade, as the murderous rampage Trump ordered becomes old news in a few days or weeks, and if they prioritize the risks of a right-wing primary challenger over common decency and the prospect of a general election loss.

A handful of GOP senators have suggested they might vote for conviction, but Lindsay Graham, after a ride down to the border on Air Force One, already is lobbying his colleagues against such a verdict on his once-again new best friend Donald.

Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell, as he often does, is leaving us in suspense, and presumably will keep doing so. If McConnell really is done with Trump, it’s likely only because he thinks that’s the best way to maximize his own power and that of Senate Republicans. It surely doesn’t mean he’s ready to make common cause with Democrats on much. Instead he will keep looking for opportunities to embarrass Chuck Schumer and the Democrats, including over the Trump impeachment. McConnell may well refuse to tell Democrats what he plans to do until the last minute, so they can’t build their strategy based on whether the GOP votes are there.

The good news is that Senate Democrats, not Mitch McConnell, will this time around be in charge of the process. The Democrats have the motive, and a little time, to figure out the smartest way forward that disadvantages the criminal Trump while helping the Biden administration address urgent priorities, including, of course, the pandemic and the economy.

Also, importantly, Trump will be fighting impeachment not with the entire White House legal and media apparatus at his disposal, but only with those lawyers and flacks with whom he is still speaking and are willing to fight with no real guarantee of being paid. 

The Senate Democrats can finesse their chamber’s impeachment rules, to slow the initial trial proceedings and give urgent Biden matters priority, and then to provide for a streamlined trial process, with a tight presentation by the House managers, with argument, audio, and video that hits hard Trump’s egregious illegal acts and, at the same time, reduces the time burden on Senators and the volume of attention given to Trump.

As to who will sit on the dais, the Constitution says the Chief Justice must preside over a Senate trial of “the President of the United States,” but Trump will no longer hold that title. So John Roberts may be spared another detail across the street. Instead of putting Vice President Harris in the presiding officer seat, perhaps that could be delegated to a retired or revered federal judge. 

Schumer and the Democrats have not been dealt the best hand; they may well be headed toward another “acquittal” (that’s not really an acquittal, if you ask me). But they have an outside chance to win and bar Trump from office forever. And they have a strong chance to make the most of the proceedings — to present a stark official record of the most reckless, vile, and criminal actions of the worst president in our history, and to give general election voters later an opportunity to hold accountable those senators whose votes declare that Trump’s final abuses weren’t really a big deal.