Despite some important exceptions, most Republican senators failed to uphold the Framer’s vision, while betraying their own constitutional originalism and conservative principals of representation.
As I noted last week, the Framers predicted the Senate “will always be of the number of those who best understand our national interests … and whose reputation for integrity inspires and merits confidence.”
Forty-three senators, all Republicans, failed to meet those standards.
The national interest demanded conviction to prevent Trump from running again, but more important to re-enforce the norms and rebuild the guardrails that protect our democracy. With the strength of those norms and guardrails to channel and constrain presidential behavior badly weakened, our system is threatened.
A future president need only consider whether he has 35 partisan defenders in the Senate to embark on whatever course he or she deems fit, regardless of its democratic propriety.
To excuse their conduct, GOPers sewed their own Constitutional fig leaf out of nothing, concocting a story about the Framers’ intent that was demonstrably opposite of what they actually assumed when drafting the document.
Discussion around impeachment at the Constitutional Convention was predicated on the British system. Every impeachment that took place in Britain during the lifetime of the Framers was of a former official. No state constitution in the U.S. limited impeachments to sitting officers, though some allowed impeachment only of former office holders. Thomas Jefferson himself was subjected to an impeachment inquiry by the Virginia legislature after he left office.
From where the drafters sat, impeachment was obvious for former officials but questionable for those still in office. So, they made it clear that the process applied to current office holders as well.
But Trump’s protectors not only ignored the constitution’s original intent, they simply lied about historical realities. Sen. Mike CrapoMichael (Mike) Dean CrapoWyden to wield new power on health care, taxes with committee gavel Little known Senate referee to play major role on Biden relief plan Warren to join Finance panel overseeing taxes, health care MORE (R-Idaho) was particularly brazen in rewriting the facts of American history. “Both by text and by precedent,” he declared, “the Constitution does not allow impeaching private citizens–even those who formerly occupied federal office.” (Never mind Trump was impeached while in office and his trial delayed by Senate Republicans.)
The text in no way proscribes impeachment of former officials.
As far as precedent goes, the record is clear. Former Secretary of War William Belknap was impeached after leaving office and the Senate agreed to try him after determining he was “amenable to trial by impeachment for acts done as Secretary of War, notwithstanding his resignation of said office before he was impeached.”
That precedent aligned with an earlier finding in the case of Daniel WebsterDaniel Alan WebsterBottom line Republican senators and courage Here are the House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump MORE who was investigated for impeachment based on his actions as secretary of State though he’d been out of office for several years.
Just one House member voiced any doubt at the time that ex-officials were impeachable. The son of a Founder and former president, John Quincy Adams retorted “…every officer of the United States impeachable by the laws of the country is as liable twenty years after his office has expired as he is while he continues in office.” Jurisdiction was clear, though this case was eventually dropped for lack of evidence.
Republican senators believed they were unable to try a former president on the same basis Donald TrumpDonald TrumpFederal prosecutors investigated Proud Boys ties to Roger Stone in 2019 case: CNN Overnight Defense: One-third of service members decline coronavirus vaccine | Biden to take executive action in response to Solar Winds hack | US, Japan reach cost sharing agreement Trump ‘won’t say yet’ if he’s running in 2024 MORE believed he had won the election: desire rendered facts irrelevant.
The philosophical betrayal runs deeper though. British parliamentarian and GOP hero Edmund Burke, often regarded as the founding father of conservatism, wrote that a legislator should not sacrifice to constituents “his unbiased opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience… Your representative owes you [constituents], not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.”
Republicans with deep knowledge of the Senate repeatedly claimed that on a secret ballot just ten senators would have voted to acquit, which means 33 sacrificed their own judgment, along with their integrity, to the opinions of their GOP constituents.
A massive betrayal.
Mellman is president of The Mellman Group and has helped elect 30 U.S. senators, 12 governors and dozens of House members. Mellman served as pollster to Senate Democratic leaders for over 20 years, as president of the American Association of Political Consultants, and is president of Democratic Majority for Israel.