None of this is relevant to the inquiry into the president’s strong-arming an ally for personal, political gain. None of this excuses or exonerates the president of bribery, obstruction of Congress and other matters that are likely to appear in articles of impeachment.
The witness transcripts reveal Republicans’ pattern behind closed doors of pathetic and desperate behavior, one more indication of the depths to which the Republican Party has fallen. The transcripts provide a preview of what we are likely to see when the hearings go public.
Unwilling to recognize scientifically proven climate change but willing to embrace loony conspiracy theories about Ukraine, refusing to accept the unanimous verdict of our intelligence officials that Russia interfered with our election but willing to believe the Democratic National Committee server is in Ukraine, House Republicans these days differ little from Infowars or Sean Hannity.
But will “normal” Republican senators such as Rob Portman (Ohio), John Cornyn (Tex.), Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), Richard Burr (N.C.) and Roy Blunt (Mo.) — not the Tom Cottons or the Rand Pauls, but the responsible adults — indulge in the same conspiracy-mongering and distraction game as the House Republicans rather than consider the facts before them? When the articles of impeachment arrive in the Senate, they must decide whether to spend time demanding to hear about debunked conspiracy theories or to insist on facts, and finding none in favor of the president, accept the articles of impeachment as undisputed.
Remember, a slew of Republican senators will be on the ballot in 2020. Two of those who have ducked reporters and constituents, Republican Sens. Joni Ernst (Iowa) and Cory Gardner (Colo.), will continue to get questions as to whether they think it is acceptable for a president to solicit a bribe (valuable, albeit false, opposition research against a political opponent) using taxpayer money for leverage and sacrificing national security. If they behave like their House counterparts, they also should be expected to be grilled as to why they allowed the most serious task of their political careers, impeachment of a president, to devolve into a clown show. They should be prepared to explain why the Senate did not take this seriously and why their refusal to stick to facts, serious and undisputed facts, should earn them another six years. The impeachment jurors, in other words, will have to account for their own conduct and verdict.
Trump officially will be on trial in the Senate. However, the United States Senate, reduced to a rubber stamp for inept and unethical nominees and a mass of Jell-O in the face of executive power grabs, will be under scrutiny as well. If Americans have come to expect irresponsible partisanship from the likes of Republican Reps. Jim Jordan (Ohio), Matt Gaetz (Fla.) and Mark Meadows (N.C.), we will find out next November if they expect something better from their Republican senators.
Maybe voters no longer expect anything better from their senators. Maybe the Senate has jettisoned whatever remained of its reputation as a serious body, an institution removed from the partisan rancor that has consumed the House. However, I’d like to hold out hope that voters in Colorado (where Gardner will try to retain his seat), Maine (home to endangered Sen. Susan Collins), North Carolina (where Sen. Thom Tillis, the humiliated flip-flopper on Trump’s emergency declaration, will face the voters) and other states with Senate races will be shocked or embarrassed if their senators behave irresponsibly. And I’d like to think senators appreciate the distinction between the House and Senate, choosing to behave with dignity and honesty.
If, however, senators indulge the right wing with the same reckless gamesmanship as the House Republicans, they should pay a steep price. We should hope that even if Trump survives a Senate trial, the Republican senators who sacrifice their honor and violate their oaths will not.
The actual trial, as Republicans never tire of telling us, should be at the ballot box. So be it. The voters can pronounce senators who fail to take this awesome responsibility seriously guilty of violating their oaths. They can vote for new senators and a Democratic majority who can then set about the task of repairing the public trust and the Senate’s reputation.