Last Sunday, the New York Times reported that, in his forthcoming book, former national security adviser John Bolton writes that Trump told him in August he wanted to freeze military aid to Ukraine “until officials there helped with investigations into Democrats including the Bidens.” For one brief moment it appeared that this blockbuster revelation would shatter the Republican wall of complicity. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R.-Ky.) even said on Tuesday that he didn’t have the votes to stop witnesses from testifying. By Friday, he had the votes; the motion to call witnesses failed, 51-49, with only two Republicans (Mitt Romney and Susan Collins) voting “aye.”
The most significant of the “nay” votes was Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), a 79-year-old political warhorse who is retiring this year. He admitted what the most purblind Trump partisans will not: that “it was inappropriate for the president to ask a foreign leader to investigate his political opponent.” The reason he did not need to hear any witnesses, Alexander explained, was because “there is no need for more evidence to prove something that has already been proven.” So far, so good. But then he pivoted to argue that for some reason Trump’s misconduct doesn’t meet the “high bar for an impeachable offense.” He concluded that the verdict on Trump should be left to “the presidential election” — you know, the election Trump just tried to fix.
Alexander’s statement raises more questions than it answers: If Trump’s attempt to blackmail Ukraine into helping him politically does not rise to the level of impeachable conduct, what does? Does Alexander subscribe to Alan Dershowitz’s doctrine of presidential infallibility? And, even if he doesn’t want to keep Trump off the ballot, why doesn’t he advocate Trump’s censure or political defeat? But instead of advocating any punishment for Trump’s “inappropriate” conduct, Alexander wants him rewarded by being reelected.
Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) at least made clear that he rejects the argument — raised by the president’s lawyers but rejected by almost all scholars — "that ‘Abuse of Power’ can never constitute grounds for removal unless a crime or a crime-like action is alleged.” He, too, seems to assume that Trump is guilty, although he doesn’t quite say so. But Rubio argued “against removal in the context of the bitter divisions and deep polarization our country currently faces.”
Of course, if Trump were removed, it would require the support of 20 Republican senators, so it would hardly be partisan. But lest anyone think that Rubio is refusing to call witnesses for purely partisan reasons, he patted himself on the back for rejecting “calls to pursue [the] impeachment of President Obama,” without specifying what Obama could have been impeached for. You can bet that if Obama had done what Trump did, Rubio would be in favor of impeachment.
But wait. It gets worse. The prize for the most illogical statement must go to Sen. Lisa Murkowksi (Alaska). She wrote: “Given the partisan nature of this impeachment from the very beginning and throughout, I have come to the conclusion that there will be no fair trial in the Senate.” She then announced her opposition to calling witnesses — a move that could have made the trial a lot fairer. Huh?
Given the flimsiness of the Republicans’ rationales, it’s hard not to conclude that something else accounts for their decision-making. It’s obvious what’s going on in Rubio’s case — he thinks he has a future in politics and wants to stay on the good side of Trump supporters. His colleagues who are facing reelection this year, such as Cory Gardner (Colo.) and Thom Tillis (N.C.), are no doubt terrified Trump will endorse a primary challenger. Some other Republicans are no doubt deluded enough to imagine that Trump’s call was “perfect.” But what about Alexander and other senators who know better and will never face the voters again?
Tim Alberta of Politico makes a convincing case that even retiring lawmakers fear breaking with the president would hurt their future “earning power” and subject them to unwelcome “harassment” from Trump cultists. These concerns are understandable but should not be dispositive. Senators who shirk their constitutional duties are cowards who disgrace their oaths of office and betray the Constitution. Our troops risk their lives for this country; these senators won’t even risk some unpleasantness.
I want nothing to do with a party led by the deluded and the dishonest. I fervently hope our democracy survives this debacle. I fervently hope the Republican Party does not.