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Opinion In case you had any doubt, impeachment will plague Senate Republicans

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) at the Capitol on Jan. 31. (Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)
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Both poll numbers and the hapless Senate Republicans’ performances on Sunday trying to justify their conduct in the impeachment trial suggest President Trump and his enablers are clueless if they think the public will accept the trial as exoneration of the president. Rather, it seems Republican senators are shockingly unaware of their constitutional obligations and unable to provide a coherent explanation for their actions.

A Politico-Morning Consult poll finds 50 percent of voters favor removing him, while only 43 percent do not. The NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll shows that a narrow plurality does not want to remove him, and “a majority of voters — 52 percent — say they believe Trump abused the power of his office by asking a foreign government to investigate a political opponent to influence the upcoming election, compared with 41 percent who disagree.” The numbers are even worse on the second article of impeachment for obstruction of Congress: 53 percent say he obstructed Congress, while only 37 percent say he did not.

The latest Trump impeachment trial updates

The public’s conclusion that Trump is guilty of the actions charged is not surprising because at least some Senate Republicans think he did it, too. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) ventured on to “Meet the Press” to try to explain why he voted against witnesses. It was a disastrous performance, beginning with a question as to whether Trump did it:

Well, I mean, if you have eight witnesses who say someone left the scene of an accident, why do you need nine? I mean, the question for me was: Do I need more evidence to conclude that the president did what he did? And I concluded no. So, I voted we don’t —
CHUCK TODD: What do you believe he did?
SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER: What I believe he did, one, was that he called the president of Ukraine and asked him to become involved in investigating Joe Biden. … But he admitted that. The president admitted that. He released a transcript, he said on television. The second thing was, at least in part, he delayed the military and other assistance to Ukraine in order to encourage that investigation. Those are the two things he did. I think he shouldn’t have done it. I think it was wrong. Inappropriate was the way I’d say — improper, crossing the line. And then the only question left is who decides what to do about that.
CHUCK TODD: Well, who decides what to do about that?
SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER: The people. The people is my conclusion. You know, it struck me, really for the first time, early last week, that we’re not just being asked to remove the president from office. We’re saying, “Tell him he can’t run in the 2020 election, which begins Monday in Iowa.”

Of course, it is the Senate’s job under the Constitution to remove Trump for high crimes and misdemeanors, not the people.

David Axelrod, senior advisor to former President Barack Obama, says the presidential nominating process is flawed but should not change too much. (Video: Ben Derico/The Washington Post, Photo: Daniel Acker / Bloomberg/The Washington Post)

Alexander then engaged in mind-numbing speculation that maybe he didn’t know how to get the attorney general to conduct a proper investigation. This is simply preposterous, especially for a president who has no trouble telling the Justice Department which political rival to go after. In any event, speculation about Trump’s motives and why he went to the Ukrainians, not his own attorney general, could have ended had Alexander voted to call witnesses and see new documents.

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Alexander did, however, confirm that there was loads of evidence against Trump. Alexander also conceded, “He shouldn’t have done it. And I said he shouldn’t have done it.” So Trump did it, but Alexander cannot take on the constitutional responsibility to remove him so he does not rig the upcoming election. Alexander could not even admit Trump would be emboldened by acquittal. (“I don’t think so. I hope not. I mean, enduring an impeachment is something that nobody should like. Even the president said he didn’t want that on his résumé.”)

The latest Trump impeachment trial updates

In an equally shabby outing, Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) once more tied the Ukraine investigation to Joe Biden’s presidential run, thereby making the case that Trump acted in his own personal interest, not the national interest in suspending aid:

ERNST: So, I was just pointing out that Iowa has very smart voters, very educated caucus-goers. And if they’re paying attention to all the dynamics with the candidates, that might be something that they would take into consideration.
TAPPER: The Republicans have been defending President Trump, saying his pressure campaign with Ukraine had nothing to do with electoral politics, had nothing to do with Biden’s campaign.
I'm wondering if you think that, by linking them, you undermine that argument at all?
ERNST: I don’t think it undermined at all.
I think that, again, what we have seen is the Democrats presenting their case. And I think it just really did show that there was something of concern with Burisma. And so I think that — excuse me — the Democrats can follow that. They will make that decision as they go to the caucuses tonight.
But I do think, overall, there is a corruption issue in Ukraine. We have pointed this out for years. I know…
TAPPER: Not necessarily about the Bidens, you’re saying. Just in general, there is a corruption issue.
ERNST: Not necessarily. In general, there is a corruption issue there. …
TAPPER: But that does seem to undermine the argument that this wasn’t about electoral politics, given that you’re saying you want to see how the mention of Joe and Hunter Biden — and we should point out, there is no evidence that anybody did anything illegal regarding the Bidens and Ukraine.
And Joe Biden was carrying out U.S. policy.
But it does — it does seem to suggest that you think that this could have an effect.
ERNST: I think this does. Whether that was the intention or not, now everything is tied together. …
TAPPER: He didn’t mention corruption in that call, though, as you know. He just mentioned Joe and Hunter Biden and Burisma. And then he mentioned this conspiracy theory about Ukraine interfering in the election in 2016.
ERNST: Right.
So, again, probably not something that I would have done. It's out there. He's done it.
TAPPER: So, because — so it was wrong?
ERNST: He’s done it now.

What?! She does not offer a remotely cogent explanation for how tying Joe Biden’s election prospects to Ukraine isn’t precisely the root of the problem. Her argument in defense of Trump that, after being caught, he offered up corruption generally as an excuse is no defense at all to the charge that, at the time, he aimed directly at his political rival. She likewise repeats the dopey talking point that he just didn’t go about this the right way in enlisting Ukraine. Actually, enlisting a foreign power to go after a U.S. citizen is precisely the high crime here. To make matters worse, later in the day Ernst suggested that if Biden were elected, he would be in danger of being impeached, yet one more sign of how entirely unserious she is in carrying out one of the most consequential duties of her office.

Listening to Alexander and Ernst, one is tempted to ask if they believe what they are saying or instead are robotically reciting talking points. Their logic seems to break down as soon as they are asked a pertinent question. Perhaps they know they are spouting double talk but are confident their voters do not care.

In short, the country at large “gets it”: Trump did what he is accused of, was wrong to do it, and the Senate couldn’t bear to look at all the evidence that might have made crystal clear why removal was essential. Moreover, it is only going to get worse as more and more evidence comes out. (The Post reported on Saturday, “Hours after the Senate voted against seeking new evidence in the impeachment case against President Trump, the administration acknowledged the existence of two dozen emails that could reveal the president’s thinking about withholding military aid to Ukraine.”) A great many voters, I suspect, will look at Alexander, Ernst and other Republicans in horror and reach the only logically conclusion: Neither Trump nor these Republican senators should be there.

The House impeached Trump, but it was a victory for alternative facts, Russian disinformation and Fox News, says columnist Dana Milbank. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Susan Walsh / AP/The Washington Post)

Read more:

Jennifer Rubin: The Senate debacle demands other means of checking the president

Max Boot: The GOP doesn’t deserve to survive this debacle

Alexandra Petri: Dare we overturn the will of the voters by holding another election?

Ruth Marcus: When the impeachment trial ends, the Senate’s reputation will be hopelessly in tatters

James Comey: Trump won’t be removed. But we’ll be fine.

Dana Milbank: The Senate impeachment trial was rigged!