The practical reasoning behind impeaching Donald Trump as he was on the way out the door seemed to be two-fold, as far as Democrats were concerned.
First, it was necessary to stop Trump from ever running again. This is a curious argument, inasmuch as everyone loudly proclaims the 45th president’s political brand is ruined — which is why he needs to be disqualified for running for office again, so no one can ever again vote for a man we’re told no one will ever want to vote for. Perhaps Democrats believe memories are short, or perhaps they don’t really believe what they keep telling themselves.
Second, this time Republicans were supposed to be on board. Sure, getting 17 GOP senators to vote to convict might be difficult, particularly when the impeachment was rushed in the House. However, the Capitol incursion was different and supposedly incited by Trump — and, after all, wouldn’t top Republicans want to eliminate a potential rival for the 2024 presidential nomination?
There were reports that Senate Minority Mitch McConnell was in favor of impeachment, given that it could make chasing pro-Trump elements out of the GOP easier. Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts went on CNN to express confidence, saying she couldn’t “imagine how Republican opposition to insurrection would fade over the space of a couple of weeks.”
On Tuesday, Senate Republicans made it clear that Trump won’t be getting convicted.
In a key procedural move initiated by Kentucky GOP Sen. Rand Paul, 45 Republicans voted against proceeding with the impeachment trial on the grounds that it was unconstitutional to impeach a former president, The Associated Press reported.
While the 55-45 margin in favor of proceeding meant that the trial would go on as scheduled, the fact the Democrats were only able to secure five defectors from the Republican caucus means conviction is almost certainly impossible.
“If more than 34 Republicans vote against the constitutionality of the proceeding, the whole thing’s dead on arrival,” Paul said just before the vote was taken, adding Democrats should “probably should rest their case and present no case at all” if they didn’t clear that hurdle.
The Senate just voted on my constitutional point of order.
45 Senators agreed that this sham of a “trial” is unconstitutional.
That is more than will be needed to acquit and to eventually end this partisan impeachment process.
This “trial” is dead on arrival in the Senate.
— Senator Rand Paul (@RandPaul) January 26, 2021
The only five GOP senators who ended up voting with the Democrats are the ones you’d expect: Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Mitt Romney of Utah, Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania. All of them are avowed critics of the former president or have previously said they’d support impeachment.
The question of whether it’s constitutional to try a former president via impeachment proceedings is legal terra nova.
Only one person in the history of the republic has been impeached and tried after they left office. William Belknap was, until a few weeks ago, so obscure even “Jeopardy!” wouldn’t ask contestants about him — not even during the Tournament of Champions. The secretary of war under President Ulysses S. Grant, Belknap got wind that he was going to be impeached by the House and promptly tendered his resignation before the vote could be taken.
He was impeached anyway, according to Senate.gov, although his trial in the upper chamber ended without the two-thirds vote necessary to convict.
To the extent there’s anything resembling a real trial, Belknap is about to become very famous, since he’s the only concrete evidence the impeachment of former government officials is constitutional. Beyond that 145-year-old trial lies mostly opinions, like that of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.
“The theory that the Senate can’t try former officials would amount to a constitutional get-out-of-jail-free card for any president who commits an impeachable offense,” Schumer said, according to The Wall Street Journal.
As Paul himself pointed out on the floor of the Senate, however, the fact Supreme Court Justice John Roberts declined to preside over the trial is a sign the impeachment process isn’t constitutional.
“If we are about to try to impeach a president, where is the chief justice?” Paul said.
“If the accused is no longer president, where is the constitutional power to impeach him? Private citizens don’t get impeached. Impeachment is for removal from office. And the accused here has already left office.
“Hyper-partisan Democrats are about to drag our great country down into the gutter of rancor and vitriol the likes of which has never been seen in our nation’s history. Instead of doing the nation’s work, with their new majorities in the House, the Senate, and the executive branch, Democrats are wasting the nation’s time on a partisan vendetta against a man no longer in office.”
Sen. @RandPaul: “This impeachment is nothing more than a partisan exercise designed to further divide the country. Democrats claim to want to unify the country, but impeaching a former president, a private citizen, is the antithesis of unity.” pic.twitter.com/W8SHXO2URn
— CSPAN (@cspan) January 26, 2021
Paul also noted that “impeachment is nothing more than a partisan exercise designed to further divide the country. Democrats claim to want to unify the country, but impeaching a former president, a private citizen, is the antithesis of unity.”
Is the impeachment constitutional? That’s an open question, especially since it happened with no witnesses, no investigation and articles that were slapped together in profound haste. It’s unclear what the Senate trial will even look like yet — it’s not even clear whether there’ll be witnesses, according to Politico — but we already know the outcome.
If the Democrats want to actively prevent the new administration from passing its legislative agenda, far be it from Republicans to stop them. After all, the Senate won’t be splitting its days while the trial goes on, according to CNN, meaning no legislation will be considered until it’s over. This is a waste of time, but it’s a waste of the Biden administration’s time.
However, after Tuesday’s vote, there’s no point in pretending there’s any sort of practical aim to impeaching Donald Trump. No conviction will happen and no disqualification will occur.
The trial is nothing more than a farcical advertisement for grandstanding Democrats — something Republicans will be keen to highlight once the 2022 midterms roll around.
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