Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., have declared all-out war against Democrats because of what they characterize as unfair and baseless persecution of President Donald Trump. The actual cause of their unease is the U.S. Constitution.
When a president is impeached by the House, the equivalent of an indictment, which is a statement of charges in criminal court, the Senate must then decide whether that president should be found innocent or guilty of the charges and removed from office as a consequence. This is the equivalent of acting as a jury in a trial. Even so, impeachment is a political, not a judicial, process.
The Constitution doesn’t say the Senate’s role in deciding impeachment depends on whether the president’s party is in the majority. It doesn’t say senators are free to duck this responsibility if doing so might bring them a primary challenge. It doesn’t say they can simply refuse to take seriously charges brought by the House.
Senators have expressed opinions before they sat as quasi-jurors in the past. President Richard Nixon resigned before he faced impeachment by the full House or trial by the Senate. Democrats complained about impeachment proceedings against President Bill Clinton.
In none of the three other impeachment proceedings did senators verbally trash the House for potentially handing the matter to them. In none did they refuse to hold an impeachment trial.
In 2019, instead of focusing on holding a proceeding with the seriousness it deserves, McConnell has announced that he will function as a defense lawyer and coordinate everything with Trump. Graham has said he wants to “deep six this thing,” calling it a crock. Pundits and elected officials are throwing around charges that impeachment is a coup attempt, a witch hunt and brazen political partisanship.
In 1996, senators of both parties used their votes after the trial to say they didn’t believe lying about sex warranted removal from office. This impeachment is not about lying about sex. It is about whether the president of the United States tried to manipulate a foreign government into involving itself in our electoral process and tried to cover it up.
Given the political realities, Trump is certain to survive a Senate trial. That does not mean one shouldn’t be fully and fairly held.
The U.S. Constitution has served all parties well for more than two centuries. McConnell, Graham and all the others who support or oppose Trump should continue to let it do its job.