Opinion: Senate acquittal won’t end ‘Trump derangement syndrome’

Published 6:56 pm Monday, February 10, 2020


U.S. Senator

The Senate was just put to the test. For the first time since Reconstruction, we were sent a presidential impeachment that passed the House with votes from only one party.

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Everyone knows Democrats’ impeachment frenzy did not start with a phone call or a delay in military aid. The very day of his inauguration, a Washington Post headline proclaimed, “The campaign to impeach President Trump has begun.” This latest episode was the seventh time House Democrats introduced articles of impeachment. Those previously alleged “high crimes and misdemeanors” included things like being impolite to the press and to professional athletes.

But Speaker Nancy Pelosi decided the seventh time would be the charm. What came next was the most rushed, least fair and least thorough presidential impeachment inquiry in history.

The investigations into Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton took months, even years. It takes time to find facts and subpoena witnesses. But these House Democrats rushed through an unserious inquiry in just 12 weeks. They cut House Republicans and President Trump’s counsel out of the process to an unfair and unprecedented degree.

This rushed and rigged process was not a serious attempt to achieve the first presidential removal in American history. It was not a serious effort to persuade a supermajority of 67 senators. From day one, it was just another political attack on President Trump.

Fortunately, the framers of our Constitution knew House majorities might be consumed by partisan passions. They knew a more sober and stable body needed the ultimate say. So they placed impeachment trials in the Senate.

Unlike the House proceedings, our Senate trial gave both sides a fair platform. The Republican majority insisted on the same basic structure that all 100 senators unanimously approved for the Clinton trial in 1999. But in a shocking sign of these partisan times, zero Democrats joined us. Zero Democrats voted to give President Trump the same basic structure that 100 senators gave President Clinton. Even the most basic level of fairness had to be won with only Republican votes.

During the trial, senators heard sworn video testimony from 13 witnesses. We entered more than 28,000 pages of documents into evidence. We asked 180 questions of both sides and considered all arguments.

Then we reached an important question: Whether to re-open the investigation the House Democrats themselves called “overwhelming” and pursue new witnesses they chose not to pursue, or to move toward a conclusion. Just as then-Senators Joe Biden and Chuck Schumer argued in 1999, new live witnesses are not mandatory in a Senate trial. It all depends on what senators need.

In this instance, the House’s case was fatally flawed beyond any questions of evidence. Their accusations were constitutionally incoherent. Democrats’ arguments wandered away from clearly defined crimes and approached mere subjective disagreements. Removal on this basis would have been unjust to President Trump and to every American who elected him. And it would have opened the floodgates to constant impeachments in the future. Future presidents would effectively serve at the pleasure of the House, rather than American voters.

Democrats talk a lot these days about protecting our norms and institutions. But when the rubber met the road, it was they who proved willing to trample crucial guardrails in order to attack President Trump.

Instead of trying to persuade senators, House Managers threatened us. One said the Senate would be “treacherous” if we didn’t redo their investigation for them. Later, the far-left came after Chief Justice John Roberts, attacking him for staying neutral and declining to put his thumb on the scale for Democrats.

They tried everything to kick President Trump out of office and kick him off the ballot this November. Despite having nowhere near a solid case, Democrats tried to take two presidential elections out of the voters’ hands. They wanted to cancel out the people’s choice in 2016 and take away their choice in 2020.

We could not let that happen.

The Senate’s vote to acquit and end this mess was not just the big victory that President Trump clearly deserved. It was also a crucial statement for the long-term future of our Republic. We declared that Democrats cannot declare war on our governing traditions just because they lose an election. It was not a high crime or misdemeanor to defeat Hillary Clinton at the ballot box.

I wish this acquittal meant the end of “Trump derangement syndrome,” but I’m afraid it was only one symptom. Democrats are already discussing even more radical constitutional changes. Some argue that because they lost the fight over Justice Brett Kavanaugh, Democrats should pack the Supreme Court. Others say that if they lose to President Trump again in 2020, they should come after the Electoral College, so states like Kentucky get less say in picking presidents.

This thinking is poison for American government. When you fail to persuade the Senate or the American people, the answer is to find better arguments, not to tear up the rules and write new ones. As long as I am Majority Leader, I will never let Democrats’ short-term rage inflict permanent damage on our Constitution.

The framers built the Senate to be a firewall. We held the line. We fulfilled our constitutional duty, conducted a fair trial and delivered the outcome that President Trump deserved.

As the president laid out in his bold speech last Tuesday, the state of our union is strong. This all-American economic comeback is setting records, fueling headlines and boosting job growth in Kentucky and nationwide. Wages are rising. Opioid deaths are declining. We are rebuilding and modernizing the world’s greatest military.

Thanks to the Senate, Kentuckians will be able to evaluate this tremendous record for themselves on Nov. 3. President Trump’s reelection will be decided where it should be — at the ballot box.

In the meantime, I hope the Democrats put aside their rage and join Republicans as we continue delivering for American families. But if they don’t, if the unhinged attacks continue, the framers’ firewall will be ready.


Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Louisville, is the U.S. Senate majority leader.