Senate Republicans on Wednesday acquitted President Donald Trump for his dealings with Ukraine on Wednesday, culminating months of bitter partisan clashes after being caught trying to cheat in the 2020 election by pressuring the U.S. ally to investigate political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden.
Republicans are no doubt congratulating themselves for staging the first impeachment trial in history with no witnesses and nothing approaching full consideration of the issues at stake. By bringing the proceedings to their predictable, preordained and premature conclusion on Wednesday, they chose the path of least resistance.
The Republican-led Senate voted to acquit Trump on two articles of impeachment – abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, was the only senator to cross party lines by voting to convict for abuse of power. Conviction was always unlikely in the GOP-led Senate, where Republicans hold a 53-47 majority because it required the support of at least two-thirds of the Senate or 67 senators.
As Trump and his enablers run their victory laps, however, the sound you hear is that of the Constitution being trampled. To say the very least, and the painfully obvious, the acquittals (52-48 on abuse of power and 53-47 on obstruction of Congress) leave a damaging legacy.
The failure to sanction Trump’s misconduct — using your tax dollars to shake down a foreign government and smear a political rival — means that future presidents will have little to fear from the impeachment process. The failure to stand up to Trump’s stonewalling of congressional investigators grievously wounds the legislature’s oversight authority.
But the irony could not be more Over the past few years, Republicans who once warned that Trump posed grave dangers to both party and country have, one by one, cravenly buckled. Now, with a truncated trial that they conceived, executed and brought to an early end, they have completed their acts of submission. All but Mitt Romney, the Utah senator and former GOP presidential nominee who courageously voted to convict on abuse of power, are accessories to Trump’s assaults on the rule of law.
By voting to exclude witnesses, the Senate Republicans created a “trial” that went from opening arguments to closing statements with no testimony in between. In all likelihood, the evidence they did not want to hear, from former national security adviser John Bolton and others, will drip out in the coming months, prompting people to wonder why the Senate refused to consider it.
Now that the Senate has rendered its verdict, in nine months the voters will have the opportunity to render theirs. More important, however, is what lies beyond the next election.
The Senate’s decision to let Trump off without even requiring him to acknowledge his transgressions, or censuring them, sets a troubling precedent. As Patrick Philbin, one of Trump’s attorneys, acknowledged in a different context: “Whatever is accepted in this case becomes the new normal.”
Some day, in the more distant future, the great-grandchildren of today’s Senate Republicans will be in history class. They will have one overriding fear: that their classmates will find out it was their ancestor who, when asked to do impartial justice and stand up for American democracy, said … I can’t do that.
The impact of Wednesday’s votes is likely to reverberate for generations to come.