Senate Republicans betray their own branch of government

Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts presides over the impeachment of President Trump. Courtesy of via Wikimedia Commons.

The impeachment trial of President Donald Trump is about more than the removal of the most unpopular president to lead this country since approval ratings existed (FiveThirtyEight, “How Popular is Donald Trump,” 01.27.2020). In a time of growing public discontentment with, and loss of faith in, Congress, the verdict of this trial could save or further destroy the Senate’s reputation. There has been a growing sense that the government no longer reflects the will of the population which it is designed to serve. This trial is a true test of our democracy, our constitution and the institutions that have been put in place to prevent any branch of government from wielding and abusing excess power.

Along with Trump’s position as the U.S. president, what rests on the impeachment trial’s outcome is the credibility of Congress as a co-equal branch of government and a legitimate check and balance on the powers of the presidency. Trump both sidestepped Congress and invited foreign interference into an American democratic election by giving direct orders to withhold money— funds approved by both houses of Congress to be given as security aid to an ally government at risk of invasion—for his own political gain. Furthermore, he refused to comply with subpoenas for documents about a call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Later talking about the quid pro quo that was the basis for the call, Trump claimed that Article II of the Constitution gave him “the right to do whatever [he] want[s]” (USA Today, “‘Obstruction of Congress’: Trump’s stonewalling becomes basis for impeachment,” 12.10.2019). Article II actually has no mention of “doing whatever [the President] want[s].” It does, however, mention impeachment twice (U.S. Constitution, “Article II”, 06.21.1788). Now Senate Republicans risk invalidating the system of checks and balances that are paramount to the functioning of our government by essentially using their positions of power to claim Trump’s abuse of power was a lawful use of executive privilege.

If the Senate does not vote to impeach Trump, they set a precedent that the president has the power and the authority to override Congress’ approval and funding of military aid, and that it is appropriate to strong-arm a foreign government into launching an investigation into a political opponent, foreign interference into an American democratic election notwithstanding. To allow a man like this to remain in office unchecked is to place the executive branch as the principal branch of government, superior to the legislative and judicial. If the Republicans care at all about the people’s perception and faith in the Congress, they must uphold their oath of office and vote on the side of the Constitution, a doctrine which creates the legislative branch as equal to—not subsidiary to—the executive, in the impeachment of Donald Trump.

Even moderate Republican Senators who have stood up to Trump, such as Mitt Romney, demonstrate that at the end of the day, their alliances lie with party over country. They have proven their dislike for Trump in their demands for changes to Mitch McConnell’s (Trump’s) rules for the trial; however, they have turned their backs on due process as they vote with their party to deny the subpoenas of any documents from the White House as well as the State Department and other agencies (The New York Times, “Republicans Block Subpoenas for New Evidence as Impeachment Trial Begins,” 01.21.2020).

This country’s dubious reputation as a leader among democracies casts no protection against the threat of corruption posed by the likes of Donald Trump, a demagogic president who seems to have convinced his party that he has the power to do anything he wants and that the Democrats’ respect for law and precedent is somehow a plot against his presidency.

In their refusal to stand up to this president, Republican members of Congress betray their oath of office to defend the Constitution and they cast Congress as an inferior entity to the president. Say the Senate rules along party lines against impeachment of President Trump. Sure, we have to endure the racist pumpkin with a red tie for another five years and deal with all the dangers that come with that. But greater than this, if Senate Republicans put their party ahead of the country, they open up the possibility for future, potentially more malicious presidents to use Article II of the Constitution as justification to do just about anything. If they reject impeachment, Senate Republicans set the precedent that the president is above the law, that they have no duty to yield to the checks on their power posed by Congress. If Donald Trump is not impeached, we lose any check on his power and all protection from the president taking on autocratic rule. Is this a future you want to see? I certainly do not, and it is the Senate’s duty to see that this future does not come to fruition.

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