WASHINGTON — It is finally the Senate’s turn. And if recent history is any guide, President Trump’s impeachment trial will be an intensely partisan display that will make the polarization of the Clinton era look like a bygone period of political harmony.
While Democrats and Republicans managed to unanimously come to terms on how to start President Bill Clinton’s trial in 1999, the two parties — and their two leaders — are today irreconcilably divided on how to proceed and whether the trial is even legitimate.
Hanging over the showdown is a decade of intensifying Senate conflict exemplified by ruthless party-line rule changes, constant filibusters, the Republican blockade of Judge Merrick B. Garland, poisonous confirmation fights and a dearth of legislative action as Senate leaders shy from votes that could threaten incumbents up for re-election.
The Trump trial provides an opportunity for senators to show that the institution can still rise above brutal partisan combat at a moment of constitutional gravity. But there is little reason for optimism as Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, has repeatedly expressed deep disdain for the House proceedings and the conduct of his political rivals across the aisle, a reflection of the view held by most of his Republican colleagues.
Impeachment Highlights: House Initiates Impeachment Trial
The House named the impeachment managers, held a floor vote and took part in a rarely used engrossment ceremony.
The house has passed H.Res.798, a resolution appointing and authorizing managers for the impeachment trial of Donald John Trump, president of the United States. Good morning, everyone. Today is an important day, because today is the day that we name the managers who go to the floor to pass the resolution to transmit the articles of impeachment to the Senate. And later in the day when we have our engrossment, that we march those articles of impeachment to the United States Senate. I believe that they bring to this case and the United States Senate: great patriotism, great respect for the Constitution of the United States, great comfort level in a courtroom. Without objection, the gentleman is recognized for one minute. Thank you, Madame Speaker. This trial is necessary because President Trump gravely abused the power of his office. Back when this national nightmare began, Speaker Pelosi laid bare her intentions and purely partisan agenda. President Trump put his own personal interests above the national interests, above our national security. And if not stopped, he will do it again. This has nothing to do with the facts. The only real emergency here is that there’s a 2020 election in which the Democrats can’t stand to see the fact, this president is going to win again. Yeas are 228; the nays are 193. The resolution is adopted and without objection the motion to reconsider is laid on the table. Today, we will make history. For the impeachment trial of Donald John Trump, president of the United States. The message will be received. The Senate is ready to receive the managers appointed by the House for the purpose of exhibiting articles of impeachment against Donald John Trump, president of the United States. At the hour of 12 noon on Thursday, Jan. 16, 2020, the Senate will receive the managers on the part of the House of Representatives. This is a difficult time for our country. But this is precisely the kind of time for which the framers created the Senate. I’m confident this body can rise above short-termism and factional fever and serve the long-term best interests of our nation. We can do this, and we must.
The House named the impeachment managers, held a floor vote and took part in a rarely used engrossment ceremony.CreditCredit…Doug Mills/The New York Times
“It is a bad beginning, but that doesn’t dictate the ending,” said Kent Conrad, a former Democratic senator from North Dakota who took part in the Clinton impeachment trial. “We could have some people have a crisis of conscience and realize that history is going to judge them on how they perform here.”
Those inside and outside the Senate say the partisan atmosphere has deteriorated markedly from the days of the Clinton trial. That itself was contentious as House Republicans, at the urging of Tom DeLay of Texas, the Republican whip known for a take-no-prisoners approach, pushed through impeachment articles against the president in a lame-duck Congress in 1998.
Still, the two Senate leaders at the time, Trent Lott, Republican of Mississippi, and Tom Daschle, Democrat of South Dakota, reached an agreement for the trial that the full Senate found acceptable as a starting point.
Senators took their responsibilities seriously despite a consensus acknowledgment from the beginning that Mr. Clinton would not be removed from office, as well as deep disagreement over the appropriateness of the accusations against him — circumstances similar to the present.
“As absurd as the Clinton impeachment was, it was handled with, generally speaking, the proper solemnity,” said Russ Feingold, a former Democratic senator from Wisconsin who was the only member of his party at the time to vote with Republicans against a motion to dismiss the articles of impeachment against Mr. Clinton. “The trial was generally viewed as essentially fair.”
In contrast, Mr. McConnell and his Democratic counterpart, Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, are not in talks about the ground rules for the Trump trial. Instead, Mr. McConnell is plunging ahead and next week, he plans to set the parameters purely with Republican votes if necessary, leaving some of the larger questions, including whether to call witnesses as demanded by Democrats, until later.
Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, who has pushed to leave open the possibility of calling witnesses in the trial, said she had pressed Mr. McConnell to allow it in part because of her experience with Mr. Clinton’s trial in 1999, and her desire to honor the Senate’s unique obligation on impeachment.
“I happen to believe in the oath, and I believe in precedent, and that’s why I’m doing it,” Ms. Collins said on Wednesday.
Mr. McConnell has repeatedly denigrated the House impeachment as weak and rushed, derided the tactics of Speaker Nancy Pelosi and questioned the motivations of Mr. Schumer. The minority leader, Republicans say, is using the impeachment trial to undermine embattled Republicans such as Cory Gardner of Colorado and Ms. Collins in an attempt to wrest control of the Senate from Republicans in November.
“The Senate Democratic leader recently said that as long as he can try to use the trial process to hurt some Republicans’ re-election chances, quote, ‘it’s a win-win,’” Mr. McConnell said this week. “That’s what this is all about.”
Democrats bristle at the idea that they are playing politics and say that Mr. Trump put national security at risk by withholding military aid from Ukraine as leverage to force an investigation of a political rival and then stonewalled the House investigation of his actions.
In a tale of two chambers, the contrast between the House and Senate was on full display Wednesday. House Democrats showcased their selection of impeachment prosecutors and the ritualistic delivery of the articles of impeachment across the Rotunda while Senate Republicans treated the matter like a hot potato, appearing in no hurry to take possession of the charges. Mr. McConnell promptly put off until Thursday the formal reception of the paperwork.
“The far left has been desperate to get rid of President Trump since Day 1, and that has been made abundantly clear throughout this process,” said Senator Todd Young, Republican of Indiana, who nevertheless said he would try to weigh the merits of the case. “Now that the articles are being delivered and a trial will be held in the Senate, I will uphold my duty as an impeachment juror and carefully evaluate the legal arguments.”
Before the Clinton impeachment trial got underway, the full Senate gathered in the old chamber down a marble hallway from the Senate floor to work out their differences in a free-flowing private discussion that participants remember as a singular event during their service. They said the weight of what they confronted, and the historic surroundings of the chamber where illustrious senators of the past had roamed the floor, encouraged them to find common ground.
Mr. McConnell, in contrast, apparently wants nothing to do with the old Senate chamber. Republicans say he would prefer to stay out of the storied space for fear an all-hands meeting there would lend undue import to the trial and create an atmosphere in which some Republicans could decide to ally themselves with Democrats on procedural issues, effectively costing him control of the process.
With his name on the ballot in November, Mr. McConnell must also manage his own relationship with Mr. Trump. Any move that the White House interprets as backing away from a staunch defense or giving Democrats room to press their case is likely to provoke an angry response from the president and aggravate Republican voters who believe the matter should not even be dignified by a trial.
But Mr. McConnell is also keenly aware that the trial is a test of the Senate and of his own ability to navigate the political crosscurrents of an election-year impeachment debate.
“This is a difficult time for our country but this is precisely the kind of time for which the framers created the Senate,” he said on the floor on Wednesday as the articles were delivered. “I’m confident this body can rise above the short term-ism and factional fever and serve the long-term best interests of our nation. We can do this, and we must.”
With the disposition of the articles now the responsibility of the Senate, former members of both parties who served during the Clinton trial say senators should strive to do their jobs in a way that ultimately reflects well on an institution that has struggled of late to inspire public confidence.
“While any Republican senator could say, ‘I’m voting not guilty because they treated him unfairly,’ they have to vote on the merits,” said Slade Gorton, a former Republican senator from Washington State who worked with Democrats in 1999 to develop a bipartisan trial framework. “They have to go through a real process of thought on this. It is a very serious matter, and it has to appear to be right from the point of view of the people.”
Other participants from 1999 said they feared the future consequences for the Senate and the impeachment process if the Senate is viewed as botching the trial.
“The Senate’s reputation is clearly on the line with impeachment,” said Mr. Daschle, the Democratic leader who worked with Mr. Lott to try to avert partisan disaster during the Clinton trial. “How it is handled will not only affect the perception of the quality of governance at a critical moment for our country, it will have profound ramifications for how matters similar to this are addressed in the future.”
Trump on Trial is a continuing series of articles offering analysis and impressions of the Senate impeachment proceedings.
Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com