The Republican Impeachment Failure Isn’t About Witnesses

(Bloomberg Opinion) --

With Senator Lamar Alexander's announcement Thursday night that he would vote against calling witnesses in President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, it appears that the Senate will wrap things up quickly. The last remaining question seems to be whether the final votes to acquit will come Friday evening or later in the night. Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Mitt Romney of Utah say they are planning to vote for witnesses, and Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska remains undecided as I write this. But without Tennessee’s Alexander there aren’t enough votes to force the trial to continue.

Alexander said he accepted that Trump was guilty of what he considered “inappropriate” actions, but that they didn’t rise to the level of removal and therefore there was no need to gather additional evidence. As such statements go, it could be worse. Alexander neither defied the obvious facts nor embraced some of the more extreme theories that the president’s lawyers embraced, theories that would in effect write impeachment and removal out of the U.S. Constitution. And his basic argument, that further evidence is unnecessary if he accepts the facts as laid out by the House managers prosecuting the case, is rational.

His statement wasn’t exactly consistent throughout. In particular, there’s no logic to his rejection of conviction on the grounds that it is backed only by one political party, since Alexander himself could make support for removal at least a little bipartisan. More to the point, there’s never any possibility of anything but a broad (and almost certainly bipartisan) majority for removing a president, since 67 votes would be required in the Senate. It would make some sense for a House majority to back away from an impeachment because it only has partisan support; it makes no sense for a senator from the president’s party to vote against removing that president if it’s otherwise merited on the grounds that it’s just a partisan effort.

That said, both the focus on witnesses and the focus on the four senators who have been the most likely to support calling them is misplaced. The real question is how senators will vote on removing the president from office, and the key senators haven’t been Alexander, Collins, Romney and Murkowski, or even the next-most-likely group of 10 or so. The key senators are the ones squarely in the middle of the Republican majority. They’re the ones who could have made removal a real possibility, and if some of them had taken Trump’s actions seriously then there’s little doubt that Alexander and the others would have joined them.

At the end, Alexander and the others were casting symbolic votes only. That’s not to say that those who believe removal was fully justified should excuse Alexander’s choice, and yes, there could be some effects from somewhat different totals on the final votes to acquit. But it’s the other Republicans, especially those who have made it clear over the last few years that they consider Trump to be unfit for the office he holds, who are the real failures here.

2. David B. Roberts at the Monkey Cage on the importance of the September attack on Saudi oil facilities

3. Fernando Tormos-Aponte on presidential primaries in Puerto Rico.

4. James Wallner on the history of impeachment and witnesses in Senate trials.

5. My Bloomberg Opinion colleague Noah Feldman on the preposterous claim that abuse of power is not legitimate grounds for impeachment: “The worst possible outcome for this impeachment process would be for Republicans to coalesce around the idea that Trump did everything he’s been accused of in the articles of impeachment, but had every right to do so under the Constitution.”

7. And Lisa Desjardins with all the questions asked by all the senators.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering politics and policy. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.

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