Republicans have disgraced themselves by choosing not to allow witnesses to testify during the Senate impeachment trial, but there’s still a way they can avoid looking like complete patsies: They can censure Trump for his abuse of power, and formally warn him not to do it again.
Joe Manchin, the West Virginia Democrat who’d been considered one of the few party members who could vote against the president’s articles of impeachment, called for a resolution to censure Trump on Monday. In my view, there are at least three reasons for Republicans to introduce and vote in support of their own resolution doing just that.
First, it is consistent with the rhetoric of many GOP senators. Consider, for example, the statement of Lamar Alexander, the retiring senator whose vote against witnesses made Trump’s acquittal a fait accompli. “[T]here is no need for more evidence to prove something that has already been proven and that does not meet the United States Constitution’s high bar for an impeachable offense,” he said in his statement.
He continued: “There is no need for more evidence to prove that the president asked Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden and his son, Hunter; he said this on television on Oct. 3, 2019, and during his July 25, 2019, telephone call with the president of Ukraine. There is no need for more evidence to conclude that the president withheld United States aid, at least in part, to pressure Ukraine to investigate the Bidens; the House managers have proved this with what they call a ‘mountain of overwhelming evidence.’”
Alexander wasn’t alone. Lindsey Graham said he “most likely expressed the sentiments of the country…” And Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse said, “Lamar speaks for lots and lots of us.” Others echoed Alexander’s language, as when Lisa Murkowski said Monday that “The president’s behavior was shameful and wrong.”
Marco Rubio (a man I sadly wasted my 2016 primary vote on) was more coy than Alexander, refusing to fully grapple with the merit of Trump’s guilt, and instead, landing on this cop-out: “Just because actions meet a standard of impeachment does not mean it is in the best interest of the country to remove a president from office.”
Taken together, a consistent theme emerges from these statements from Republicans who will vote to acquit Trump: Alexander concedes that Trump did it (so why bother with witnesses?), while Rubio suggests that even if he did it, it wouldn’t rise to the level of removing a president (so why bother with witnesses?).
These are lame and convenient excuses. But while it will be hard for them to ever earn back our trust, one step in the right direction would be censuring Trump.
That brings me to my second reason Republicans should do this: It would allow them to preserve some semblance of dignity. What Trump did was clearly impeachable, but if they’re not going to do that, well, doing something would still be better than doing nothing.
A censure is a way for Republicans to publicly rebuke Trump’s behavior without removing the president from office.
While Trump would surely react bitterly, it’s unclear whether the Republican base (many of whom, let’s be honest, realize Trump was guilty) would completely freak out—so long as it meant keeping Trump in office so he can cut taxes, nominate good judges, and, yes, own the libs. Limbaugh and Hannity would go crazy, of course, but I’m talking about the rank-and-file voters who support Trump, even though they acknowledge his many faults.
There could be electoral benefits, possibly avoiding the backlash of what now looks like an impeachment “trial” that was rigged.
If the strategic goal of vulnerable Republican senators is to appease Trump’s base without alienating suburban voters (a difficult needle to thread), censuring Trump is perhaps the only way to show some independence without crossing the line that would enrage the base.
The last reason, though, might turn out to be the most important—for America, and for Republicans who don’t want to look back on this with regret: It’s important to do something that deters Trump from doing this again.
As it stands, Republicans are positioned to look naive and foolish. Republican Senators Lamar Alexander and Joni Ernst are both on the record making the absurd argument that this impeachment ordeal has made it somehow less likely Trump will engage in similar bad behavior in the future.
This completely ignores the fact that Trump’s call to Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky (which he still believes was “perfect”!) occurred the very day after Robert Mueller testified to Congress. Winston Churchill said, “Nothing in life is so exhilarating as to be shot at without result.” That is how Trump will view his “exoneration.” He is far more likely to be emboldened than chastened.
If what Trump did is wrong (as Alexander clearly concedes), why not suggest some alternative form of punishment? If one of my sons did something wrong, his mother and I would punish him in some way. If there’s no punishment, the person gets the message that what they did was in fact just fine.
Speaking of sounding naive, I don’t actually think Republicans will take my advice in a jillion years. But, for now, at least, the ball is in their court.
By choosing not to punish Trump, Republicans like Alexander and Rubio and Sasse and Graham and Ernst aren’t just obstructing justice (in a non-legal sense), they are enabling foreign interference in our elections.
The only reason not to do this is cowardice.
Unless Republicans do the bare minimum—censuring this president for his obvious misdeeds—their legacy will be stained by the sins of Donald J. Trump.