McConnell Speaks on Senate’s Role in Impeachment Trial

No member of this body needs condescending lectures on fairness from the House Democrats who just rushed through the most unfair impeachment in modern history, or lectures on impartiality from senators who happily pre-judged the case with President Clinton... Just like 20 years ago, we should address mid-trial questions such as witnesses after briefs, opening arguments, Senator questions, and other relevant motions. Fair is fair.’

WASHINGTON, D.C.U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) delivered the following remarks today on the Senate floor regarding impeachment:

‘Of course, we also anticipate that another, totally different, very serious item will be heading the Senate’s way soon as well. 

‘The Senate will soon have to address some of the deepest institutional questions contemplated by our Constitution. We’ll have to decide whether we are going to safeguard core governing traditions or let short-term partisan rage overcome them.

‘Back in December, I explained how House Democrats’ sprint into the most rushed, least fair, and least thorough impeachment inquiry in American history has jeopardized the foundations of our system of government.

‘Last spring, Speaker Pelosi told the country, quote, “Impeachment is so divisive to the country that unless there’s something so compelling and overwhelming and bipartisan, I don’t think we should go down that path.” That was Speaker Pelosi less than a year ago.

‘Back in 1998, when Democrats were busy defending President Clinton, Congressman Jerry Nadler said, quote, “There must never be a narrowly-voted impeachment, or an impeachment substantially supported by one of our major political parties and largely opposed by the other. Such an impeachment would lack legitimacy.” That was Congressman Nadler’s standard when a Democrat was in the White House.

‘But ultimately House Democrats cared more about attacking President Trump than keeping their promises. So they rushed through a slapdash investigation. They decided not to bother with the standard legal processes for pursuing witnesses and evidence.

‘Chairman Adam Schiff told the entire country on national television that getting court decisions takes a long time and he did not want to wait. So they just plowed ahead with an historically weak case and impeached a duly-elected president with votes from just one political party.

‘Democrats have let “Trump derangement syndrome” develop into the kind of dangerous partisan fever that our founding fathers were afraid of.

‘And then, just before the holidays, this sad spectacle took another unusual turn: As soon as the partisan impeachment votes had finished, the prosecutors began to develop cold feet. Instead of sending the articles to the Senate, they flinched.

‘That’s right: The same people who’d just spent weeks screaming that impeachment was so serious and so urgent that it could not even wait for due process now decided it could wait indefinitely while they checked the political winds and looked for new talking points.

‘This is yet another situation where House Democrats have blown right past the specific warnings of our founding fathers. Alexander Hamilton specifically warned about the dangers of a “procrastinated determination of the charges” in an impeachment. He explained it would not be fair to the accused and it would be dangerous for the country.

‘But Speaker Pelosi does not care. Her conference is behaving exactly like the, quote, “intemperate or designing majority in the House of Representatives” that Hamilton warned might abuse the impeachment power.

‘As House Democrats continue their political delay, they’re searching desperately for some new talking points to help them deflect blame for what they’ve done.

‘We’ve heard it claimed that the same House Democrats who botched their own process should get to reach into the Senate and dictate our process.

‘We’ve heard claims that it’s a problem that I have discussed trial mechanics with the White House, even as my counterpart the Democratic Leader is openly coordinating political strategy with Speaker Pelosi, who some might call the “prosecution.”

‘And we’ve heard claims that any senators who have formed opinions about House Democrats’ irresponsible and unprecedented actions as they played out in view of the entire nation should be disqualified from the next phase.

‘Obviously this is all nonsense. Let me clarify Senate rules and Senate history for those who are confused. First, about this fantasy that the Speaker of the House will get to hand-design the trial proceedings in the Senate: That’s obviously a non-starter. 

‘What I have consistently said is very simple: The structure for this impeachment trial should track with the structure of the Clinton trial.

‘That means two phases. First, in 1999 the Senate passed a unanimous bipartisan resolution – 100 to nothing – that set up the initial logistics like briefs, opening arguments, and Senator questions. It stayed silent on mid-trial questions such as witnesses until the trial was actually underway.

‘Somewhat predictably, things started to diverge along party lines when we considered those later procedural questions. But the initial resolution laying out the first half of the trial was approved 100 to nothing.

‘I believe we should simply repeat that unanimous bipartisan precedent this time, as well.  That’s my position. President Trump should get the same treatment that every single Senator thought was fair for President Clinton.

‘Just like 20 years ago, we should address mid-trial questions such as witnesses after briefs, opening arguments, Senator questions, and other relevant motions. Fair is fair.

‘Now, let’s discuss these lectures about how senators should do our jobs.

‘The oath that senators take in impeachment trials — to “do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws” — has never meant that senators should wall themselves off from the biggest news story in the nation and completely ignore what the House has been doing.

‘The oath has never meant that senators check all of their political judgment at the door and strip away all of their independent judgment about what is best for the nation.

‘It has never meant that and it never could. The framers debated whether to give the power to try impeachments to a court or to the Senate, and decided on the Senate precisely because impeachment is not a narrow legal question, but a deeply political one as well. Hamilton said this explicitly in Federalist 65.

‘Impeachment requires the Senate to address both legal questions about what has been proved and political questions about what the common good of our nation requires.

‘Senators do not cease to be senators just because the House sends us articles of impeachment.

‘Our job remains the same: to represent our states’, our constituents’, and our nation’s best interests in the great matters of the day. That is our obligation whether we are voting on legislation, nominations, or the verdict in an impeachment. 

‘Twenty years ago, I would add, Democrats understood all this very well. President Clinton had obviously committed an actual felony.

‘If Democrats actually believed in the narrow sense of “impartiality” that they have now adopted as a talking point, then every single one of them would have voted to remove President Clinton from office. But instead, a majority of the Senate decided that removing President Clinton, despite his proven and actual crimes, would not best serve the nation. They made a political judgment.

‘And by the way, back then, leading Democrats had zero objections to senators speaking out before the trial.

‘The current Democratic Leader, Senator Schumer, was running for Senate during the House impeachment process in 1998. He voted against the articles both in the House Judiciary Committee and on the House floor.  And a major part of his campaign was literally promising New Yorkers in advance that he would vote to acquit President Clinton.

‘People asked if it was appropriate for him to pre-judge. He dismissed the question, saying quote, “This is not a criminal trial, but… something the founding fathers decided to put in a body that was susceptible to the whims of politics.” 

‘That was newly-sworn-in Senator Schumer in 1999. 

‘A few weeks later, during the trial itself, Democrat Senator Tom Harkin successfully objected to the use of the word “jurors” to describe the senators because the analogy to a narrow legal proceeding was so inappropriate.

‘So, I respect my friends across the aisle, but it appears that one symptom of “Trump derangement syndrome” is a bad case of amnesia.

‘And no member of this body needs condescending lectures on fairness from the House Democrats who just rushed through the most unfair impeachment in modern history… or lectures on impartiality from senators who happily pre-judged the case with President Clinton and simply change their standards to suit the political winds.

‘Anyone who knows American history or understands the Constitution knows that a senator’s role in an impeachment trial is nothing like the job of jurors in the legal system.

‘The very things that make the Senate the right forum to settle impeachments would disqualify all of us from any ordinary trial.

‘Like many Americans, senators have paid great attention to the facts and the arguments that House Democrats have rolled out publicly before the nation. Many of us personally know the parties involved on both sides.

‘This is a political body. We do not stand apart from the issues of the day. It is our job to be deeply engaged in them. But – and this is critical – the Senate is unique by design.

‘The framers built the Senate to provide a check against the short-termism, the runaway passions, and the “the demon of faction” that Hamilton warned would “extend his sceptre” over the House of Representatives “at certain seasons.”

‘We exist because the founders wanted an institution that could stop momentary hysterias and partisan passions from damaging our Republic.

‘An institution that could be thoughtful… be sober… and take the long view.

‘And that is why the Constitution puts the impeachment trial in this place. Not because senators should pretend they are uninformed, unopinionated, or disinterested in the long-term political questions that an impeachment of the president poses … but precisely because we are informed, we are opinionated, and we can take up those weighty questions.

‘That is the meaning of the oath we will take. That is the task that lies before us.

“Impartial justice” means making up our minds on the right basis. It means putting aside purely reflexive partisanship and putting aside personal relationships and animosities. It means coolly considering the facts the House has presented and then rendering the verdict that we believe is best for our states, our Constitution, and our way of life.

‘It means seeing clearly, not what some might wish the House of Representatives had proven, but what they actually have or have not proven.

‘It means looking past a single news cycle to see how overturning an election would reverberate for generations.

‘You’d better believe senators have started forming opinions about these crucial questions over the last weeks and months. Especially in light of the precedent-breaking theatrics that House Democrats chose to engage in.

‘Their turn is over. They have done enough damage. It’s the Senate’s turn now -- to render sober judgment as the framers envisioned. But we can’t hold a trial without the articles. The Senate’s own rules don’t provide for that. So, for now, we are content to continue the ordinary business of the Senate while House Democrats continue to flounder. For now.

‘But if they ever muster the courage to stand behind their slapdash work product and transmit their articles to the Senate, it will be time for the United States Senate to fulfill our founding purpose.’

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