Mitch McConnell told NPR last Friday that, if the House impeaches President Trump, “the Senate immediately goes into a trial.” This is music to Democratic ears, despite the infinitesimal chance of conviction, because they desperately need the sordid spectacle into which impeachment trials inevitably devolve. The Senate, however, isn’t required to try the president. That chamber possesses the “sole power to try all impeachments,” but is under no constitutional obligation to do so. The Democrats ignored House precedent and longstanding tradition to launch their “impeachment inquiry.” Why should Senate Republicans consider themselves bound by precedent and procedural rules where the trial is concerned?
The GOP can no longer afford to be timid about such niceties. The Democrats have long since declared war on Trump, the Republican Party, and the “deplorable” voters who support them. Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) pointed out on the floor of the Senate last week that the Democrats began making plans for President Trump’s impeachment well before he was inaugurated. She noted that in December of 2016 the Democrats were already at work on a Senate bill the sole purpose of which was to enable Democrats to exploit spurious conflict of interest allegations involving President-elect Trump’s business dealings and his official duties. The legislation was specifically conceived as an impeachment weapon:
The bill was tailor-made to transform conflict allegations into impeachable crimes. Keep in mind this bill was conceived before President Trump became President Trump. It was the beginning of a mission toward impeachment, even if they had to fabricate the means to get there. And let me tell you, they were determined to make it happen.… Yesterday, House Democrats, supported by their friends in the Senate, gathered to announce their intention to begin formal impeachment inquiries against President Trump.
This kind of skullduggery continues apace. The secret elimination of a requirement that whistleblowers provide firsthand knowledge of alleged wrongdoings was clearly carried out so hearsay could be used to launch investigations into “scandals” like Trump’s July conversation with the Ukrainian president. Last week we all watched as Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, waved the transcript of that conversation in the air while he literally looked into the cameras and fabricated an excerpt. This is the man who will lead the impeachment inquiry. Must the Senate take his findings seriously? Bob Bauer, former White House counsel in the Obama administration, thinks not:
The Constitution does not by its express terms direct the Senate to try an impeachment. In fact, it confers on the Senate “the sole power to try,” which is a conferral of exclusive constitutional authority and not a procedural command. The Constitution couches the power to impeach in the same terms.… The House may choose to impeach or not, and one can imagine an argument that the Senate is just as free, in the exercise of its own “sole power,” to decline to try any impeachment that the House elects to vote.
Moreover, his NPR interview notwithstanding, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has enough constitutional flexibility to reject impeachment charges that the majority of the senators find baseless. And McConnell is none too impressed with the latest Democratic charges involving the Ukraine kerfuffle: “I’ve read the summary of the call. If this is the ‘launching point’ for House Democrats’ impeachment process, they’ve already overplayed their hand. It’s clear there is no quid pro quo that the Democrats were desperately praying for.” Keith E. Whittington, the William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Politics at Princeton University, describes how the Republican majority may handle a frivolous impeachment resolution:
The Senate could entertain a motion to dismiss the charges at the outset of a trial on the grounds that the allegations did not meet the constitutional standard of impeachable offenses, and a majority of the Senate could send the House packing without ever hearing a witness or seeing evidence. If a majority of the senators thought the House was abusing the impeachment power … there is no reason why the Senate would have to pay obeisance to the House by going through the motions of a pointless trial.
It goes without saying that there are dissenting voices. The respected legal scholars of Twitter pounded out countless retweets of an unsourced HuffPost article that claimed, “The Republican leadership issued a memo Saturday clarifying that the Senate must take action if the House of Representatives approves articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump.” No link to the memo was provided, of course. Bloomberg found a “Republican Senate leadership aide” willing to cite a 1986 memo from then-Parliamentarian Robert Dove, who advised that “both the rules and the precedents argue for a rapid disposition of any impeachment trial in the United States Senate.” Oddly, no link was provided to this memo either.
The latest Democratic impeachment parody is pathetic. If Democrats ever manage to produce articles of impeachment, the Senate shouldn’t dignify them with a trial. Conviction in the Senate requires a two-thirds majority, and the GOP would begin the process with a majority of 53-47. That means 20 Republicans would have to defect. Thus, the only purpose served by a trial would be to smear President Trump while generating enough sound and fury to convince the increasingly unhinged Democratic base that its “representatives” are actually accomplishing something. It would dignify the Democrats’ destructive agenda, their low regard for the voters, and their willingness to waste the Senate’s time on a tawdry circus.
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