By Christine Todd Whitman
December 24, 2019
President Donald Trump has been impeached by the House of Representatives. What happens in the Senate in early 2020 may not remove him from office, but this is nonetheless a historic moment. If we peel back the political layers of this situation, we can begin to understand its significance, as well as the dangers it presents to America and, yes, the Republican Party.
My fellow Republicans face a critical question: Are we affronted by Trump’s undermining of the rule of law, as the face of our party? Our highest office holder has ignored the Constitution, our nation’s foundational and overriding legal document. It appears true that constitutional arguments do not grip the American public. However, it is critical for the future of our nation that we make no partisan exceptions when it comes to the rule of law.
The impeachable offenses? Obstruction of Congress, which is the third co-equal branch of government, and abuse of power. House Democrats could have presented other charges—and, frankly, I believe they did not build as strong a case as they could have. Violating the Emoluments Clause, a constitutional provision against foreign influence on American office holders, is just one example. Instead, they chose to stick to Trump’s clearest, most important offenses: abusing his power by asking a foreign government to interfere in our elections, while using congressionally allocated military aid as leverage, and obstructing Congress by preventing several first-hand witnesses from testifying.
While I am disappointed by the charges that Democrats brought to the floor last week, I am appalled by the ambivalence toward constitutional protections that I have witnessed in my party. Although the Democrats finally got around to saying in their closing speeches that their case was about the Constitution, they should have made it about the rule of law. On top of that failure, I am deeply concerned about the dangerous precedent set when, for the sake of expediency, Democrats let several first-hand witnesses defy a subpoena.
As a Republican who increasingly doesn’t recognize the party of which I have been a member for more than 50 years, I am deeply concerned for the future. The American people deserve a Congress that stands for more than just partisan politics. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi allowed her caucus to vote their conscience, but Republicans were twisting arms in every direction to ensure that the ranks would not break. Imagine if we allowed representatives to do what they were elected to do—represent their constituents. As the trial heads to the Senate, I can only implore my party to let people vote their conscience. Let them uphold the oath they swore when elected and will swear again for this unique session.
Now we wait, as Republicans and Democrats dig in their heels. Considering the offenses, I question the lack of bipartisan concern over our president’s subversion of political power and authority. Many Republicans may push against impeachment because it threatens the power their party enjoys with one of their own in the White House, but some heels may be too deeply rooted in the floor to appreciate the big picture of this threat.
This should not be layers on layers of politics. This is about the sanctity and security of our Constitution. We cannot abide by a precedent that ignores the rule of law when our party is benefited. A president who ignores the Constitution and obstructs Congress is a colossal threat, even to the party he or she represents. Trump is counting on the support of his party in the Senate, but his safety net appears to be our party’s self-destruct button.
Photo by John Bakator on Unsplash