Mitt Romney and Susan Collins broke ranks. It didn’t matter.
The Republican-controlled Senate on Friday voted 51-49 against calling further witnesses in Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, setting the stage for the president to be acquitted, as expected from the beginning.
This was always a foregone conclusion. Mitch McConnell has gone out of his way to emphasize as much since September, when it became apparent that Nancy Pelosi was likely to start formal impeachment proceedings.
Some Americans are furious with Lisa Murkowski Friday and even more so with Lamar Alexander who, while conceding that Trump did, in fact, leverage military aid to Ukraine to compel the fledgling Volodymyr Zelensky government to launch investigations into political rivals, contended the act isn’t impeachable conduct.
“The Constitution does not give the Senate the power to remove the president from office and ban him from this year’s ballot simply for actions that are inappropriate”, Alexander said in a statement.
If you think that’s a sad comment on the state of the GOP, Marco Rubio’s statement was, for lack of a better word, bizarre.
Rubio, in a post on Medium, made it clear that he assumes at least some of the allegations against the president are true. And yet, he also says he can’t support removing Trump. “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”, Rubio wrote.
As absurd as that most assuredly is, Marco wasn’t done. He went on to suggest that the main reason he can’t vote to remove Trump is that doing so might cause a civil war, a development he reckons would be welcome news at the Kremlin.
If you haven’t read Rubio’s statement, you doubtlessly think I’m joking. Unfortunately, I’m not. Here’s Marco to explain:
Can anyone doubt that at least half of the country would view his removal as illegitimate — as nothing short of a coup d’état? It is difficult to conceive of any scheme Putin could undertake that would undermine confidence in our democracy more than removal would.
I will not vote to remove the President because doing so would inflict extraordinary and potentially irreparable damage to our already divided nation.
So, in essence, Marco Rubio has admitted that Trump’s threats (both implicit and explicit) of fomenting a civil war in the event he’s removed from office, now form at least part of the basis for voting to acquit him. That is quite something.
Friday’s vote on witnesses played out against yet another bombshell from The New York Times, which continues to document John Bolton’s account of his time as National Security Adviser as detailed in the unpublished manuscript of a book.
“More than two months before he asked Ukraine’s president to investigate his political opponents, President Trump directed Bolton to help with his pressure campaign to extract damaging information on Democrats from Ukrainian officials”, Maggie Haberman wrote Friday, revealing still more damaging information from the manuscript.
According to Bolton, “Trump gave the instruction… during an Oval Office conversation in early May that included the acting White House chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, [Rudy] Giuliani and the White House counsel, Pat Cipollone”.
Cipollone is, of course, leading the president’s impeachment defense.
The problem with this latest revelation is it’s just more evidence to support allegations that some Republican senators (like Marco Rubio) already accept as fact, even as they insist not only on acquitting Trump, but not hearing from Bolton, Mulvaney or any other witnesses, for that matter.
To quote Hillary Clinton: “What difference, at this point, does it make?”
That’s essentially what Lisa Murkowski said in her own statement explaining her decision not to back witnesses. “Given the partisan nature of this impeachment from the very beginning and throughout, I have come to the conclusion that there will be no fair trial in the Senate”, she said, adding that, if you ask her, “the continuation of this process [won’t] change anything”.
That’s correct. Because when it gets to the point where people like Rubio are willing to admit, in a post on Medium, that Trump has committed impeachable conduct, but can’t be removed because he might marshal the support of angry biker gangs in the course of launching a counter-“coup”, hearing John Bolton retell the story that a dozen current and former officials (including Bolton’s right-hand, Fiona Hill) already told in October and November, is the very definition of pointless.
Here again, I would remind you that while I’m infusing snark and humor to soften the edges around an otherwise rough and sordid tale, I’m actually not joking. Trump, in comments to Breibart’s Matthew Boyle in March of last year, said this:
You know, the left plays a tougher game, it’s very funny. I actually think that the people on the right are tougher, but they don’t play it tougher. Okay? I can tell you I have the support of the police, the support of the military, the support of the Bikers for Trump–I have the tough people, but they don’t play it tough—until they go to a certain point, and then it would be very bad, very bad.
He’s a third world strongman. And it’s hilarious. And also very sad for America. But still undeniably hilarious.
“It is sad for me to admit that, as an institution, the Congress has failed”, Murkowski went on to lament.
The Senate recessed after the vote on witnesses and next steps are, at this point, unclear.
What’s crystal clear, though, is that the GOP is a personality cult, at best. At worst, lawmakers are terrified of Trump, mostly because of what he can do to recalcitrant Republicans’ political fortunes, but it’s starting to feel like at least some GOPers are just flat-out scared of him.
And who can blame them? After all, the Secretary of State and the Attorney General are quite obviously sycophants. (And to the extent you can use the word “sycophant” in a way that isn’t pejorative, that’s how I’m using it. That is, I’m just stating a fact.) Meanwhile, recent events suggest that Mark Esper may be unduly beholden too.
Obviously, the Secretary of State and the Defense Secretary should be subservient and loyal to the president, but that’s something different from entirely beholden.
“Only Donald Trump out of any defendant in America can insist on a trial without witnesses”, Adam Schiff said Friday. “The importance of a fair trial here is not less than in any courtroom in America. It is greater than in any courtroom in America, because we set the example for America”.
Schiff hasn’t resigned himself to the same reality that Marco Rubio and most other Republicans have. This isn’t a democracy. This is a burgeoning autocracy. Trump is effectively above the law, and by the time any second term ends, he will be virtually impossible to hold to account.
Yes, Trump’s legal woes will continue and it does seem likely that, if he ever leaves office, he will end up being indicted somewhere, by someone, for a hodgepodge of crimes.
But that’s just it – under what circumstances will Trump leave office? Without lapsing into bombast or hysterics, we would flatly note that in the absence of some kind of bombshell between now and the election, it seems highly unlikely that he will lose in 2020.
We wrote precisely those words last year, after William Barr cleared the president of obstruction in the Mueller probe.
Even if he were to lose in November, Trump would just claim massive voter fraud and move to nullify the results. After all, he claimed massive voter fraud even when he won, in 2016.
After that, he’ll look for an excuse to extend presidential term limits.
Again, none of that is an effort to resort to hysterics. Rather, it increasingly seems like the most plausible trajectory.
Having crumbled the country’s institutions and having essentially antiquated the whole idea of “checks and balances”, Trump now faces a new challenge: Shaping and defining autocracy in America.
Last year, while making the same point, we asked if Trump appreciated the gravity of that challenge. It now appears that he does.
And on that note, we’ll leave you with some excerpts from an article that ran in The Atlantic nearly three years ago called “How To Build An Autocracy“, in which the author imagined what America might look like in 2021. Parts of it are bone-chillingly accurate.
It’s 2021, and president Donald Trump will shortly be sworn in for his second term. The 45th president has visibly aged over the past four years. He rests heavily on his daughter Ivanka’s arm during his infrequent public appearances.
Fortunately for him, he did not need to campaign hard for reelection. His has been a popular presidency: Big tax cuts, big spending, and big deficits have worked their familiar expansive magic. Wages have grown strongly in the Trump years, especially for men without a college degree, even if rising inflation is beginning to bite into the gains. The president’s supporters credit his restrictive immigration policies and his TrumpWorks infrastructure program.
The president’s critics, meanwhile, have found little hearing for their protests and complaints. A Senate investigation of Russian hacking during the 2016 presidential campaign sputtered into inconclusive partisan wrangling. Concerns about Trump’s purported conflicts of interest excited debate in Washington but never drew much attention from the wider American public.
Most Americans intuit that their president and his relatives have become vastly wealthier over the past four years. But rumors of graft are easy to dismiss. Because Trump has never released his tax returns, no one really knows.
Anyway, doesn’t everybody do it?
The business community learned its lesson early. “You work for me, you don’t criticize me,” the president was reported to have told one major federal contractor, after knocking billions off his company’s stock-market valuation with an angry tweet. Wise business leaders take care to credit Trump’s personal leadership for any good news, and to avoid saying anything that might displease the president or his family.
Social media circulate ever-wilder rumors. Some people believe them; others don’t. It’s hard work to ascertain what is true.
Nobody’s repealed the First Amendment, of course, and Americans remain as free to speak their minds as ever—provided they can stomach seeing their timelines fill up with obscene abuse and angry threats from the pro-Trump troll armies that police Facebook and Twitter.
Rather than deal with digital thugs, young people increasingly drift to less political media like Snapchat and Instagram.