LAMAR ALEXANDER DECIDES

Lamar

Last night, at about 11 pm, Lamar Alexander, senior Senator from Tennessee, and juror of the impeachment of Donald John Trump, President of the United States, spoke his mind. His full statement is worth reading, not once but twice. You can read it here : https://www.alexander.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/2020/1/alexander-statement-on-impeachment-witness-vote

That said, let me quote his summation for you :

“I worked with other senators to make sure that we have the right to ask for more documents and witnesses, but there 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. …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. 

“The question then is not whether the president did it, but whether the United States Senate or the American people should decide what to do about what he did. I believe that the Constitution provides that the people should make that decision in the presidential election that begins in Iowa on Monday. …Our founding documents provide for duly elected presidents who serve with ‘the consent of the governed,’ not at the pleasure of the United States Congress. Let the people decide.” 

As I posted on my own personal facebook page :

“Senator Lamar Alexander has made his decision, and though I disagree with it, it is not unjust, and it definitely is not exoneration :

1. He says, correctly, that the House managers proved their case overwhelmingly.
2. Because that is so, he argues, further testimony is not needed.
(The suggestion here is that the House managers want more witnesses because they think it will convince more Senators, but that that is not going to happen. Alexander is surely right about that.)
3. He characterizes Trump’s actions versus Ukraine as inappropriate, not once but twice, and he specifies why, at some length and in detail. 45 cannot be pleased.

He says : It was inappropriate for the president to ask a foreign leader to investigate his political opponent and to withhold United States aid to encourage that investigation. When elected officials inappropriately interfere with such investigations, it undermines the principle of equal justice under the law.4. What then should Trump’s punishment be ?

Not impeachment because “Presidents serve by the consent of the governed,” not by consent of the Senate, is his finding. (My contra : then why is impeachment in the Constitution ?)

But .. Alexander’s judgment sure feels like censure. Censure of 45, with the strong suggestion that the voters should not vote to re elect.

I hope he is right.”

Censure was not asked for by the House managers, nor was it offered as a sanction by any Senator. Yet Alexander’s summation sure feels like a censure to me. His justification for censuring, not removal from office ? Again he says much that we should at least consider : The framers believed that there should never, ever be a partisan impeachment. That is why the Constitution requires a 2/3 vote of the Senate for conviction. Yet not one House Republican voted for these articles. If this shallow, hurried and wholly partisan impeachment were to succeed, it would rip the country apart, pouring gasoline on the fire of cultural divisions that already exist. It would create the weapon of perpetual impeachment to be used against future presidents whenever the House of Representatives is of a different political party.

These are not facile excuses. Impeachment of a President cannot avoid dividing the nation. Alexander is correct to acknowledge that we already have too much such division. He is also on solid ground rejecting an impeachment that runs entirely on partisan grounds. The framers rejected it too, which is why — as he notes — a 2/3 vote is required for removal.

All of these considerations must weigh upon anyone charged with deciding an impeachment of the President.

Because Alexander was the crucial fourth vote needed for adoption of a motion to call additional witnesses and subpoena documents, that motion will now fail, and all expect that there will not be anything like 67 votes to remove Mr. Trump from office. Which means that Alexander’s censure language, as the deciding vote, will be the final word of the impeachment trial.

Those of you who have read this far will assume that I agree with Lamar Alexander’s opinion. I do not. I think that removal from office is fully justified by Mr. Trump’s entire course concerning Ukraine and his utter refusal to cooperate with Congress’s investigations of it. Impeachment is in the Constitution, which means that no, it is not in all cases up to the people to decide; the Senate is fully charged with power to do so in an impeachment case.

I agree with the managers, also, that Mr. Trump presents a grave danger to our rule of law and to his oath of office. He has not only done what Alexander agrees he did, he has indicated that he will do it again, and again, and that, as one of his lawyers so cavalierly asserted, anything he does that he considers to be in the national interest, he can do. In my opinion, that kind of discretion cannot be allowed to any President and is in fact not allowed by the oath of office and the exact words of Article 2’s enabling language. Congress establishes national policy. The President does not. His role is to carry out what Congress enacts. He has reasonable discretion as to his methods for carrying out his charge, but he does not have a free hand.

Unfortunately, over the past 80 years or so, since we entered the Second World War, we have more and more allowed ourselves to be comfortable with a President acting on his own whim about all sorts of questions. We have forgotten that the President only has such powers in a national emergency, such as war is — if indeed he has such powers at all. Because the President is charged with carrying out the nation’s foreign policy, we have come to assume that he decides what that policy is. There is no such authority in the Constitution, which accords to the President only one such power : he is commander in chief of our armed forces in times of war.

But for Senator Alexander, President Trump’s misuse of his foreign policy duties is only to be adjudged by the voters, not by the body that the Constitution gives power to judge. He says that for the Senate to exercise a judgment expressly granted it usurps the people’s authority, on two grounds : one, for the Senate to judge Mr,. Trump removed would aggravate the nation’s division, and two, the President holds office “by the consent of the governed, mot the pleasure of the Senate.” This second view is classic Jacksonian Democrat : the ordinary people rule. A Senator from Tennessee, Andrew Jackson’s state, might well honor such a radical democracy  — except that the Constitution does not do so. It says that the people do not always directly decide.

As for the national division, which Alexander is right to take seriously, yes it exists and yes, it is a grave danger to our civic comity and to our system of government. Yet who created this division ? Who aggravated it ? Is not Mr. Trump the author of the greater part of it ? Has he not intentionally divided the nation to what he thinks is his own electoral benefit ? In my opinion, the current state of national division is daily evidence — irrefutable evidence — that President Trump has violated his oath of office and sought destruction for its own sake because that is the only way in which he can “do what he wants,” as he says he has a right to do as President.

And when the people do decide, this November, and hopefully decide to vote Mr. Trump out — and Alexander’s censure language implies that he too is no fan of voting for him — will that national division back off from its current aggravation ? I doubt that. I doubt that Alexander thinks so either. In that case, why not remove ? Thanks to President Trump, we are going through hell already; it cannot be avoided or appeased away. At least with removal, we end up with President Pence : a much milder man, a calming influence rather than a demagogue. I’m no fan of Mr. Pence’s politics, but his assuming the high office could hardly make matters worse. Too bad we won’t see it.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere