Posted on February 4, 2020
Wall Street Journal: Lamar Alexander’s Finest Hour
His vote against witnesses was rooted in constitutional wisdom.
By The Editorial Board
Feb. 2, 2020 4:50 pm ET
Senate Republicans are taking even more media abuse than usual after voting to bar witnesses from the impeachment trial of President Trump. “Cringing abdication” and “a dishonorable Senate” are two examples of the sputtering progressive rage. On the contrary, we think it was Lamar Alexander’s finest hour.
The Tennessee Republican, who isn’t running for re-election this year, was a decisive vote in the narrowly divided Senate on calling witnesses. He listened to the evidence and arguments from both sides, and then he offered his sensible judgment: Even if Mr. Trump did what House managers charge, it still isn’t enough to remove a President from office.
“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,” Mr. Alexander said in a statement Thursday night. “But 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 House managers had proved their case to his satisfaction even without new witnesses, Mr. Alexander added, but “they do not meet the Constitution’s ‘treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors’ standard for an impeachable offense.” Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse told reporters “let me be clear: Lamar speaks for lots and lots of us.”
This isn’t an abdication. It’s a wise judgment based on what Mr. Trump did and the rushed, partisan nature of the House impeachment. Mr. Trump was wrong to ask Ukraine to investigate Joe and Hunter Biden, and wrong to use U.S. aid as leverage. His call with Ukraine’s President was far from “perfect.” It was reckless and self-destructive, as Mr. Trump often is.
Nearly all of his advisers and several Senators opposed his actions, Senators like Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson lobbied Mr. Trump hard against the aid delay, and in the end the aid was delivered within the fiscal year and Ukraine did not begin an investigation. Even the House managers did not allege specific crimes in their impeachment articles. For those who want the best overall account of what happened, we again recommend the Nov. 18 letter that Mr. Johnson wrote to House Republicans.
Mr. Alexander’s statement made two other crucial points. The first concerns the damage that partisan removal of Mr. Trump would do to the country.
“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,” Mr. Alexander noted. “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.”
Does anyone who isn’t a Resistance partisan doubt this? Democrats and the press talk as if removing Mr. Trump is a matter of constitutional routine that would restore American politics to some pre-2016 normalcy. That’s a dangerous illusion.
The ouster of Mr. Trump, the political outsider, on such slender grounds would be seen by half the country as an insider coup d’etat. Unlike Richard Nixon’s resignation, it would never be accepted by Mr. Trump’s voters, who would wave it as a bloody flag for years to come. Payback against the next Democratic President when the Republicans retake the House would be a certainty.
Mr. Alexander directed Americans to the better solution of our constitutional bedrock. “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,” his statement said. “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.”
Democrats and their allies in the media have spent three years trying to nullify the election their candidate lost in 2016. They have hawked false Russian conspiracy theories, ignored abuse by the FBI, floated fantasies about triggering the 25th Amendment, and tried to turn bad presidential judgment toward Ukraine into an impeachable offense. Yet Mr. Trump’s job approval rating has increased during the impeachment hearings and trial.
Our friendly advice to Democrats and the impeachment press is to accept that you lost fair and square in 2016 and focus on nominating a better Democratic candidate this year. On the recent polling evidence, that task is urgent. In the meantime, thank you, Lamar Alexander.