The next time someone tells you that the U.S. Senate is the world’s greatest deliberative body, your answer should be no longer than two words: Marco Rubio.
Here’s what the Republican senator from Florida, and one-time Leader of the Free World aspirant, had to say about the impeachment trial that will likely wrap up this week with President Donald Trump’s acquittal on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
“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 in a post to the blogging site, Medium, in the hours before the Senate voted along party lines to reject calling witnesses.
Read that again: Rubio admitted that Trump, by strong-arming Ukraine to extort an investigation of former vice president Joe Biden, committed an impeachable offense.
Or you can always answer “Lamar Alexander.”
“I don’t need to hear any more evidence to decide that the president did what he’s charged with doing,” Alexander, R-Tenn., told NPR’s Steve Inskeep on Friday. “So if you’ve got eight witnesses saying that you left the scene of an accident, you don’t need nine.”
Alexander, who’s retiring at year’s end, went on to tell Inskeep that, he agreed Trump “did something inappropriate, but I don’t agree he did anything akin to treason, bribery, high crimes and misdemeanors. I think there’s a big gap there.”
Let’s acknowledge for the moment, that Trump’s acquittal was baked in before U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., ceremonially marched the articles of impeachment to other side of the Capitol. Even so, the Senate has shirked a fundamental duty, a constitutional obligation, to consider all the evidence — including witnesses and testimony — before rendering its verdict.
Instead, for the first time in the history of the Republic, we had a GOP Senate majority actively conspiring with the defendant to rig the verdict before the trial even happened. Alexander and Rubio, both acknowledging the president’s culpability, failed to execute on this duty, even before casting a conviction vote that is nonetheless fait accompli.
The world’s greatest deliberative body? Hardly. It’s a Senate that only a Roman emperor could love.
And I don’t undertake that comparison lightly — comparisons between the American empire and the one of antiquity are often too easy, and incorrect. Taking up that very question in a 2016 column, I concluded that, while there were elements of Roman politics that surely look familiar, there were still clear distinctions.
Now, though, I think I’m compelled to agree with Holy Cross classicist Timothy Joseph, who wrote in these pages last December that, like the Roman senate under the imperium, the current Republican Senate has declined from “a long-held position of authority … to become a body almost wholly reliant on the whims of a given emperor.
“While we may chalk up senatorial inaction – in the first or 21st century – to fear of an individual leader’s powers, there is another underlying factor that may align political figures from these two periods: The rise of an autocrat was personally good for them,” Joseph wrote.
Indeed, with the possible exception of U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, you can almost entirely chalk up GOP paralysis in the face of Trump to the fear of a blistering tweet or the threat of a primary from the right. Even U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., who plays the occasional Trump critic on television, fell meekly into line to cast a vote against calling witnesses.
“The purpose of a witness is to shed light on an important fact that could resolve a disputed issue and help determine the final outcome of the case,” Toomey said in a statement released by his office on Friday night. “In my view, the House has brought forward articles of impeachment that do not justify removing President Trump from office, nullifying the results of the 2016 election, and denying Americans the right to vote for him in the next election. As a result, additional witnesses beyond the 17 who testified in the House proceedings, are not necessary.”
Read that again. Toomey didn’t even comply with the mere pretense of a full trial, as explosive allegations by former national security adviser John Bolton trickled out that explicitly accused Trump of withholding aide to Ukraine in exchange for an investigation of Biden.
And just hours after the vote, the Department of Justice revealed 24 redacted emails relating to Trump’s motivations in the Ukraine matter, the Washington Post reported. But, now, thanks to its lemming-like vote, the Senate, and by extension, the American public, may never know the full truth of the matter.
With its spineless acquiescence to the whims of authoritarian president, Senate Republicans have not only guaranteed a harsh judgment in the eyes of history, they’ve also legitimized soliciting foreign interference in our elections, and emboldened an erratic executive whose policy whims change with the weather.
Legend has it that Nero fiddled while Rome burned. It’s both an untruth and historical anachronism. But for a Republican Senate supine in the face of the power of the princeps, it’s an object lesson and a warning.