Washington seems to be constantly convulsing in partisan accusations, investigations, and endless acrimony. That division reached its high-water mark as the Senate carried out the third presidential impeachment trial in our nation’s history.
The process included 17 witnesses, 100-plus hours of testimony and thousands of pages of material which I successfully fought to make part of the record. But what the trial did not include was a conclusive reason to remove the president, nullifying the 2016 election and robbing half the country of its preferred 2020 candidate.
House managers repeatedly said they had “overwhelming evidence” and an “air tight” case to remove the president, while they also repeatedly said they needed more investigation and testimony. A case cannot be “overwhelming” and “air tight” and yet need more. In their partisan race to impeach, the House failed to do the fundamental work required to prove its case.
The framers of the Constitution knew partisanship could lead to impeachments over policy disagreements. Speaker Nancy Pelosi knows it, too. Last March, she said, “Impeachment is so divisive to the country that unless there’s something so compelling and overwhelming and bipartisan, I don’t think we should go down that path, because it divides the country.”
The framers were concerned about partisan or policy impeachments because removing a president disenfranchises the American people. One hundred senators should not be able to do that without a national, bipartisan consensus. Here, only nine months before an election, I cannot pretend the 63 million Americans who voted for this president would have accepted his removal without meeting that high burden.
The framers knew that partisan impeachments could lead to impeachments over policy disagreements. Legal scholars like Charles Black have written that policy differences are not grounds for impeachment. The first article of impeachment, at the heart of the case, was about policy differences regarding corruption and the proper use of tax dollars. Nevertheless, the House deployed this most serious of constitutional powers. Instead of cutting off democratic debate, we should resolve this dispute the only way it truly can be: by letting the people decide.
The second article, obstruction of Congress, was simply an affront to the Constitution. The article assumed the House is superior to the executive branch. The House managers tried to disempower the judiciary and demanded that the House’s interpretation of the Constitution be accepted by the Senate and the other branches without question. They even claimed that a single justice could strip the executive of its constitutional protections with a simple decree. If the House managers prevailed, the House would have destroyed our constitutional balance, declaring itself the arbiter of constitutional rights and conscripting the chief justice to do its bidding.
The executive is not immune from legislative oversight or impeachment. But that cannot come at the expense of constitutional rights – certainly not without input from the judiciary. Yet the House argued that it is impeachable for the executive to even assert constitutional protections. That is dangerous. It would constantly threaten any president with removal and set the stage for a constitutional crisis without recourse to the courts.
The first presidential impeachment occurred in 1868. The next was more than 100 years later. Now, 50 percent of presidents have been impeached in the last 25 years alone. An awesome power so rarely used in the past is becoming just another partisan tool. This is an alarming development, but the Senate stands as the safeguard as passions grow even more heated.
When articles of impeachment come to the Senate along partisan lines; when nearly half of the American people are unmoved and adamantly support the president; and an election is just months away – in those circumstances, the American people would likely not accept removing the president and the Senate can wisely decline to do so.
The Democrats have said that the American people cannot resolve this in the election. I couldn’t disagree more. I believe in the American people. I believe the people can evaluate the president, make their decision, and move forward in our enduring effort to form a more perfect Union. I do not believe 100 senators removing the president over defective impeachment articles is in the nation’s best interest.
So let’s move forward with the people’s business and bring the nation back together. Not all of us voted for President Trump. Not all of us voted for the last president, or the one before him. Yet we should work to make our nation successful regardless of partisan passions. Passion, positively placed, will provide our nation with the prosperity it has always been blessed with. Partisan poison will prove devastating to our nation’s long-term prosperity. We must not allow our fractures to destroy our national fabric or partisanship to destroy our friendships. If we come together, we will succeed together. For surely we are bound together in this, the great United States of America.
Sen. Cory Gardner, a Republican from Yuma, represents Colorado in the U.S. Senate. Reach him through his website, www.gardner.senate.gov.