With seemingly unshakable support from Iowa’s two U.S. senators, Donald Trump last week became the most acquitted president in American history.
All Senate Democrats and seven Republicans voted to convict Trump on one article of impeachment, falling 10 votes short of the 67 votes needed. Trump last month was impeached by the U.S. House for “incitement of insurrection” for his role in encouraging the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, where people died in an attempt to disrupt the election and transition process.
In statements explaining their votes to acquit the president they endorsed, Sens. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst focused not on the facts of the case, but instead on supposed constitutional limits. Trump shouldn’t have been tried by the Senate at all, they said, because he is no longer president.
It strikes me as an obviously ridiculous idea that a president can’t be held accountable under the Constitution for things he did on his way out of the White House. That’s basically what Republicans in Congress are arguing — the proceedings take time, so presidents apparently have a get-out-of-impeachment-free card during January of their last year in office.
But I’m no constitutional lawyer. I have heard many knowledgeable people say presidents can be impeached and convicted after leaving office, and a few who say they can’t. Trump, who is not a lawyer but reportedly is a very stable genius, called for former President Barack Obama’s impeachment in 2019, almost three years after he left office. So, there’s very fine people on both sides of the debate.
As a Republican voter, I do have some sense of the political ramifications of Trump’s acquittal — he’s eligible to be president again, and he’s far and away the front-runner for the 2024 Republican nomination.
Ernst in her statement said Democrats were treating impeachment “as a political tool to enact partisan revenge.” Where does revenge overlap with accountability? Ernst’s brief statement doesn’t elaborate.
Grassley in his statement said, “We do not have the authority to try a private citizen like former President Trump.”
Trump the private citizen happens to be the most influential figure in one of the nation’s two major political parties. He will continue to exert that influence in party business and turn his supporters against his perceived enemies. He reportedly is toying with the idea of starting a new political party.
Even if Trump never runs for president again, his flirtation with that prospect will cast a dark shadow on the party’s attempts to move on from a president who was openly contemptuous to basic tenets of conservatism.
Convicting Trump would have made him ineligible to hold federal office again. Maybe saving the Republican voters from themselves — by excluding their preferred candidate from the process — is not the proper use of impeachment. But if not that, then what?
Whether they’re under some spell or cynically worried about the political impacts, our GOP elected officials and party leaders have shown no willingness to defy Trump and his base of supporters.
They dutifully stood by Trump through two impeachments and two elections. There’s no indication 2024 will be any different.
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