January 22, 2020 | Reading Time: 3 minutes
Mitch McConnell and the Senate Republicans Neuter Themselves for Donald Trump
From world's greatest deliberative body to world's fastest kangaroo court.
John Roberts made headlines this morning. The reaction among Democratic partisans was understandable but I think missing a more important point. Manners of speaking and choice of language aren’t the problems. The problems are the Republican Party’s corruption, the president’s criminality, and the impotency of the United States Senate.
The chief justice of the US Supreme Court, who is presiding over Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, said both parties needed reminding they were presenting their cases for and against the president in “the world’s greatest deliberative body.”
“It is appropriate at this point for me to admonish both the House managers and the president’s counsel … to remember they are addressing the world’s greatest deliberative body. One reason it has earned that title is because its members avoid speaking in a manner and using language that is not conducive to civil discourse.”
That got a lot of backs up, understandably. How can Roberts be talking about language conducive to civil discourse when we’re talking about the president’s crimes and the Republican Party’s effort to cover them up? But I tend to believe Chris Murphy.
The US senator from Connecticut was in the front row behind the House managers. He said in an early-morning Tweet everyone was getting “chippy and personal.” To be sure, Murphy is my senator, but he’s an honest broker too. He said: “I’m alarmed at how often the parties are directly addressing each other. Neither the managers nor the president’s lawyers are on trial. Trump is. Good for Roberts for stepping in gently.”
There’s a word for people who not only break norms but undermine the institutions enforcing them.
The Washington press corps is using Roberts’ admonishment to frame the opening day of the president’s impeachment trail. Both sides are fighting so hard and with so much rancor that even the chief justice had to step in. But while the press corps focuses on conflict, as it is wont to do, I was focused on the other bit. The Senate earned its reputation as a deliberative body because it deliberated, slowly and painfully, so much so its other, less charitable, reputation is being a place where bills go to die.
Deliberation isn’t what we saw Tuesday. Deliberation isn’t what we’ll see during the rest of the trial. Just as he rammed through one mirror-fogging judicial nominee after another without complaint from his conference, the Senate majority leader is stuffing a month’s worth of deliberation (at least) into three days. He is turning “the greatest deliberative body” into the world’s fastest kangaroo court. Roberts’ admonishment was met with howls of derision. It should have been met with howls of laughter.
Our sympathies should be with the Democrats. They were not asking the Senate to convict Trump (though they argued strenuously for his guilt). They were asking senators to behave normally by subpoenaing records, entering new evidence, and calling new witnesses. They were asking for transparency, accountability and due process. They were asking for normal things, things you see on “Law & Order.” But instead of behaving normally, instead of living up to their reputations, every single Republican (53 in all) voted down half a dozen and more amendments creating rules and conditions rising to the Senate’s title as “the world’s most deliberative body.”
But they did something else. Before they have determined whether the president is guilty of charges against him, they have decided to surrender their power to even ask the question. The US Constitution gives the Senate, and only the Senate, the sole power to prosecute a president. By voting against normal and ordinary due process, however, every Senate Republican has said they have no such power. They have muzzled themselves. They have neutered their institution. They have created an anti-democratic and anti-republican grounds for future presidents to declare themselves untouchable.
Why not allow due process, then come to a conclusion, even if that conclusion is not guilty? Why not allow due process? One answer is that due process would reveal the president’s guilt to the American people. The solution is getting the trial over with as fast as possible to allow memories to fade before Election Day. But there’s a better way of understanding this. Due process is the quintessential American way. But due process, for Trump and his GOP, is getting in the way. In other words, it’s the problem.
There’s a word for individuals who not only flout the rules but attack their legitimacy. There’s a word for individuals who not only break democratic norms but undermine the institutions enforcing them. That word isn’t republican. Nor is it Republican.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.