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Former Rep. Steven Rothman. (Photo: Steve Rothman.)

Opinion: 43 Senate Republicans failed to protect our American Democracy

By Steve Rothman, February 14 2021 8:25 pm

OPINION

Almost none of the 43 Republican Senators who voted to acquit President Trump defended his incitement behavior leading up to and occurring on January 6th, including his hours’ long failure to tell his supporters to stop their violent attack and leave The Capitol.

But they voted to acquit him anyway.

They said they didn’t have the right to rule on the case.

They ignored the ample constitutional and moral justification to accept jurisdiction and protect our democracy from a future president who would do what Trump did.

They ignored the clear purpose of the relevant sections of the U.S. Constitution, Articles Two and One, respectively, concerning Impeachment and Disqualification from future office. In doing so, they have created a dangerous precedent.

If the Senate does not have jurisdiction over a former president for these purposes, the votes of these 43 now invite any future president to engage in plainly impeachable conduct, then resign or leave office after a House impeachment (but before a Senate trial) and thereby avoid a bar to later holding public officeeven another term as President.

Ask these 43 Republican Senators if their vote meant that they wouldn’t have a problem with any future U.S. president behaving as Trump did regarding the lead up to and the events of January 6th.

Perhaps they should respond to their Republican Senate leader, Mitch McConnell, who said at the closing of the impeachment trial: There is no question that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of that day…. The people who stormed this building believed they were acting on the wishes and instructions of their President [Trump]. And their having that belief was a foreseeable consequence of the growing crescendo of false statements, conspiracy theories, and reckless hyperbole which the defeated President kept shouting into the largest megaphone on planet Earth….Whatever our ex-President claims he thought might happen that day… whatever reaction he says he meant to produce… by that afternoon, he was watching the same live television as the rest of the world.

McConnell went on to say: “It was obvious that only President Trump could end this.But the President did not act swiftly. He did not do his job. He didn’t take steps so federal law could be faithfully executed, and order restored.

McConnell explained that while Trump’s actions and inactions might not have met the strict “criminal standard” for a conviction of incitement to violence in a criminal trial, bringing with it possible imprisonment, “in the context of [a political] impeachment, the Senate might have decided this was acceptable shorthand for the reckless actions that preceded the riot.”

But McConnell still voted to acquit Trump.

McConnell said that the Senate’s jurisdiction to hear this particular case was a “very close” question of constitutional interpretation, with “brilliant scholars arguing on both sides of the jurisdictional question and the textlegitimately ambiguous.

Still, McConnell came down on the side of the majority of his Republican Party and his Republican Senate Caucus, acquitting Trump by holding that the Senate has no power to convict and disqualify a former officeholder who is now a private citizen.”

McConnell has constructed an exaggerated “slippery slope” procedural argument to defend his otherwise indefensible vote acquitting Trump. He says that he is worried that, in the future, anyone not in office would be subject to disqualification from running for office,” including any private citizen, if the Senate Republicans were to have accepted jurisdiction in this case.

But his argument is specious and mistaken, as it ignores the particular facts of this case. Impeachable actions were taken by a sitting U.S. president who was then impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives during his term in office for inciting a riot and violence at the U.S. Capitol to override the vote of the American people and the electoral college because he was not re-elected.

Such a fact pattern might well be replicated in the future if these 43 Republican Senators are still in office, and more likely indeed if Donald Trump is again the Republican nominee and were to win the presidency again.

The 43 Republican Senators, including their Leader, Mitch McConnell, who wrongly voted to acquit Trump on these jurisdictional grounds, have created a dangerous precedent for our Republic and future presidents.

I believe that history, and people of good will, must judge them harshly.

Steven R. Rothman a former eight-term congressman from New Jersey, Bergen County Surrogate and mayor of Englewood. 

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