By Dominique Paul Noth
Catholics can leave on their foreheads for a few days or immediately wash off the black carbon smudged there on Ash Wednesday. Donald J. Trump will forever wear “impeachment” on his forehead once the House acts as expected this week. Internet wags will probably add it as a digital tattoo to his image.
The permanence of the blemish, and the likelihood that the Republicans in the Senate will stand by him despite the evidence, raises some interesting speculations about the partisan farce emerging from the serious punishment envisioned by the Founding Fathers.
Shakespeare was talking about murder not impeachment (the enlightened American framers removed bodily injury as one of the historic punishments for impeachment). But if “all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand” for Lady Macbeth, how much impact can Mitch McConnell and his Republican henchmen have on Trump’s little hand?
Yet Mitch is sure trying to make the agony of impeachment a triviality. Though the law requires every senator to take a special oath affirming they will act as “impartial” jurists, Mitch assured Trump that he would work in “total coordination” with the White House on how to proceed.
He told Sean Hannity at FOX: “There will be no difference between the president’s position and our position … there’s no chance the president will be removed from office.”
Understand – this is no procedural nicety. The Senate majority leader has pledged to work hand in hand, cheek to jowl, pelvis to pelvis with Trump’s lawyers – negating the expectation of the Constitution that the Senate will function as a fair nonpartisan jury weighing the issues. So much for “separation of powers.” Even Fox contributor Jessica Tarlov spelled it out: “McConnell has made it perfectly clear, we can stop fantasizing about Republicans finding some moral courage. Their actions are profiles in cowardice.”
Mitch’s effort could backfire. He’s trying to make this seem the most partisan impeachment in the nation’s annals, but his refusal to take the Constitution seriously seems to be stirring up the Democrats. The more he tries to explain this as a case of the Democrats in the House going mad the more we remember that he and the Senate continue to blockade (some 275 bills, many quite nonpartisan in intent). This is, after all, the same GOP control that refused to give President Obama a Supreme Court nomination.
In reality Moscow Mitch has imposed his judgment ahead of the framers of the Constitution and has no qualms if a short-term political gain is all he can expect. With one motion he has likely doomed the Senate to Democratic control in 2020. More citizens are likely to be appalled by the GOP indifference than bolstered in their support for Trump.
His action requires dragging along a majority of 51 to set up the rules. He has to prevent the Senate from operating as an impeachment jury – and he also has to talk Trump away from his press conference dream of a showcase Soviet style trial with the Bidens, Schiff and Pelosi dragged in. Mitch desperately wants the trial he is not even calling a trial to be short, swift and in his mind exonerating.
He can’t quite impose that. The Republicans in the Senate will never vote 25 stronger than now to achieve a two-thirds impeachment vote, but they may balk 5 to 10 strong against Mitch’s rules.
Some may seek to hear from people actually vital to the Ukraine event – Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who was on the call, budget director Mike Mulvaney, energy secretary at the time Rick Perry, former national security adviser John Bolton and I would add John Eisenberg, the White House counsel who moved Trump’s Ukrainian call into a password protected hiding place. All have been blocked by Trump under an interpretation of “executive privilege” that has been consistently losing in court. We are about to learn if the Senate believes in Trump as a monarch as much as Trump does.
Some progressives are still blindly hoping a bolt of God’s lightning will strike the Republican senators, or at least some of them, to do their duty. But, except for former governors, the GOP seems married to the view that the president did nothing wrong – or the view Trump denies, that what he did was wrong but didn’t rise to the level of impeachability. You have to twist your body into knots in either scenario, but the Republicans of the House and Senate are a new brand of pretzel.
The most likely disrupter of Mitch’s scheming is Trump himself and his unhinged ways. There is no way to know what he can tweet, rethink and regurgitate in the three or more weeks between the House impeachment and the Senate trial. There is no way to know what the media will uncover in that time frame.
Imagine how many times he can change his mind in three weeks. Imagine how many investigative reports may reveal that Ukraine was just one stop in his foreign magical misbehavior tour with Russia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Israel and on and on. The bad news has come thick and fast despite the enormous levers of dissembling the president commands.
The main thing the public doesn’t understand is how the Democrats came down to just two articles of impeachment when many pundits were suggesting eight or ten.
The House limited their articles to the truths that seemed to jump off the page – mammoth interference with congressional oversight and Ukraine. It left aside – or mainly as examples of pattern -- the multiple moments of misbehavior in Trump’s inflammatory past. The Democrats figured the public – and maybe the Senate -- would be more responsive to how he was trying to destroy the future of democracy in 2020, with the clear inference that he did it before in 2016 and was reviving the playbook.
That requires seeing how 1 and 1 makes 2. Yet even that simple math hasn’t budged the Republicans, who can’t be forced into a confessional, more’s the pity. Mitch has done this before, but now a bunch of other senators are equally willing to fall off the sobriety wagon.