Dear Sen. Portman: Lots of folks I know contacted you in recent weeks to urge you to support the well-deserved impeachment of President Trump, and more recently to vote in favor of last Friday’s Democratic motion to introduce witnesses and evidence in the president’s impeachment trial in the Senate.
Despite all the constituent pressure but to absolutely no one’s surprise, you fell in line Friday with all but two Republican senators in voting against hearing from key witnesses. The motion failed 51-49. You also voted no on the impeachment vote Wednesday afternoon. To be sure, in early December you foreshadowed your expected no vote on impeachment by stating that barring startling new evidence (Columbus Dispatch/Gannett story, Dec. 6, 2019), your position on impeachment was a firm no.
After your vote against witnesses in the Senate trial Friday, you released a statement explaining your reasons. It tracks closely to statements released by other supposedly moderate GOP senators who basically concede that the president did something wrong but not wrong enough to warrant removal from office.
Hoping you don’t mind, Sen. Portman, but I’m going to dissect your reasoning, with your words in italics.
In your official statement, you start off by saying: “I do not believe that additional witnesses are needed. I have said consistently for the past four months, since the Zelensky transcript was first released, that I believe that some of the president’s actions in this case – including asking a foreign country to investigate a potential political opponent and the delay of aid to Ukraine – were wrong and inappropriate.”
Me:Please elaborate, Sen. Portman. Why do you feel Trump’s actions were wrong? To make that serious allegation and then instantly pivot to a “yeah but…” is facile and cowardly. Would you have been as tolerant of these offenses if Barack Obama had committed them? Of course, that’s a hypothetical since it beggars belief to think that any former president of this country – perhaps with the exception of Richard Nixon – would have done what Trump did.
Is your reticence to elaborate on why Trump’s actions were wrong, Sen. Portman, related to a lack of information? If that’s the case, it’s difficult to understand why you don’t “believe that additional witnesses are needed.” That’s especially puzzling when one considers that those who have yet to be heard are firsthand witnesses and/or collaborators on Trump’s efforts to subvert our country’s official foreign policy and withhold congressionally mandated aid to a vulnerable ally.
I think I can speak for the vast majority of your constituents, senator, in wanting to hear your detailed reasoning on why such an unprecedented undertaking by a president “isn’t that bad.” It certainly seems at least as bad as Nixon’s transgressions and orders of magnitude worse than Clinton’s.
And let’s not forget the other article of impeachment, obstruction of Congress. That one doesn’t get much attention because it’s so obvious. Everybody apparently takes it for granted. Of course, Trump has been, and continues to, obstruct Congress. How can a president who has so readily ignored lawful subpoenas, refusing to deliver one single witness or piece of evidence, NOT guilty of obstruction? If this isn’t obstructing Congress, please pray tell what that might look like.
Sen. Portman, please explain to your constituents – including young people who are just learning about the American system of government – how you can be so tolerant of a president who has so little regard for the constitutional separation of powers?
Sen. Portman:“I also believe that processing additional witnesses will take weeks if not months, and it’s time for the House and Senate to get back to addressing the issues the American people are most concerned about – lowering prescription drug costs, rebuilding our roads and bridges, and strengthening our economy.”
Me:“What exactly does ‘processing additional witnesses’ mean, Sen. Portman? Former National Security Adviser John Bolton could have been testifying this week. If ‘processing’ means overcoming continued obstruction from the White House and Mitch McConnell, it’s hardly fair to slam the Democrats for that. And speaking of Senate Majority Leader McConnell, he’s the single biggest reason why “nothing gets done” in Congress. He has refused to allow Senate votes on hundreds of bills sent over from the House in 2019, including 275 passed with bipartisan support. He’s not likely to be any more accommodating now that impeachment is in the rearview mirror.
Sen. Portman:“House Democrats sent the Senate a flawed case built on what respected law professor Jonathan Turley calls ‘the shortest proceeding, with the thinnest evidentiary record, and the narrowest grounds ever used to impeach a president.’ Instead of using the tools available to compel the Administration to produce documents and witnesses, the House followed a self-imposed and entirely political deadline for voting on these articles of impeachment by Christmas, only to inexplicably stall for 28 days – time they could have used to subpoena witnesses and resolve privilege claims.”
Me:It’s funny, senator, how you can argue that witnesses will unnecessarily draw out the impeachment proceedings in the Senate, while a few paragraphs earlier contending that the House Democrats spoiled their case against Trump by not drawing out the proceedings in late 2019. Moreover, any shortcomings in the House impeachment proceedings were directly attributable to President Trump’s flagrant and comprehensive obstruction of Congress, which of course is one of the impeachable offenses he was charged with. How’s that for irony?
Sen. Portman:“The House did not even bother to subpoena and resolve privilege claims of key witnesses they now want the Senate to subpoena for them. I believe it sets a dangerous precedent – all but guaranteeing a proliferation of highly partisan, poorly investigated impeachments in the future – if we allow the House of Representatives to force the Senate to compel witness testimony that they never secured for themselves.”
Me:You present more process arguments that deflect from the crux of the issue – the president ran a shadow foreign policy at odds with his administration’s foreign policy and congressional appropriations in order to coerce a foreign ally into hurting your political adversary. Trump then obstructed any and every effort to expose the truth about these acts. Sen. Portman, your concern about “dangerous precedent” rings hollow considering the much more consequential precedent of granting a president this level of unfettered executive power. Any short-term political benefits you reap from enabling Trump will be dwarfed by the permanent harm to the Constitution and our system of government.
Sen. Portman:“Our country is already too deeply divided, and we should be working to heal wounds, not create new ones. It is better to let the people decide. Early voting has already begun in some states in the presidential primaries. The American people will have the opportunity to have their say at the ballot box.”
Me:So, senator, let me get this straight. You have a problem with the power of impeachment that the framers of the Constitution deliberately placed in that document to prevent an authoritarian regime from taking hold in this country? Or is it just in the year before an election where you have issues with the power of impeachment? What about the fact that the first article of impeachment, abuse of power, directly relates to Trump’s alleged (and proven) efforts to cheat in the 2020 election? Who’s to say he won’t cheat again? More to the point, if you truly cared about a fair election with an informed electorate, you’d have voted yes on witnesses. Some 66-75 percent of the public told pollsters last week that they’d like to hear from witnesses in the Senate trial.
Oh, and it bears noting that you, Sen. Portman, just voted to empower, enable and encourage the most divisive president in our lifetimes.
Sen. Portman, it’s time to cut the bullshit. It’s obvious that your votes on witnesses last Friday and impeachment on Wednesday had little to do with legitimate concerns over process, fair elections or heaven forbid, the Constitution. Rather, your votes had everything to do with protecting your right flank from angry Trumpers when next you’re up for election. That’s a well-founded concern, but don’t try to sell it as good governance.
If truth, justice and the Constitution still stand for anything in this country, Sen. Portman, if you get past your primary in 2022, you’ll pay for your impeachment votes in the general election six months later. Plus there’s that little matter of St. Peter’s pearly gates. If I were you, I wouldn’t make any reservations.