The fact that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi continues to hold on to the two articles of impeachment passed with only Democratic votes before Christmas, and that she is doing so because of procedural manoeuvring, is increasingly frustrating for those of us who would like to see a responsible and deliberative trial in the Senate.
The longer she tries to influence the proceedings of a legislative body she does not lead or belong to, the greater the likelihood Republicans will use her tactics to dismiss the matter altogether before a more meaningful assessment of the facts can take place.
Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri, for instance, recently introduced a resolution that would allow the Senate to dismiss impeachment articles for “failure to prosecute” if the House delays in sending them to the Senate.
However, a rushed and flawed House process is no excuse for the Senate to rush its own proceeding. Quite the contrary. It’s actually reason for the Senate to live up to its moniker as the “ world’s greatest deliberative body” by striving to cast its impeachment votes with the most information possible.
Just as Pelosi should stop attempting to influence the Senate’s impeachment process, senators should not let the House’s shortcomings keep them from pursuing a fuller picture of the truth related to President Trump’s actions and intentions in his official dealings with Ukraine, which are the basis of the impeachment charges.
Hastily dismissing the articles of impeachment would only deepen the partisan canyon dividing our country. Not only would it sidestep each senator’s commitment to do “ impartial justice” in an impeachment trial, it would also conveniently sidestep the fact that the White House helped create gaps in the House’s work by refusing to participate.
As we’ve pointed out previously, House Democrats failed to pursue all legal avenues to compel that critical testimony, and that was a mistake. But using the House process as a political escape hatch in the Senate, rather than looking to improve the availability of information in the record, would only compound the House’s mistake — especially when we know now that the Senate would have a much easier time securing at least some of that testimony.
Earlier this week, former National Security Advisor John Bolton said he would testify before the Senate if subpoenaed, a willingness he did not express during the House process. That’s a big deal and the Senate should want to hear what he has to say.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has announced that Republicans have the votes needed to move forward with the initial stages of an impeachment trial, without an agreement up front on subpoenaing additional witnesses and testimony.
While we’d prefer to see an agreement ahead of time, this does not rule out additional testimony as the trial proceeds.
We agree with Sen. Angus King that it’s the ultimate decision about including additional witnesses, and not the timing of that decision in the process, that matters more.
“My principal concern is that we have witnesses, and whether we decide that at the beginning, the middle or wherever, I think that’s just critical,” said King, according to Roll Call.
Democrats have unfairly hit Sen. Susan Collins for her support of the plan to proceed with the initial stages, and address the question of witnesses later in the process. That may put her in line with McConnell at the moment, but it also puts her in line with her own actions in the 1999 impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton, when she and all 99 other members of the Senate voted to start the trial without agreeing on additional witnesses.
Importantly, Collins has signaled a willingness to consider additional witnesses. The facts that she eventually supported more witnesses in 1999 but hasn’t done so yet in the Trump case are not inconsistent. But after the initial trial stages, we hope her openness to consider additional witnesses does not fade.
“There are a number of witnesses who may well be appropriate, of which John Bolton may certainly be one,” Collins said in a statement. “It is difficult to decide in isolation what the full universe of witnesses should look like before we have even heard the opening statements from the House managers and the President’s Counsel.”
From our perspective, it’s not only Bolton and other administration officials, both current and former, who should be testifying in a Senate trial. House Democrats unfortunately blocked House Republicans from subpoenaing witnesses such as Hunter Biden. If he wasn’t doing anything wrong in Ukraine, he should be able to say so under oath, just as top administration officials should be able to do regarding the president.
Democrats need to recognize that their call for including additional witnesses cannot and should not be limited to the witnesses they want to hear from.
Senators must acknowledge there are gaps in what is known about Trump’s dealings with Ukraine. It is their responsibility — and as Bolton’s willingness to testify shows, they have the ability — to seek to fill in those gaps before making the monumental decision on whether the president should be removed from office.