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There is a short but growing list of Republicans in Congress who have called for Donald Trump’s removal from the presidency.
Sen. Susan Collins, hailed as a moderate with outsized influence in the closely divided Senate, should join them.
To be sure, the Republican senator has condemned the president’s actions that led to Wednesday’s siege of the U.S. Capitol and has long been periodically critical of his worst actions. She also spoke out against her Senate Republican colleagues who planned to, and the smaller group who actually did, object to the certification of the Electoral College vote that cemented Democrat Joe Biden’s election as our next president.
“I called and texted my closest contact at the White House to urge that the president immediately tell the rioters to stop their violence and go home,” Collins wrote in a first-hand account of the siege published by the Bangor Daily News. “But President Donald Trump completely undercut that message by repeating his grievances and telling the rioters that he knew how they felt. This was terrible, especially since he incited them in the first place.”
But, Collins has not called for the removal of Trump from office. She should.
On Friday, Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski was the first Republican senator to call on Trump to resign.
Sen. Angus King, an independent who caucuses with Senate Democrats, should also be more forceful in his calls for consequences for the president. He has so far been circumspect about supporting impeachment.
On Monday, Rep. Jared Golden, a Democrat who represents Maine’s more conservative 2nd Congressional District, said he would support an article of impeachment for incitement of insurrection.
“I do not believe there has ever been a clearer case for the immediate impeachment of a president, as well as for his removal from office and disqualification from holding future public office,” Golden said in a statement.
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Among Maine’s Congressional Delegation, only 1st District Rep. Chellie Pingree has said she supports both impeachment and invocation of the 25th Amendment, which would be done by the vice president and cabinet.
We understand that Trump’s remaining time in office is short, and that Congress typically moves slowly. We also recognize that Vice President Mike Pence, although he was a target of Wednesday’s violent mob that was incited by Trump, and the president’s cabinet are unlikely to use the 25th Amendment. On Monday, House Republicans opposed a resolution, backed by Democrats, calling on Pence to invoke the amendment. Nor is Trump likely to resign. Prosecution in the courts appears possible but unlikely.
Trump’s incitement of and shameful response to last week’s horrifying siege prove he remains a danger. The danger only begins to abate if Trump is no longer in the White House and no longer in charge of the U.S. military.
The short time frame of Trump’s remaining tenure as president can’t equate to a lack of consequences. This would send a damaging message that future presidents have a window to do horrible things at the end of their term with little fear of accountability. That is untenable for our republic.
There is a model for Collins, and other lawmakers, to follow: that of her political idol Margaret Chase Smith. Smith is well known for her Declaration of Conscience speech, a 1950 denunciation of the Republican Party embrace of Sen. Joseph McCarthy, who claimed to have the names of Communists in the U.S. government, but failed to provide evidence.
Smith’s words resonate today.
“Today our country is being psychologically divided by the confusion and the suspicions that are bred in the United States Senate to spread like cancerous tentacles of ‘know nothing, suspect everything’ attitudes,” Smith said, before listing a string of criticisms of the Democratic administration in power at the time. “Yet to displace it with a Republican regime embracing a philosophy that lacks political integrity or intellectual honesty would prove equally disastrous to the nation. The nation sorely needs a Republican victory. But I do not want to see the Republican party ride to political victory on the Four Horsemen of Calumny — Fear, Ignorance, Bigotry, and Smear.”
Those forces undoubtedly swept through the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, and Trump undoubtedly bears responsibility. Smith and six of her Republican colleagues stood up to fear, ignorance, bigotry and smear in 1950. Collins and other responsible Republicans must do the same.
We note that Smith took this stand while also strongly criticizing the policies and positions of Democrats at the time, not just her own party. We aren’t asking Republicans to suddenly submit to liberal ideas or shrink from debates about policy and the direction of our country. But Americans, regardless of party, will have a hard time moving forward together without our leaders acknowledging and acting on the obvious truth of what happened last week at the Capitol and what led up to it.
We suggest a Declaration of Reality, stating that Trump clearly committed an impeachable offense last Wednesday and that Republican lawmakers would vote to remove him if he doesn’t resign. That declaration could note all of the timing and procedural hurdles involved in finishing impeachment before Trump’s term ends on Jan. 20.
By encouraging her Republican Senate colleagues to sign such a declaration and reject Trump’s brand of politics, Collins could play a significant role in holding him accountable and beginning to heal our divided nation.
Above all, there needs to be a signal to the country, to future leaders and to the immortal pages of history that there are consequences when an American president helps fuel a violent attempted insurrection that targets the people’s lawfully elected representatives.