Senate Democrats are approaching the argument that Donald Trump is disqualified from running under the 14th Amendment with caution — but interest.
Many Democrats TPM talked to Thursday caveated their remarks with insistence that the 2024 election be decided by voters.
“Voters have got to make the decision,” Sen. Peter Welch (D-VT) said. “The American people are going to have to weigh in here. I supported impeachment, that was the clear legal method that would have prevented him from running again.”
“We’ve got to win the election, so that’s for courts to resolve,” added Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA).
But when it came to the crux of the argument — that Trump is ineligible to hold office again because of his involvement with the Jan. 6 insurrection — the senators said it held merit.
“What I’ve read — the language in the amendment and the legal scholars that are talking about it — was there an attempt to conduct an insurrection against the Constitution of the United States? I think it’s a very powerful argument,” Kaine added as he headed into the chamber to vote.
“It’s a very credible argument,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) said as he unfolded himself from a Senate subway car. “We’ll need a judicial determination to assess its applicability to him.”
Such a determination will come, likely across many states, from courts and election officials alike. Groups spearheading the movement are planning a cross-country plan of attack to put on extensive trials to make their case. One of them, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), kicked off the legal process this week, filing a lawsuit to bar Trump from the 2024 Colorado ballot.
The hesitancy of the Democratic senators reflects the discomfort felt by even those confident that Trump engaged in, even bears most responsibility for, the insurrection. When the lawyers behind these efforts are confronted with the concern that disqualifying Trump runs counter to the will of Republican voters, they respond readily.
“The President has to be 35 years old, has to live in the U.S. for at least 14 years and can’t have engaged in an insurrection against the Constitution — if you ask me, it’s a pretty low barrier of entry,” Nikhel Sus, CREW’s director of strategic litigation, told TPM in a recent interview. “Nobody’s complained about it before.”
Or, more succinctly: “There’s a reason why that provision was in the Constitution,” Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) told TPM.
Everyone involved in the disqualification push is convinced that the question will reach the Supreme Court. It’ll likely only take one judge or election official to agree that he’s ineligible for it to eventually get elevated to the high court. In the meantime, the groups think that making their case to the public is a worthy effort all its own.
“Donald Trump is disqualified in so many different meanings of that word, including being the first candidate with 90 criminal indictment [charges]!” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) exclaimed, chuckling. “So I’m glad for people to make their arguments, but this is just more on top of more — and it will persuade the people who are already persuaded and won’t persuade those who aren’t.”