Just days ahead of a vote to convict or acquit President Trump, several Senate Republicans said Monday that they did not need to weigh in on the merits of the House’s case, because they have decided to clear Trump merely because the conduct alleged was not impeachable.
Their skittishness towards commenting on Trump’s underlying Ukraine behavior comes after Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) issued a statement Thursday that validated the major claims against the President and that called his behavior “inappropriate.” Alexander concluded, however, the conduct was not impeachable, and also announced his opposition to calling additional witnesses for the trial.
Alexander’s GOP colleagues were quick praise the Tennessean — whose statement Thursday effectively killed any hopes for trial witnesses — for his thoughtfulness. But so far, only a few appeared interested in following the delicate path he charted, while others skirted what he had to say altogether.
“I have a lot of respect for Lamar, I just don’t think that’s what this discussion is about,” Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) told reporters after closing arguments Monday. “If you get into that, then you begin to convince the House you should impeach people just so we can could decide what they did was inappropriate. Appropriateness is not relative to this process we’ve gone through.”
Instead, some Republicans are staking out the position that, because they don’t believe the alleged offense was impeachable, there is no point in any commentary on Trump’s conduct or on whether the House proved its case.
“The actual actions that they accuse the President of do not rise to the level of an impeachable offense by themselves,” Sen. Mike Rounds (R-ND) told TPM.
Asked whether the conduct was inappropriate, Rounds said, “I won’t go into the degrees, because in this particular case either it’s an impeachable offense or it’s not.”
“In this case it did not rise to that, that’s all the farther than we need to go,” he added.
The idea that, even if everything the House said about Trump was true, it still wasn’t impeachable, was pushed by Trump lawyer Alan Dershowitz and the argument was way outside the mainstream of constitutional law. More than 500 constitutional lawyers signed a letter in December, while the House was finishing its impeachment procedures, describing Trump’s conduct as impeachable. Even a scholar tapped by House Republicans to testify at one of the hearings there publicly disagreed with the Trump team’s take on what constitutes an impeachable offense.
Nonetheless, GOP senators are clinging to Dershowitz’ framework as a way to dismiss Trump’s conduct — and avoid his wrath — without endorsing the President’s Ukraine behavior outright (though plenty of Republicans have also argued it was justified).
Republicans have also used their qualms about how the House conducted its impeachment inquiry, which was largely in line with past presidential impeachments, as a shield to avoid assessing the case it put in front of the Senate.
“Senator Alexander was arguing more or less based on the merits, and whether or not he thought that the case had solid grounding,” Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) told TPM. “They lost me when they completely abused the impeachment power, so mine is purely on the basis on we should not even be having this discussion. I am not going to comment on the President’s choice of words or tactics. I had a real problem with the way it started.”