Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Senate Republicans have long suggested that it is unconstitutional to impeach and hold a trial for a president who is no longer in office.
McConnell, in an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal, claimed he was defending the Constitution by voting to acquit former President Donald Trump on the charge that he incited an insurrection against Congress. Trump was formally impeached last month after a mob of his supporters stormed the United States Capitol in a failed bid to overturn the results of the 2020 general election.
“There is no question former President Trump bears moral responsibility. His supporters stormed the Capitol because of the unhinged falsehoods he shouted into the world’s largest megaphone,” he wrote. “His behavior during and after the chaos was also unconscionable, from attacking Vice President Mike Pence during the riot to praising the criminals after it ended.”
“But senators take our own oaths,” he added. “Our job wasn’t to find some way, any way, to inflict a punishment. The Senate’s first and foundational duty was to protect the Constitution.”
“The House’s ‘sole power of impeachment’ and the Senate’s ‘sole power to try all impeachments’ would constitute an unlimited circular logic with no stopping point at former officers,” he continued. “Any private citizen could be disqualified. This is why one House manager had to argue the Senate possesses ‘absolute, unqualified’ jurisdiction. But nobody really accepts that.”
“The Constitution presupposes that anyone convicted by the Senate must have an office from which to be removed,” McConnell later explains, saying that his own constitutional philosophy is aligned with constitutional scholar Justice Joseph Story, who posited that removing a president is “mandatory” upon conviction. “This doesn’t mean leaving office provides immunity from accountability. Former officials are ‘still liable to be tried and punished in the ordinary tribunals of justice.’ Criminal law and civil litigation ensure there is no so-called January exemption.”
McConnell appears to have set his sights on guiding the GOP in a post-Trump world and retaking the Senate in 2022.
“My goal is, in every way possible, to have nominees representing the Republican Party who can win in November,” McConnell told Politico this week. “Some of them may be people the former president likes. Some of them may not be. The only thing I care about is electability.”
“Here’s what the scheduling critics are really saying: Senate Republicans should have followed a rushed House process with a light-speed Senate sham. They think we should have shredded due process and ignited a constitutional crisis in a footrace to outrun our loss of jurisdiction,” McConnell observed in his op-ed, arguing that bringing the Senate back into session to consider the article of impeachment the House approved on January 13 would not necessarily have sped up the process.
“The nation needs real constitutional champions, not fair-weather institutionalists,” he concluded. “The Senate’s duty last week was clear. It wasn’t to guarantee a specific punishment at any cost. Our job was to defend the Constitution and respect its limits. That is what our acquittal delivered.”
In a piece for The Lexington Herald-Leader published yesterday, op-ed columnist Linda Blackford criticized McConnell for voting to acquit Trump, writing that his speeches “won’t save his beloved legacy.”
“McConnell gave a pass to white supremacy, a pass on attacking the U.S. Capitol. He gave so many passes to Trump that we are left with a country that is sick in mind and body,” she wrote. “His beloved Republican party has turned into a death cult in thrall to a pathetic and pathological egotist. There will be some poetic justice in watching him try to unravel it over the next five years.”
Alan is a writer, editor, and news junkie based in New York.