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“A Grand Tragedy”: Democrats Slam Republican Stonewalling in Senate Impeachment Trial

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The Republican-controlled Senate appears poised to acquit President Trump in just the third impeachment trial in U.S. history, with a final vote on the two articles of impeachment scheduled for Wednesday. On Friday, the Senate voted 51 to 49 against calling witnesses to the Senate trial. Just two Republican senators supported calling for witnesses and collecting new evidence: Mitt Romney of Utah and Susan Collins of Maine. Without new witnesses, Republicans have cleared the biggest hurdle in their drive to acquit President Trump on the two impeachment charges, which relate to his withholding of military aid to Ukraine in return for that country launching investigations into his political rivals. The final vote in the Senate is scheduled for 4 p.m. on Wednesday, a day after President Trump gives his State of the Union address. To talk more about the impeachment trial, we are joined by John Nichols of The Nation. He is the author of many books, including “The Genius of Impeachment: The Founders’ Cure for Royalism.” John Nichols joins us from Des Moines, Iowa, where he is covering the Iowa caucuses.

Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman. The Republican-controlled Senate appears poised to acquit President Trump in just the third impeachment trial in U.S. history. The Senate scheduled a final vote on the two articles of impeachment for Wednesday. On Friday, the Senate voted 51 to 49 against calling witnesses to be in the Senate trial. Just two Republican senators supported calling for witnesses and collecting new evidence: Senator Mitt Romney of Utah and Susan Collins of Maine. Prior to the vote, President Trump’s personal lawyer Jay Sekulow said there was no need to call witnesses.

JAY SEKULOW: So, this idea that they haven’t had witnesses is — that’s the smokescreen. You’ve heard from a lot of witnesses. The problem with the case, the problem with their position is, even with all of those witnesses, it doesn’t prove up an impeachable offense. The articles fail. … The record that the managers told us was overwhelming and complete, Mr. Schiff went through every sentence of the articles of impeachment just a few days ago and said, “Proved, proved, proved.” The problem is, what it “proved, proved, proved” is not an impeachable offense.

AMY GOODMAN: After the vote on witnesses, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said the Senate did not live up to its responsibilities.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER: To not allow a witness, a document — no witnesses, no documents — in an impeachment trial is a perfidy. It’s a grand tragedy, one of the worst tragedies that the Senate has ever overcome. America will remember this day, unfortunately, where the Senate did not live up to its responsibilities, where the Senate turned away from truth and went along with a sham trial.

AMY GOODMAN: The Senate trial will resume today at 11 a.m. Eastern for four hours of arguments. The final vote is scheduled for 4 p.m. on Wednesday, a day after President Trump gives his State of the Union address. Democracy Now! will be live-streaming at democracynow.org the Senate impeachment trial.

Still with us, John Nichols of The Nation, author of many books, including The Genius of Impeachment: The Founders’ Cure for Royalism.

John, respond to the latest. So, the vote has taken place. You even had Lamar Alexander, who supposedly was on the fence, the Republican from Tennessee. He said that he thought the House managers did prove their case. He just felt that this was not the way to remove the president; the election is. Talk about this and what’s about to happen and if you could see anything unpredictable taking place.

JOHN NICHOLS: I am not expecting a lot of unpredictable developments today. Obviously, what we’re looking for in these speeches might be an indication from the two Republicans who voted for hearing witnesses, of what they’re thinking. You also want to look at a couple of Democrats who might split their vote on impeachment, vote for one article, vote against another, because they come from more conservative states. There are some twists and turns in there that might arise. But at the end of the day, we, by all accounts, appear to be heading toward a Senate vote to acquit Donald Trump, and it will probably be quite overwhelming in the context of the thing, because the Republicans will hold together.

We’ve learned a lot from this. We’ve learned that the Republican Party has really become pretty much a pure reflection of Donald Trump. There’s a little bit of dissent. You mentioned it. But it’s not what we had in, say, the Watergate days, for instance. And this is a big deal, because impeachment is supposed to be this, in my opinion, wonderful tool that allows us to hold presidents account in the midst of their terms. And it’s clearly undermined when you have such a high level of partisanship that the chamber that’s supposed to try the impeached president, really, effectively, won’t do so.

The other thing, though, is that I always remind people that — don’t look for too many unpredictable things in the next day or so, but do understand that impeachment has multiple meanings and multiple layers. And while we have never, ever had a president convicted at trial, in an impeachment trial, we have often had presidents who are held to account by popular opinion, by elections — not their own elections; Trump will be the first to run for re-election as an impeached president — and also by history. And so, I don’t think this story is done, by any means. But I do think that the formal structures of it will be done in a few days. And I encourage people to keep watching it and paying close attention, because this is really an exercise of the people’s constitutional authority, even if some of their politicians may thwart it.

AMY GOODMAN: John, it’s interesting that you’re watching the impeachment from the beginning of the elections — right? — the first caucus state, and that is Iowa. Your piece was headlined “Donald Trump’s 'Defense' Would Make the President a King.” Explain.

JOHN NICHOLS: Sure. I was really, really troubled by a lot of the arguments made by the president’s defense team, not the kind of over-the-top things you might hear from a Ken Starr or an Alan Dershowitz, but the arguments made by, you know, the more suit-and-tie, formal, lawyerly members of the team. And what was incredibly troubling to me was that they were arguing that if you agreed to an abuse of power charge against the president, that somehow you were extending the meaning of impeachment, that somehow you were making it into something it wasn’t intended to be. That was exactly the wrong argument. That was false. And the truth is that impeachment was created specifically to address abuses of power. They were also suggesting that somehow the authority to impeach, the power to do so, you know, didn’t really rest fully with the House. “Yeah, the House could do it, but they really should be going to the courts and doing other things.” Again, that’s not — that’s not how this has been understood historically.

And so, what was troubling to me was that they were arguing for a new definition of impeachment that essentially makes impeachment impossible. And if impeachment is impossible, if it really is something that will never happen, then we get to a point where future presidents will not cooperate with the Congress in any way, as this president essentially did not, and where they will feel an immense amount of freedom to do as they please, because they genuinely believe, there is a precedent that says, they will never be held to account. That gets us to exactly what the Founders of the American experiment, imperfect as they were, feared the most, and that was that a president might serve as a king for four years and that that king for four years might abuse his position to win a second term. And so, this is a very, very unsettling point at which to be, because so much of what was put forward by the Trump defense team really attacks not just the arguments against Trump, but attacks the basic concept that we can hold presidents to account.

AMY GOODMAN: John Nichols, I want to thank you for being with us, The Nation's national affairs correspondent, on the ground in Iowa, and just wrote the piece, which we will link to, “The DNC's Move to Accommodate Bloomberg Stirs Outrage in Iowa.” His new book, coming out soon, The Fight for the Soul of the Democratic Party.

We will also be live-streaming the impeachment Senate trial today starting at 11 Eastern and also on Wednesday.

The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to democracynow.org. Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.

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