Sen. Mitch McConnell (R–Ky.) took to the Senate floor this morning to inveigh against what he called the "most rushed, least thorough, and most unfair impeachment inquiry in modern history."
The House of Representatives voted Wednesday night to impeach President Donald Trump for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, making him the third president in U.S. history to move toward a Senate trial.
"Last night, House Democrats finally did what they have decided to do a long time ago," said McConnell. "They voted to impeach President Trump." The majority leader's speech echoed weeks of House GOP objections, accusing Democrats of searching for an impeachable offense before Trump even clinched the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.
It is the "first purely partisan presidential impeachment since the wake of the Civil War," McConnell lamented. "Opposition to impeachment was bipartisan." The latter notion has become a go-to talking point among the GOP, although it neglects the fact that Justin Amash (I–Mich.), a founder of the House Freedom Caucus, left the Republican Party just last July in part over its unwillingness to grapple with what he sees as Trump's clearly impeachable offenses.
Two Democrats voted against the first article of impeachment and three voted against the second. One of the Democrats who voted against both, Rep. Jeff Van Drew (D–N.J.), has announced that he will leave the party and become a Republican.
McConnell tried to throw cold water on both of the articles, reducing the first charge—abuse of power—to what he says is a mere contempt on behalf of Democrats for Trump's style of governance.
"The Framers of our Constitution very specifically discussed this issue—whether the House should be able to impeach the president just for maladministration," said McConnell. "In other words, because the House simply thought the president had bad judgement or was doing a bad job."
Amash has argued that this comparison doesn't stand historical scrutiny. "[Alan] Dershowitz and many Rs have tried to conflate maladministration and abuse of power," he tweeted on Monday. "The Framers rejected maladministration—being ineffective or inefficient—as grounds for impeachment. In contrast, they saw abuse of power as central to the meaning of high crimes and misdemeanors."
McConnell also claimed that impeachment should turn on "clear, recognizable crimes." That is historically inaccurate as well: "High crimes and misdemeanors" includes abuses of power, and even McConnell conceded this morning that meeting a criminal threshold is not a requirement for impeachment.
As for obstruction of Congress, McConnell likens the charge to impeaching the president "for asserting presidential privilege." Democrats argue that Trump inappropriately stonewalled their investigation when he blocked the release of requested documents and forbade several key witnesses—such as acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and former National Security Advisor John Bolton—from testifying.
"That's not a constitutional crisis," said McConnell. "It's a routine occurrence."
The Kentucky senator criticized Democrats for what he says is a hasty rush forward. If the majority party wants to parse the information currently being obstructed by Trump, he said, they should take the issue to the courts, which may lead to documents being released and witnesses compelled to testify. McConnell isn't wrong here. As Jacob Sullum points out, the evidence as it stands may implicate Trump, but the record is almost certainly too thin at present to lure anyone from their partisan vantage points.
Democrats "chose to stick to their political timetable at the expense of pursuing more evidence through proper legal channels," said McConnell.
Looking to the future, he told Senate President Pro Tempore Chuck Grassley (R–Iowa) that Democrats are on the precipice of taking "unbelievable new power to paralyze the Senate at their whim." (The legislative body already has a strong record of doing that on its own, regardless of who is in charge.)
That crippling threat, McConnell declared, will come because Democrats were "willing to trample our constitutional order to get their way," leading to what he sees as a future string of never-ending impeachments. And it is only the Senate, McConnell argued, that is equipped to effectively and impartially check "violent factionalism."
"The moment the framers feared has arrived," he said. "A political faction in the lower chamber has succumbed to partisan rage." In the Federalist Papers, McConnell noted, Alexander Hamilton warned of an impeachment "regulated more by the comparative strength of parties, than by the real demonstrations of innocence or guilt." Few would dispute that partisanship has driven much of the impeachment process, but that phenomenon hardly seems unique to Democrats.