On Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell condemned Democrats’ “partisan crusade” of impeachment, warning that Nancy Pelosi’s House of Representatives crossed a political “Rubicon” and “opened the Pandora’s box of subjective political impeachments,” a move that no previous House has done in American history. Citing the Founders, he urged the Senate to fulfill its constitutional role and counter the passions of the House.
“The Senate’s duty is clear,” he declared. “Only one outcome will preserve core precedents rather than shatter them into bits in a fit of partisan rage.” McConnell urged the Senate to reject the articles of impeachment in order to “serve the stabilizing, institution-preserving, fever-breaking role for which the United States Senate was created.”
Indeed, the Founders conceived of the Senate as a check on the passions of the people as expressed by the House of Representatives. The Republican leader argued that the Senate was created for just such a time as this.
“House Democrats want to create new rules for this president because they feel uniquely enraged,” he argued. “This is by far the thinnest basis for any House-passed presidential impeachment in American history.” He condemned it as “the most rushed, least thorough, and most unfair impeachment inquiry in modern history.”
McConnell noted that Pelosi is considering not sending the articles of impeachment over to the U.S. Senate. After rushing through the process of impeachment in the House, “they’re content to sit on their hands.”
“The Democrats’ own actions concede their allegations are unproven. The allegations are not just unproven, they’re also legally incoherent,” he said. “If the Senate blesses this historically low bar, we will invite the impeachment of every single future president.”
McConnell warned Democrats that “long after the partisan fever of this moment has broken, the institutional damage will remain.”
By voting to impeach Trump on Wednesday, “Speaker Pelosi’s House just gave in to a temptation that every other House in our history has managed to resist,” moving to “impeach a president whom they do not even allege to have committed a crime” because they “disagree with a presidential act and question the motive behind it.”
McConnell contrasted this impeachment with all previous ones. While Andrew Johnson was impeached for breaking a law later struck down as unconstitutional, he had broken a law. Richard Nixon was accused of obstruction of justice, a felony. Bill Clinton admitted to perjury, also a felony.
“History matters and precedent matters,” the Republican leader warned. “And there were important reasons why every previous House of Representatives in American history restrained itself from crossing this Rubicon.”
He noted that the Founders warned against impeachment just for maladministration, “in other words, because the House simply thought the president had bad judgment or is doing a bad job.” The Founders explicitly rejected an impeachment like this. “They realized it would create a total dysfunction to set the bar for impeachment that low.”
Such a standard “would mean the president serves at the pleasure of the Congress instead of at the pleasure of the American people.” So for 230 years, Congress “required presidential impeachment to revolve around clear, recognizable crimes.”
Yet on Wednesday, the House “opened the pandora’s box of subjective political impeachments. That 230-year tradition died last night.”
McConnell condemned the rush to judgment as “the predetermined end of a partisan crusade that began before President Trump was even nominated, let alone sworn in. … From the moment the president’s election ended they would find some way to overturn it.”
He noted that Democrats rushed forward with impeachment in order to finish before the 2020 election. While the inquiry that led to Richard Nixon’s election required 14 months and Bill Clinton’s impeachment followed years of investigations, House Democrats rushed the inquiry against Trump in 12 weeks.
McConnell dismissed both articles of impeachment — abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
The first article “does not even purport to allege any actual claim,” instead using “the vague phrase ‘abuse of power’ to impugn the president’s action in a general way.” He argued that this followed exactly what the Founders warned against — impeachment for maladministration.
The second article involves Trump’s supposed obstruction by going to the courts to challenge congressional subpoenas.
“It’s not a constitutional crisis for a House to want more information than a president wants to give up,” McConnell explained. Indeed, this kind of legal battle is “a routine occurrence.” In the case of Bill Clinton, Congress went to the courts.
“This takes time, it’s inconvenient. That’s actually the point. Due process is not meant to maximize the convenience of the prosecutor, it’s meant to protect the accused,” the Republican leader insisted. “Fourteen months of hearings for Richard Nixon; years of investigation for Bill Clinton; twelve weeks for Donald Trump.”
McConnell did not say whether the Senate would take up the trial and call witnesses who might explain Trump’s side of the story on Ukraine.
The Republican leader’s historic speech did indeed echo the Founders, who warned against impeachment based on partisan strength rather than real crimes. The Senate was indeed created as a check on the passions of the House, and it seems McConnell is exactly right that it exists for a role such as this.
Follow Tyler O’Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.