A Bolton from the blue has upset Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell’s impeachment chessboard.
Suddenly, it’s no longer just President Trump who’s being judged here. With one unexpected move, Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton has put the US Senate on trial as well.
Bolton has now offered to testify if the Republican-controlled Senate subpoenas him, thereby precluding the need for protracted legal action to bring that about. That puts Senate Republicans between a reputation-ravaging rock and a Trump-antagonizing hard place.
Does the Republican flock follow their Trump-era instincts and bleat a unified “bah” to Bolton’s offer?
Or do they actually act like US senators who have an independent role to play in one of our democracy’s most momentous processes — who will even swear an oath to that effect?
There’s little doubt about where McConnell will come down. There’s not another Senate majority leader in modern memory who so reduced himself to small-minded partisan tactics — or who operated with less of a notion of a larger responsibility to the nation. Driven by little beyond a desire to beat the opposition and maintain his grip on power — oh yes, and pack the courts with judges of questionable quality — McConnell seems perfectly content to have his legacy be the theft of a Supreme Court seat that should have been filled by Barack Obama. His rationale for that action set a standard for cynical hackery: He decided to hold the seat hostage, McConnell said, because that’s what the Democrats would have done had roles been reversed.
That’s why it’s such a joke to hear the Senate majority leader speak of the Senate as a place where partisanship should “give way to sober judgment,” a body that must treat momentous issues with “the seriousness they deserve.” (McConnell pressed those chestnuts into service not in a discussion of impeachment, which he is treating in an entirely partisan fashion, but rather to deflect growing pressure on Trump over the assassination of Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani.)
But what of other Republicans? Some haven’t sold their souls to Trump. Mortgaged them, perhaps, but without quite signing over the deed.
Sadly, we are talking about only half a handful. Mitt Romney of Utah, Susan Collins of Maine, and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska all seem uncomfortable with McConnell’s declaration that he will merely act as Trump’s footman as impeachment moves forward. Then there’s Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, a relative moderate, who is retiring and thus faces no electoral consequences for doing what’s proper.
So far, most of them are temporizing on the matter.
Now, let’s be clear. It’s one thing for Republican (or Democratic) senators to consider all the facts and then declare that Trump’s apparent attempt to use a hoped-for White House visit and much-needed foreign aid to pressure Ukraine to open an investigation into former vice president Joe Biden and son Hunter doesn’t rise to the level of impeachment. That’s a matter of senatorial judgment.
But it’s quite another to refuse to take the simple action that would bring testimony from a former administration official who could offer extensive inside-the-Oval Office testimony about what Trump said and did here. He might inculpate the president. Or he might exculpate him. Either way, he can shed a lot of light on a crucial matter.
For a senator to reject Bolton’s offer to testify is to declare that he or she has no interest in learning the truth before rendering an impeachment verdict. (Not that that’s kept Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida from contriving process arguments against subpoenaing Bolton.)
Living up to a senator’s constitutional role means more than simply declaring oneself open to hearing Bolton, but insisting that the Senate vote on subpoenaing him. No person who shirks that responsibility is worthy of the title United States senator.
So now Republicans must decide whether they are senators or sycophants.
Voters will be the immediate judge and jury there.
But history will deliver the final verdict — and its judgment will be unforgiving of those who show no interest in uncovering the truth.