WHERE ARE YOU, Senators Alan Simpson and Olympia Snowe? Chuck Hagel and Kelly Ayotte? Ben Nighthorse Campbell and William Cohen?
Where are the retired Republican US Senate elders as the House begins its impeachment inquiry into President Trump? The president has clearly tried to use his office for personal gain by pressuring the Ukrainian president to investigate one of his political opponents, almost a textbook definition of an impeachable offense. He may well have used American military aid as leverage to get Ukraine to bend to his wishes, which would be a further abuse of power. On Thursday, he dug himself deeper in the hole by publicly asking China to meddle in American politics too. Attorney General William Barr, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, among others, are implicated. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has set an expeditious timeline for that chamber’s investigation. Considering she probably has the necessary votes, it’s possible the House will forward articles of impeachment to the Senate before Thanksgiving for trial.
Whether Republican senators have the bravery to perform their role in a nonpartisan fashion remains to be seen. With the notable exception of Utah Senator Mitt Romney, who on Friday called Trump’s China comments “wrong and appalling,” other Republicans have been too scared of riling up the president’s supporters to call out his blatant wrongdoing. Maine Senator Susan Collins is among the GOP elected officials who have largely avoided commenting on the president’s behavior, a silence that signals acceptance.
It’s incumbent on those who have had the benefit of time to reflect on their time in office to measure their regrets against their accomplishments — who profess to care more for the principles of America’s democracy than partisan politics — to encourage current Republican senators to do the same.
In December 2018, 44 retired senators signed a letter addressed to current members reminding them of the oath each took pledging to “defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” That letter, a bipartisan effort, was framed as a defense of democracy. It was elegant and high-minded,
statesman-like in its call to ensure that “self-interest not replace national interest.” Yet that December letter, which claimed then that America was at an “inflection point,” while a clear warning, did not go nearly far enough. It never named Trump, his officials, or congressional Republicans who have clearly replaced the national interest with partisan self-interest. That was clear even then and is starkly obvious now.
On Monday, former Republican Arizona senator Jeff Flake expressed his reservations about impeachment in a Washington Post commentary, though he counseled his Republican colleagues in the Senate not to support Trump’s reelection and thereby save their souls.
Other former Republican senators need to join him in raising their voice. It’s essential that they directly, publicly encourage Senate Republicans to focus on the rule of law and not on the party line. Sitting senators who don’t plan to run for reelection also have a responsibility to speak up and provide leadership within their caucus.
It’s perhaps the most somber of all undertakings for a member of Congress to consider impeachment proceedings against a president — as some members know firsthand. Only two presidents have been impeached by the House, and each was acquitted in the Senate. The same may happen with Trump.
Yet in each instance, members of both parties took seriously their obligations to “the foundational principles of our democracy and our national security . . . and the ability of our institutions to function freely and independently,” as was called for in that December
The goal isn’t to pressure the rest of the Republican senators into opposing Trump. It’s to give them the cover, and the promise of support, that some of them seem to need in order to find the courage to do right by the country.