It has by now become apparent that President Donald J. Trump holds an iron grip on the Republican Party. That said, in the wake of his impeachment by the House of Representatives, many held out hope that there would be enough senators willing to vote “aye” on the issue of calling witnesses to the impeachment trial last week. For a brief time, it seemed within reach, even if it was a long shot. But any hopes of the trial including witness testimony were dashed last Friday, as reported by Politico, when Senators Lamar Alexander and Lisa Murkowski, who were seen as crucial swing votes on the issue, announced that they would be voting against the resolution to call witnesses. Consequently, The New York Times reported that the 51 votes opposing the resolution outnumbered the 49 votes supporting it, meaning that no witnesses would be called, assuring a speedy acquittal for the president. It was a decision that was split almost entirely down party lines, with just two Republicans, Susan Collins and Mitt Romney, voting to call witnesses.
It was a disappointing blow to Democrats, who had made an impassioned case that Trump withheld hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid for Ukraine in exchange for digging up dirt on his potential election opponent Joe Biden, obstructed congressional investigation into the matter by blocking witnesses from testifying, and that this indeed constituted an impeachable offense under the “high crimes and misdemeanors” clause. As quoted by Newsweek, in lead prosecutor Representative Adam Schiff’s closing argument, he implored Republicans: “Truth matters to you. Right matters to you. You are decent. He is not who you are.” But given that 67 of the 100 total senators would be needed to convict Trump and remove him from office, according to the New York Times, and that doing so would be a nearly impossible feat given the senate’s current makeup, does it even matter that no witnesses will be called? After all, the result–Trump’s acquittal–would likely be the same either way. But just as impeaching Trump for his wrongdoings sends a powerful message, even if it does not lead to a conviction, so too would calling witnesses to the trial even if Trump would be acquitted regardless.
Republicans have stopped at nothing to come up with defenses for the phone call to Ukraine, sometimes contradicting themselves in the process. Several months ago, a whistleblower first came forward with allegations concerning a phone call that took place between Trump and Volodymyr Zelensky, the president of Ukraine. The whistleblower alleged that there existed a “quid pro quo,” or a “favor for a favor,” between the two countries, in which Trump agreed to release $400 million dollars in military aid for Ukraine only if Zelensky agreed to allow the Ukrainian government to open an investigation into Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, over Hunter’s business dealings in Ukraine.
It should be noted that there is no evidence of any wrongdoing on the part of the Bidens in Ukraine, but even if there were, it doesn’t take a genius to realize that doing what Trump did was highly illegal and wholly unpresidential. In the wake of the allegations, Republicans swiftly came out of the woodwork to repeat Trump’s mantra of “no quid pro quo,” and that the phone call between the two leaders was perfectly ordinary. But when more and more evidence began to emerge that there was a “quid pro quo,” Republicans changed their defense to, “So what if there was a quid pro quo?” Then, the prevailing argument became that even if it was wrong for Trump to withhold money in exchange for political favors, it didn’t rise to the level of an impeachable offense. Further still, some Republicans began to argue that even if it was an impeachable offense, Trump still should not be removed from office because it is not in the best interest of the country or because it is an election year. But if committing an impeachable offense does not warrant removal from office, what does?
It’s clear that Republicans will not hold Trump accountable for anything he does, and they would probably be up in arms if a Democrat did something even 1/10th as wrong. This, more than anything else, comes down to fear. In other words, Republicans shield Trump from being held to the same standards as any other citizens would because they fear him. They fear him because they have seen what happens to those in their party who call Trump out on his wrongdoings or dare to criticize him in any way – getting harassed on by Trump himself on Twitter and eventually getting forced out of office altogether, whether due to resignation or simply getting voted out. Highly emblematic of this is the warning that Republicans reportedly received from the White House that said “vote against the president and your head will be on a pike,” as quoted by NBC News.
But given the insurmountable number of senators that would need to be convinced to remove Trump from office, many would argue that it doesn’t matter that witnesses won’t be called since Trump would be acquitted regardless. A trial without witnesses, however, is no trial at all. Calling witnesses would allow the senate to send a message that they prioritize the facts, notwithstanding what they decide to make of them. The decision to not call witnesses says, “We don’t care what the facts of the case are. We don’t care that a crime was committed, because the president is above the law.” Plus, if Republicans were really so confident that Trump had done nothing wrong, they would vote for witnesses without hesitation. But in recent days, members of the party, both privately and publicly, have admitted that Trump had made a serious mistake in withholding the military aid. Quoted by Salon, Senator Murkowski, who voted against calling witnesses, said that Trump’s behavior was “shameful and wrong,” and Senator Alexander, who is retiring from the Senate but still voted not to call witnesses, said in an interview, “I think he shouldn’t have done it. I think it was wrong.” After voting not to convict the president on the impeachment charges, Senator Collins stated that the phone call with Zelensky was “improper and demonstrated very poor judgment,” as reported by NBC News.
But in a comment that raised eyebrows, Collins also said that she believed that the president had learned his lesson and would be more cautious in the future. “The president has been impeached. That’s a pretty big lesson,” she proclaimed. To that, I say, when pigs fly. The idea that Trump is finally going to see the light now in 2020 even though he has never apologized for or expressed remorse for anything he has done in his life so far, is laughable. And it appears that he has already proven Collins wrong, saying in a statement from NPR, “We went through hell, unfairly. I did nothing wrong.” That same day, Trump waltzed into the East Room of the White House and held up a copy of The Washington Post displaying the headline, “Trump Acquitted.” He did this as the song “Hail to the Chief” played in the background.