The next time someone tells you the U.S. Senate is the world’s greatest deliberative body, your answer should be no longer than two words: Marco Rubio.
Here’s what the Republican senator from Florida, and one-time Leader of the Free World aspirant, had to say about the impeachment trial that will likely wrap up this week with President Donald Trump’s acquittal on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
“Just because actions meet a standard of impeachment does not mean it is in the best interest of the country to remove a President from office,” Rubio wrote in the hours before the Senate voted along party lines to reject calling witnesses.
Read that again: Rubio admitted that Trump, by strong-arming Ukraine to extort an investigation of former vice president Joe Biden, committed an impeachable offense.
Or you can always answer “Lamar Alexander.”
“I don’t need to hear any more evidence to decide that the president did what he’s charged with doing,” Alexander, a Republican senator from Tennessee, told NPR. “So if you’ve got eight witnesses saying that you left the scene of an accident, you don’t need nine.”
Alexander, who’s retiring at year’s end, went on to say he agreed Trump “did something inappropriate, but I don’t agree he did anything akin to treason, bribery, high crimes and misdemeanors. I think there’s a big gap there.”
Let’s acknowledge for the moment that Trump’s acquittal was baked in before U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi ceremonially marched the articles of impeachment to other side of the Capitol. Even so, the Senate has shirked a fundamental duty, a constitutional obligation, to consider all the evidence – including witnesses and testimony – before rendering its verdict.
Instead, for the first time in the history of the Republic, we had a GOP Senate majority actively conspiring with the defendant to rig the verdict before the trial even happened. Alexander and Rubio, both acknowledging the president’s culpability, failed to execute on this duty, even before casting a conviction vote that is nonetheless fait accompli.
The world’s greatest deliberative body? Hardly. It’s a Senate that only a Roman emperor could love.
And I don’t undertake that comparison lightly. I think I’m compelled to agree with Holy Cross classicist Timothy Joseph, who wrote last December that, like the Roman senate under the imperium, the current Republican Senate has declined from “a long-held position of authority … to become a body almost wholly reliant on the whims of a given emperor.”
Indeed, with the possible exception of Utah Sen. Mitt Romney and Maine Sen. Susan Collins, you can almost entirely chalk up GOP paralysis in the face of Trump to the fear of a blistering tweet or the threat of a primary from the right. Even Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey, who plays the occasional Trump critic on television, fell meekly into line to cast a vote against calling witnesses.
With its spineless acquiescence to the whims of authoritarian president, Senate Republicans have not only guaranteed a harsh judgment in the eyes of history, they’ve also legitimized soliciting foreign interference in our elections, and emboldened an erratic executive whose policy whims change with the weather.
Legend has it that Nero fiddled while Rome burned. It’s both an untruth and historical anachronism. But for a Republican Senate supine in the face of the power of the princeps, it’s an object lesson and a warning.