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Nonsequitur: Factional Fever

February 8, 2020

Senator McConnell’s comments before the Impeachment vote (which ended in acquittal):

The United States Senate was made for moments like this. The Framers predicted that factional fever might dominate House majorities from time to time. They knew country would need a firewall to keep partisan flames from scorching – scorching – our Republic. So they created the Senate “out of the necessity,” James Madison wrote, “of some stable institution in the government.” “Of some stable institution in the government.”

Today, we will fulfill this founding purpose. We will reject this incoherent case that comes nowhere near – nowhere near – justifying the first presidential removal in history. This partisan impeachment will end today. But, I fear the threat to our institutions may not because this episode is one of a symptom of something much deeper.

In the last three years, the opposition to this president has come to revolve around a truly dangerous concept. Leaders in the opposite party increasingly argue that if our institutions don’t produce the outcomes they like, our institutions themselves must be broken. One side has decided that defeat simply means the whole system is broken – that we should literally tear up the rules and write new ones. Normally, when a party loses an election, it accepts defeat. It reflects and retools. But not this time.

Within months, Secretary Clinton was suggesting her defeat was invalid. She called our president illegitimate. The former president [Obama] falsely claimed that President Trump didn’t actually win; he lost the election, the former president said. And members of Congress have used similar rhetoric. A disinformation campaign was mounted, weakening confidence in our democracy. The very real issue of foreign election interference was abused to fuel conspiracy theories. For years, prominent voices said there has been a secret conspiracy between the President’s campaign and a foreign government. But when the Mueller investigation and the Senate Intelligence Committee debunked that, the delegitimizing endeavor didn’t stop.

Remember what Chairman Schiff said here on the floor. He suggested that if the American people reelect President Trump in November, that election will be presumptively invalid as well. That’s Chairman Schiff on this floor saying, “If the American people reelect President Trump this November, that election will be presumptively invalid as well.” So they still don’t accept the American voters’ last decisions, and now they’re preparing to reject the voters’ next decision if they don’t like the outcome. Heads we win; tails you cheated. And who can trust our democracy anyway, they say?

This kind of talk creates more fear and division than our foreign adversaries could achieve in their wildest dreams. As Dr. Hill testified, “Our adversaries seek to divide us against each other. They break our institutions and destroy the faith of the American people in our democracy.” And she noted that if Americans become consumed by partisan rancor, we can easily do that work for them.

The architects of this impeachment claim we were defending norms and traditions. In reality, it was an assault on both. First the house attacked its own precedents on fairness and due process and by rushing to use its own impeachment power as a political weapon of first resort. Then their articles attacked the office of the presidency, then they attack the Senate and called us treacherous, then the far left tried to impugn the Chief Justice for remaining neutral during the trial.

And now, for the final act, the Speaker of the House is trying to steal the Senate’s sole power to render a verdict. The Speaker says she will just refuse to accept this acquittal. The Speaker says she will just refuse to accept this acquittal! Whatever that means. Perhaps she will tear up the verdict like she tore up the President’s State of the Union address. So I will ask my distinguished colleagues across the aisle, is this really, really where you want to go? The President isn’t the president? An acquittal isn’t an acquittal? Attack institutions until they get their way? Even my colleagues who disagree with this president must see the insanity of this logic. It’s like saying you’re so worried about a bull the china shop that you want to bulldoze to chase it out.

And here’s the most troubling part. There is no sign that this attack on our institutions will end here. In recent months, Democrat presidential candidates and Senate leaders have toyed with killing the filibuster so that the Senate could approve radical changes with less deliberation and less persuasion. Several of our colleagues sent an extraordinary briefing to the Supreme Court threatening political retribution if the justices could not decide a case the way they wanted. We’ve seen proposals to turn the FEC – the regulator of elections and political speech – into a partisan body for the first time ever.

All these things are a toxic temptation to stop debating policy within our great American governing traditions and instead declare a war on the traditions themselves. So colleagues, whatever policy difference we may have, we should all agree this is precisely the kind of recklessness the Senate was created to stop. The response to losing one election cannot be to attack the office of the presidency. The response to losing several elections cannot be a threat to the electoral college. The response to losing a court case cannot be to threaten the judiciary. The response to losing a vote cannot be to threaten the Senate.

We simply cannot let factional fever break our institutions. It must work the other way, as Madison and Hamilton intended. The institutions must break the fever, rather than the other way around. The Framers built the Senate to keep temporary rage from doing permanent damage to our Republic. That is what we will do when we end this precedent-breaking impeachment. I hope we will look back on this vote and say this was the day the fever began to break. I hope we will not say this was just the beginning.

“It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.”

Theodore Roosevelt
Speech at the Sorbonne, Paris, April 23, 1910