As I said once before, he’s a broken man. The Trump era has broken him.
I keep thinking about the array of self-serving memoirs we’re going to see from Republican pols after the Trump era ends in which they finally concede that they may perhaps have gone a tad too far at times in shilling for the president. It could be decades before that happens; at the moment the “Trump era” looks set to outlast Trump’s presidency by many years. But someday it’ll be safe again for Republicans to speak ill of him and I keep thinking that Rubio’s memoir is going to be one of the saddest and most irritating of the bunch. He walks around nowadays looking perpetually like he’s just eaten something that doesn’t agree with him. He’s not a Trumpist ideologically or temperamentally. His “shining city on a hill” attitude towards American politics couldn’t be further from Trump’s “just win, baby” populist approach.
But this is the hand he’s been dealt. And for whatever reason, whether because he still has presidential aspirations or because he wants to get rich as a lobbyist after the Senate and has to stick with his team to do that, he refuses to fold. He’ll complain about it in due time in a book, officially regretting all sorts of things he presently condones, but in the meantime he’s going to play this hand as best he can. Which brings us to his statement today, offering a twist on the spin that some other Senate Republicans like Lamar Alexander and now Rob Portman have embraced to finesse their vote against calling witnesses. Alexander and Portman described Trump’s quid pro quo with Ukraine as “inappropriate” in their statements but not so much so that it should have triggered the current proceedings. A.k.a. “bad but not impeachable.”
Is that what Rubio’s saying here? Or is he taking a baby step beyond that, to “impeachable but not removable”?
As Manager Jerry Nadler (D-NY) reminded us Wednesday night, removal is not a punishment for a crime. Nor is removal supposed to be a way to hold Presidents accountable; that is what elections are for.
The sole purpose of this extraordinary power to remove the one person entrusted with all of the powers of an entire branch of government is to provide a last-resort remedy to protect the country. That is why Hamilton wrote that in these trials our decisions should be pursuing “the public good.”
That is why six weeks ago I announced that, for me, the question would not just be whether the President’s actions were wrong, but ultimately whether what he did was removable.
The two are not the same. 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.
He assumes for argument’s sake in his analysis that everything the Dems have alleged is true (conveniently, this justifies his conclusion that Bolton doesn’t need to be called even though we can’t know what new information he might provide) and reasons that that’s just not enough to warrant removing a president. The acidic divisions caused by removal would haunt America for decades, he claims, adding, “It is difficult to conceive of any scheme Putin could undertake that would undermine confidence in our democracy more than removal would.” And there’s some truth to that.
But in an age of hyperpartisanship, there are precious few crimes a president might commit that would galvanize true bipartisan public support for his removal. As extreme as Alan Dershowitz has been in trying to narrow Congress’s impeachment power, even Dershowitz allows that an old-fashioned cash bribe to the president in exchange for some public benefit would be an impeachable offense. But is that how the public would view it? Imagine it was a petty bribe, some sort of kickback in the amount of $50,000 or whatever in return for POTUS using his influence to steer a federal contract to a favored business. Is Marco Rubio going to look me in the virtual eye and tell me that Republican voters would be okay with seeing the Trump presidency come crashing down over $50K? Paid to a man who claims to be worth billions and is certainly at least worth many millions? With Fox News and righty talk radio in 24/7 bunker mode spinning that kickback every which way they could to legitimize it — “it was a gift,” “it didn’t really affect the contract,” “Trump’s going to donate the money to charity,” yadda yadda?
My guess is that maybe we’d reach 55/45 support for removal in that case. Bitter, bitter divisions in the country if the Senate turned around and nuked Trump over it. How would Senator Rubio vote?
But never mind all that. What I really want to know after reading his piece is this: Does Marco Rubio believe that impeachment was … warranted in this case? What he says in the excerpt about “meeting a standard of impeachment” suggests that he does, although (characteristically) he refuses to directly say so in the piece. But, reading through it, it’s striking how reluctant he is to engage on the facts alleged by House Democrats about Ukraine and the quid pro quo. His reasons for voting to acquit are all big-picture stuff — removal would be divisive, the process in the House was partisan, we have other ways to hold Trump accountable beginning with the election in November. At no point does he say “they didn’t prove their case” or “the facts about the Ukraine deal as alleged don’t amount to impeachable conduct.” Notably, he does say that about the second article of impeachment, related to obstruction of Congress.
Does Marco Rubio believe Trump deserved to be impeached? It would be highly Rubio-esque for him to have privately arrived at that conclusion and then decided that (a) he couldn’t in good conscience flatly lie about it the way a Lindsey Graham might but (b) he could certainly talk around the subject and fall back on neutral reasoning like “removal is divisive” to justify voting to acquit anyway.
Which raises a question. Would Rubio — and Alexander and Portman — support a censure resolution instead?
Someone should call Rs on their newfound belief that Trump maybe did do something wrong re: Ukraine and introduce a censure resolution.
— Noah Rothman (@NoahCRothman) January 31, 2020
And since Rubio’s a fan of holding presidents accountable through other means, would he support further measures in this case outside the theater of impeachment to do so? Like, say, the Senate subpoenaing John Bolton once the trial is over?
A question for Senator Alexander and other Republicans who don't want to connect evidence as part of an impeachment trial: Should the Senate look into this matter further in oversight hearings, or no?
— Gregg Nunziata (@greggnunziata) January 31, 2020
If the answer is no because those measures would be “divisive” too then there’s no teeth at all to his argument about removal being some singularly draconian, embittering remedy. There are various remedies short of that that would communicate to Trump that quid pro quos for dirt on the Democrats won’t be tolerated. If he can’t lift a finger to support any of them then he’s just looking for excuses to give Trump carte blanche to do whatever he wants to do. It’ll make for an especially poignant chapter in the memoir to come.
Exit question: Isn’t the potential “divisiveness” of removal already addressed by the Constitution’s requirement of a two-thirds vote of the Senate to remove the president? Rubio nods at that at the start of his piece but then forgets about it. If he thinks Democrats have a persuasive case and believes the conduct involved was impeachment-worthy, he could vote for removal and trust that the Senate will fall short of 67 votes unless the case is so persuasive that it’ll sway 20 of his Republican colleagues, which is unlikely. That is, instead of weighing whether removal is warranted personally, he could vote based on the evidence and have faith that the Senate will decide whether removal is warranted collectively.