by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Senate Republicans, by and large, have reached an unspoken consensus about President Trump and Ukraine. He should not have put a temporary freeze on congressionally authorized aid to Ukraine, should not have dabbled with using the aid to get Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden or a nutty theory about Ukrainian hacking during the 2016 election, and should not have kept defending his “perfect call” as such. At the same time, his conduct does not merit his removal from office — especially since voters will get to pass judgment on that conduct in a few months.
It’s a reasonable position, and it’s the case that Republicans ought to make in public. They are inhibited from doing so by the president’s obstinacy. Instead of sticking to the most defensible case for a Senate acquittal of Trump, Republicans from the president on down are making arguments that range from the implausible to the embarrassing.
Hence the claim now being advanced half-heartedly by Republicans that presidents cannot be impeached for any abuse of power unless that abuse took the form of a criminal violation of a statute. The consensus of those who have studied this question is to the contrary. Jonathan Turley, the Republicans’ star witness in the House hearings about the constitutional issues raised by impeachment, has repudiated this view. Attorney General William Barr has in the past denied it. The Founding-era debates about impeachment are clear that Congress was to be able to remove a president from office if he had exercised his legal powers in an abusive way.