With the impeachment trial of President Donald J. Trump beginning in the U.S. Senate this week, our country enters a solemn process under the Constitution that requires care, seriousness of purpose, and fairness. The Senate is obligated to get it right. All 100 members of the Senate have the responsibility to be mindful of their sworn duty to render “impartial justice,” even as they deal with the intense political pressures and consequences of the historic, very public trial in which they are involved.
Trump is being tried on two counts, both related to the Ukraine scandal: one alleging abuse of power, and the other alleging obstruction of Congress. In a Senate chamber where many members on both sides of the aisle have already expressed views on the merits of the charges, there are concerns that the “trial” will not seriously address the issues and that the result is preordained. We deserve something better and hope the Senate does so.
The constitutional directives are clear, even if the rarely used provisions are open to some procedural interpretation: “The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors” (Article II, Section 4). “The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments. … And no Person shall be convicted without the Concurrence of two thirds of the Members present” (Article I, Section 3).
These are weighty responsibilities, and the process followed needs to be respectful and comprehensive. In doing so, we don’t expect Senators (or any of us) to ignore the deeply divisive, bitter political fighting that led to the trial. But, at the same time, no one should embrace the charges simply because they were brought or reject them for the manner in which they were developed and delivered. Instead, the evidence should be examined fairly and impartially, in an honest effort to reach a just result.
As this is only the third time in our history that a Senate impeachment trial has been pursued, we are in largely unchartered waters. That reality imposes a heavy responsibility on Senate leadership to assure that they conduct the trial in a manner that is open, transparent, comprehensive, and fair. There are no shortcuts.
The impeachment trial of a president is serious. Despite the intense political considerations and pressures inherent in the process, and notwithstanding deep divisions on the issues, we expect Senate leadership to navigate the competing interests and to cooperate and compromise in order to assure a proper, respectful and fair trial, and a process in which we can all be proud.
We are at an important constitutional crossroads. The stakes are high. The tensions are intense. The Senate’s responsibility is to do its job properly and fairly. For the sake of our country and our cherished system of democratic government, we hope they will.