A new article in Politico busts through the “same-old, same-old” cycle in a way that might radically alter the tenor of the impeachment proceedings in the Senate, possibly leading to removal and a more solid future. There is a procedure which requires only three Republicans to implement. These three Republicans could insist upon an anonymous verdict-vote, granting cover to Republicans primarily concerned about the wrath from the White House and at home.
The procedural idea picks up on a theme that has become conventional wisdom, that there exists possibly thirty votes for removal were the vote anonymous. The fact that the procedural idea has been floated gives serious weight to what had previously been speculation.
As everyone knows, the constitution requires the Senate to try the matter after any House impeachment. It also states that the Chief Justice would oversee such a trial. The constitution is silent upon the procedure used by the senate. Normal senate rules either don’t apply, or could be altered. Thus, if a majority senators move to make voting on the verdict anonymous, that majority will have the power to impose such a rule, McConnell could not block it.
Now, Mitch McConnell is not going to come out of the gates insisting upon an anonymous verdict. He knows this is an “anti-Trump” move. (Which is telling). But if three Republican Senators moved to defect and vote with Democrats on procedure, those three Republicans become extraordinarily powerful.
One can easily see a situation where Mitt Romney, who is over four years from his next election might already be inclined to join the Democrats. He is from Utah, not wholly on board with Trump, and Romney clearly wants to be president someday. Additionally, five sitting Republicans are retiring at the end of this term, four of them are in their mid 70s and will surely not run again for office. If some pressure is placed upon any two of those five, the majority exists, granting sudden cover for any Republican senator caught in a box.
If it is established that voting on the verdict will be anonymous, that will change everything.
You can almost “feel” the possible new environment, can you not?
Up to this point, Trump got 99% of what he wanted through sheer intimidation, like the enraged teen who terrorizes parents into submission. He will ruthlessly bully anyone he perceives as crossing him. Republicans live in abject fear of the career-ending tweet, and the MAGA-head rage at home. Republican terror is so ingrained in today’s political landscape that it is near impossible to envision a world without it, a world in which Trump cannot “shoot them” on Fifth Avenue. It feels liberating to even consider a process freed from those specific consequences.
Last, an anonymous vote on conviction may determine the need for a trial at all. We talked about the iron fist Trump with which Trump rules. Imagine how impotent he would feel? How exposed? His rage would have no individual target. For the first time in office, Trump may feel real fear with regard to Republicans. He might resign prior to trial rather than risk a vote he cannot control. He must have control every bit as much as he must have loyalty. Take away his control and he may fear going into the history books as the only president to be convicted and removed by the senate. Additionally, if convicted, Trump has no control over post-presidency consequences.
Trump will know he can arrange a deal with Mike Pence by which he is pardoned in exchange for stepping down. It is also possible that Trump’s defense team will go to the NY AG and arrange a non-prosecution deal in exchange for his conciliatory step.
Such a deal will not please the screaming purists on the left. But I believe that is selfish of us, a demand that drips with entitlement. Trump needs to be out of the oval office. Minorities, immigrants, the marginalized, all subject to his wrath and policies, don’t have the luxury of awaiting our vengeance, which is speculative anyway. If Trump were to remove himself, that is a massive penalty that should act as a deterrent into the future.
But most importantly, we simply cannot trust the integrity of the 2020 election with Trump in office. We can’t even ensure a fair election without Trump, but we can come much closer. Our 2020-2024 plans depend wholly upon a free and fair election.
It is something that deserves serious consideration. But only at the right time.
For now, the original idea, the hunt for three Republicans, has some appeal because anything that diminishes the dictatorial wrath so important to Trump helps.
Maybe I am naïve and putting too much faith in Republicans. Maybe so. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t do everything possible to bring this about.
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