“An impeachment trial of a President would be a true test of the integrity and capabilities of the Senate. ...History is watching us – all of us: Democrats, Independents, Republicans. How we respond will shape and affect our Senate and our nation for years to come."
“It will be a test that we as a body cannot afford to fail," Coons said.
Sen. Chris Coons of the Senate Judiciary Committee spoke on the Senate floor regarding the ongoing impeachment inquiry, and the role of the Senate.
“If we are called to be jurors in an impeachment trial, all of us must show our nation and the world that this body – that this institution – has not been completely overtaken by the divisive political era in which we live. Nothing less than the Senate’s very legitimacy will be at stake,” said Coons.
Madam President, I come to the floor today as a proud member of this chamber, of the United States Senate, and as someone who believes earnestly in our role in our country’s constitutional order. I’m here on the floor because a real and significant challenge to this body and each of our members is potentially in the very near future.
Right now, the House of Representatives is holding an impeachment inquiry focused on grave and significant charges against our President related to the very threats to our democracy of foreign interference that our Founders feared the most.
I am not here, Madam President, to argue over whether President Trump’s actions deserve impeachment or perhaps even removal from office. It is I think inappropriate to reach that point. Instead, I am here today as the inquiry proceeds in the House to urge my colleagues here in the Senate — Republicans, Independents, and Democrats – to take seriously the moment we’re in and the tests we may have soon ahead as a Senate, when we will need to uphold and defend the role of this institution.
I’m on the floor today to issue a challenge to all of my colleagues.
If an impeachment trial does take place here in the Senate – all of us must decide to approach it as Americans, less as people representing any parochial or partisan or particular interest, less as Republicans or Democrats or Independents, and instead as Senators.
If we are called to be jurors in an impeachment trial, all of us must show our nation and the world that this body – that this institution – has not been completely overtaken by the divisive political era in which we live. Nothing less than the Senate’s very legitimacy will be at stake.
Our Founders warned about the challenge of this moment, they warned specifically that foreign powers improperly influencing our American government were, in the words of Alexander Hamilton, the “most deadly adversaries of republican government.”
This is why our Constitution entrusts Congress with the enormous power of potential removal through impeachment.
James Madison called impeachment “indispensable . . . for defending the Community [against] the incapacity, negligence or perfidy of the chief Magistrate,” a reference to the President.
Alexander Hamilton argued that the Senate was the proper body to hold an impeachment trial. The Founders entrusted us to protect our country from “the misconduct of public men” and “the abuse or violation of some public trust.”
George Mason put forward the precise language that appears in our Constitution, the language of “high crimes and misdemeanors” and urged that impeachment must be a remedy to remove even a President, asking, “Shall any man be above Justice?”
Our Founders insisted that no one, no one in our nation, in our constitutional order, not even our President, is above the law. This fundamental principle remains the very linchpin of our government.
Based on what we know today from press reports about the President’s actions and from notes of a conversation, I believe it is critical that the House conduct a thorough impeachment inquiry. If the House does vote impeachment articles, members of the Senate will have to live up to the responsibilities which the Framers of our nation entrusted to us. The eyes of history will be upon us.
So, Madam President, let me be clear: I am not saying here today that if the House should vote articles of impeachment, it will be the Senate’s duty to vote to remove him. It will be instead the responsibility of every single Senator to carry out their duty to be impartial jurors with their principle focus their oath to uphold and defend the Constitution – and nothing else – informing our decisions.
This is a challenge to all of my colleagues. Both Republicans and Democrats must appreciate the gravity of this process as we call on our colleagues to do the same. Democrats equally with Republicans must not allow our vigorous disagreements with this President and our colleagues to influence our judgment and cloud it. We have to understand that this process, this likely future moment, are far more important than our own individual political fortunes.
An impeachment trial of a President would be a true test of the integrity and capabilities of the Senate – our commitment to follow the facts, to consider the evidence, and to apply the rule of law. It will be a test that we as a body cannot afford to fail.
So, Madam President, it is important to begin the process of establishing what that process might look like as soon as there are impeachment articles if that is the direction the House takes.
The basic rules are clear: As stated in the Constitution, the House is given the “sole Power of Impeachment,” and the Senate “the sole Power to try [as jury] all Impeachments.” If the House votes to impeach, the Senate must conduct a trial and either convict by two-thirds or acquit on whatever counts are presented.
At that trial, the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court would preside. The House managers would present the case, the President’s counsel present his defense, and the Senators be the jury.
The manner in which our leaders – Leader McConnell and Leader Schumer – direct the Senate in the event of a trial will be the most important test in a generation of whether our Senate remains capable of enforcing the law, living up to the Constitution, and upholding the responsibilities our Founders bestowed upon us.
I’ll remind you that the opening vote in the Senate of the impeachment trial of President Clinton, the vote that set the rules under which that trial would proceed, was unanimous. It was 100 to zero.
An impeachment trial, should it come in the near future here, must not be gamed or politicized or subjected to brinksmanship, and any trial should be governed by rules that are passed on a broad and bipartisan basis, animated by justice over partisanship.
In many ways, an impeachment trial would mean that our institution of the Senate would itself also be on trial. We, as a body, need to show the American people and the world that we are more than just 100 elected politicians brought here by partisan whim or by a bare majority of our states, but instead, a body whose sum is much more than its individual parts. Together, we must act as stewards for our democracy.
History is watching us – all of us: Democrats, Independents, Republicans. How we respond will shape and affect our Senate and our nation for years to come.
So, in the days, weeks, or months to come, I hope my colleagues will rise to the challenges we face, deliberate with an eye towards history and an ear towards our constituents, and a heart focused on our Constitution, and prove that, in this body, we answer to the Constitution, not any particular or partisan loyalty to our President or any other elected official. The health of our very institutions and democracy itself is at stake.