The impeachment process is all but over, and the way it ended is somewhat clarifying.
As you know, extending the trial to hear witnesses would require only a majority vote of 51 senators, and the final swing vote on that procedural question was considered to be Sen. Lamar Alexander — who decided to vote against that extension for witnesses.
That pretty much ends it. Donald Trump will serve out his term and presumably stand for a second term and the voters (to the degree that Republicans are unable to prevent Democrats from voting) will decide whether to give him four more years.
But focus for a moment on Alexander’s statement of why he decided not to vote to allow John Bolton to testify. Alexander said:
“I worked with other senators to make sure that we have the right to ask for more documents and witnesses, but there is no need for more evidence to prove something that has already been proven and that does not meet the United States Constitution’s high bar for an impeachable offense.”
Let’s try to give this the respect it deserves. Alexander is essentially saying that Trump did what he was accused of, namely put a hold on desperately needed congressionally appropriated aid to Ukraine in order to pressure Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to publicly announce an investigation that would besmirch Joe Biden, whom Trump thought at the time would have a chance of beating him in in the 2020 presidential election.
Alexander believes this has been established by the evidence already in the public record. He doesn’t believe the pressure campaign was “perfect,” as Trump insists. But Alexander doesn’t believe it rises to the level of an impeachable offense for which the Senate should remove Trump from office, especially considering that the electorate will be able to decide in an election less than 10 months off whether to renew Trump’s mandate for four more years.
Trump was never going to be convicted and removed (which requires a two-thirds vote of the Senate). Alexander knew enough about the charges to know that he didn’t consider Trump’s “drug deal,” as John Bolton called it, to be a sufficiently high crime to vote for conviction and removal of a president.
He didn’t say this quite as bluntly as I just did, but that’s what he said, and I’m going to try to respect it as a thinkable thought about which reasonable minds can differ.
If you don’t agree with that, you should at least acknowledge that while the House prosecutors should have been allowed to call witnesses (I agree with Adam Schiff that a trial without witnesses or documents is a joke), there was never a chance of getting the two-thirds vote necessary to convict and remove Trump from office.
The commentariat has, understandably, focused much on whether the House prosecutors would get the 51 votes needed to call witnesses, which would extend the process and get more important facts onto the record (although most of those facts are already on the record).
Trump was trying to cheat. He tried to pressure a vulnerable ally to help him cheat. That’s very bad. Luckily, it didn’t work. He got caught. And voters will know in November that Trump did this, and should definitely take it into account, although given the power of his grip over his base, it’s hard to speculate on how many of his supporters will abandon him over this.
Recent trends in his approval ratings suggest, as they always suggest, that he isn’t gaining many new admirers nor losing many old ones. (As of noon, the 538.com average of many approval polls, has him at 43 percent approval, 52 percent disapproval. It never changes much, and apparently nothing that has come out during the impeachment has affected it much either.
He will continue lying and cheating. He will remain an unpopular president who lost the popular vote and will probably lose it again. The evidence of his “drug deal” seems, at least for now, and I have no reason to assume it will change tomorrow, not to have changed the situation.
He is very likely, as you read this, engaging in improper, unpresidential conduct designed to either make him money or cheat in the 2020 election. But the impeachment process will not end his presidency.