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Pascrell Essay: Impeachment, the GOP, and the ‘ongoing tragedy’ of our times

Originally published in the Bergen Record


DECEMBER 27, 2019

Pascrell: Impeachment, the GOP, and the ‘ongoing tragedy’ of our times

By Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr.

In recent days, just prior to adjournment of Congress, I voted to impeach the 45th President of the United States. My vote was included on two articles of impeachment— abuse of power and obstruction — that were approved in the House of Representatives.

During debate, many of my colleagues wished to speak. My turn at the rostrum came later in the evening, shortly before the final roll call. Over several hours I had the special privilege of watching right in front of me all the orations building to a historic moment: just the third impeachment vote of a chief executive by the full House in our history.

The speeches of my colleagues laying out why they believed Trump committed high crimes and misdemeanors – the only test required by our Constitution – were methodical and diverse in their evidence, impassioned, and highly compelling.

But sitting there I was equally struck by the remarks of my Republican colleagues. Besides ignoring the extortion and bribery by Trump – actions corroborated by a litany of witnesses testifying under oath and penalty of perjury -- House Republicans stood out not for their diversity of thought but for their uniformity.

It was an astonishing parade as Republican member after Republican member spit out nearly identical talking points. Incredibly, virtually none sought to refute the recorded facts or even attest to Trump’s character. Instead they focused almost exclusively on irrelevancies.

They hectored on Trump’s sacrosanct “landslide” election in 2016 (he lost the popular vote by 3 million).

They decried how impeachment overturned the popular will of Trump voters (a cockeyed rationale that would invalidate any presidential impeachment).

They bemoaned that the process had been unfair to Trump even as the White House obfuscated every movement of the investigation (and all congressional oversight since 2017) with the active complicity of their own caucus.

Republicans’ performance was a sham and a disgrace to their offices. In a grim irony, our arrival at that moment had been built up for years – paved at every step by the same reckless disregard Republicans wore proudly during the solemn debate.

Impeachment was forced upon us because of the failure of so many of our nation’s leaders to cast aside their narrow ambition to confront the threat posed by Donald Trump.

The decision of so many leaders to either selfishly ignore or in many cases eagerly facilitate Trump’s malfeasance is an active choice. It is one of comfort over courage and of avarice over the republic.

And that group does not just include our political leaders. It also encompasses leaders across industries including business, law, finance, and technology, among others – each of whom has held some power to oppose Trump but refused to exercise it.

This collective dereliction is the ongoing tragedy of our generation. Sadly, it is ongoing even now, even after our nation has endured an endless litany of crimes and disgraces from the top our government. Even after an investigation of but a narrow swath of corruption exposed incontrovertible proof that Trump subverted our nation’s foreign policy to his own sole personal benefit.

Impeachment is a mechanism that finally provides an accountability for Trump that no one else has been able or willing to offer.

The great Harry Truman famously had a plaque on his desk reading, “The Buck Stops Here.” It was at once a prop and a declaration that any decisions made by the federal government under his watch would be owned wholly by the occupant of the Resolute Desk. Good or ill, Truman assumed responsibility for all of it.

With impeachment, the buck stopped at the House. Because even with the vital and ceaseless work of our news media, and intrepid journalists, whistleblowers, scrupulous jurists, and engaged and protesting Americans, the last and only body with the power to remove a corrupt chief executive from office belongs to Congress.

So on the House floor this late week in December there was no more waiting.

Many Americans have invoked the ultimate judgment of history as some sort of antidote to Trump’s ongoing bad acts. Even members of Congress on my own side of the aisle have optimistically raised the specter of history as a final arbiter to cleanse the nation.

There is little doubt that historians in the future will condemn Trump to the lowest designations enjoyed only by James Buchanan and Warren Harding. But in truth any reliance on the voice of the future is itself a shirking of responsibility. The freedom of our successors to submit that judgment, and other judgments, will depend on what we do now.

Liberty is not inviolate, but a priceless heirloom bestowed by our ancestors and one we have the sacred responsibility of maintaining for our successors, fully intact. The threat to democracy is standing here in front of us on this day – not tomorrow. Our failure to act only furthers the possibility that that heirloom will not be passed down.

Under the Constitution, Congress alone does not have to await the verdict of time for Donald Trump’s abuse of power and obstruction. We held that power and we offered that verdict.

Our impeachment of Donald Trump will not result in his removal. That decision will be left up to the upper chamber of our national legislature, the Senate, which must register 67 votes to eject a President from office.

Even before the ink was dry on the House’s impeachment articles, Republican senators led by Mitch McConnell indicated their prejudgment of the matter. Many have pridefully announced their willful ignorance of Trump’s acts and intention to acquit him no matter what.

The refusal of any senators to hold Trump accountable will be a furthering of this tragedy of our time, but it will be on their heads. In the House we voted to impeach Donald Trump because we want to end that tragedy. It was the right thing to do for today, and for tomorrow.

Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr., D-Paterson, represents the Ninth Congressional District of New Jersey in the U.S. House of Representatives.

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