During the first three weeks of January, our nation experienced three historic events: insurrection, impeachment, and inauguration. And while the peaceful transfer of power (with an assist from the National Guard) on January 20 was a relief following a tumultuous transition, we cannot truly move forward as a country without accountability for those who played a role in the deadly riot on January 6 at the U.S. Capitol.
This is why we encouraged the impeachment of then-President Donald Trump for inciting an insurrection, and it’s why we’re urging the Senate to seriously consider convicting him and barring him from holding future office.
The strength of our democratic republic relies on fair elections and the system of checks and balances among the branches of government. Over the past few months, we’ve seen signs that both of these foundations could crack without renewed integrity from our elected leaders.
Even before the election, Trump spread bogus claims of election fraud and fueled the “Stop the Steal” movement—a naked attempt to overturn the election. Despite the lack of actual evidence and the rebukes from numerous courts, including the conservative-leaning Supreme Court, Trump’s band of believers and followers stormed and seized the Capitol at the sitting president’s own urging.
Trump did not summon his supporters to Washington, DC, for the “Save America March” to merely peacefully protest the 2020 election results. Once they were there, he addressed the angry crowd, fueling them with violent rhetoric and more false talk of election fraud, and then warning, “if you don’t fight like hell, you aren’t going to have a country anymore.”
As the insurrectionists were storming the Capitol, lawmakers’ pleas for Trump’s help in quelling the attack went unanswered for hours. Instead, Trump tweeted, “These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long.”
It wasn’t until hours later, perhaps worried about legal consequences, that Trump finally posted a video half-heartedly calling for peace, in which he told the insurrectionists, “We love you. You’re very special.”
Trump put members of Congress, U.S. Capitol Police officers, and his own vice president in harm’s way. Five people died, dozens were injured, and many more suffered the trauma of fearing for their lives.
He tarnished our democracy.
Yet to our dismay, a majority of Senate Republicans have voiced concerns about the constitutionality of holding the impeachment trial after Trump has left office, raising the possibility that senators will abandon their duty to act as a check on the president.
The constitutionality of this impeachment trial should not be a question. As the Congressional Research Service noted, most legal scholars who have assessed this issue agree that the framers of the Constitution intended for Congress to be able to impeach former officials. There’s even precedent: More than a century ago, the Senate held an impeachment trial for a former secretary of war over his conduct while in office.
Given this, it’s hard to view claims that the trial is illegal as good-faith arguments, rather than attempts to avoid making a hard decision.
And it’s hard to swallow when the president’s actions were so egregious. Such grave abuses of power must trigger serious consequences.
Senators on both sides of the aisle need to step up and fulfill their duty to act as a check on the president. They must review the evidence, hear testimony from witnesses, and then make a decision based on the facts. If senators truly believe that attempts to overturn an election and spark an insurrection have no place in our democracy, then they need to act. The impeachment trial is the best path forward.