Schumer Delivers Speech On Senate Floor Ahead Of Vote On Articles Of ImpeachmentFebruary 5, 2020
Washington D.C. – Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) delivered a floor speech ahead of the Senate vote on two articles of impeachment of President Donald J. Trump. Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:
The Articles of Impeachment before us charge President Donald John Trump with offenses against the Constitution and the American people.
The first article of impeachment charges that President Trump abused the office of the presidency by soliciting the interference of a foreign power—Ukraine— to benefit himself in the 2020 election.
The president asked a foreign leader to “do us a favor” – “us” meaning him – and investigate his political opponents. In order to elicit these political investigations, President Trump withheld a White House meeting and hundreds of millions of dollars in military assistance from an ally at war with Russia. There’s extensive documentation in the record proving this quid pro quo – and the corrupt motive behind it.
The facts are not seriously in dispute. In fact, several Republican Senators admitted they believe the president committed this offense, with varying degrees of opprobrium: “inappropriate,” “wrong,” “shameful.” Almost all Republicans will argue, however, that this reprehensible conduct does not rise to the level of an impeachable offense.
The founders could not have been clearer. William Davie, a delegate to the Constitutional Convention, deemed impeachment “an essential security” lest the president “spare no efforts or means whatever to get himself re-elected.” James Madison offered a specific list of impeachable offenses during the debate in Independence hall. A president might lose his capacity or embezzle public funds. A despicable soul might succumb to bribes while in office. Madison then arrived at what he believed was the worst conduct a president could engage in: the president could “betray his trust to foreign powers,” which would be “fatal to the Republic.”
When I studied the Constitution and the federalist papers in high school, admittedly, I was skeptical of George Washington’s warning that “foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of republican government.” It seemed so farfetched. Who would dare? But the foresight and wisdom of the founders endures. Madison was right. Washington was right. There is no greater subversion of our democracy than for powers outside of our borders to determine the elections within them. If Americans believe that that they don’t determine their senator, their governor, their president, but rather some foreign potentate does, that’s the beginning of the end of democracy.
For a foreign country to attempt such a thing on its own is contemptible. For an American president to deliberately solicit such a thing—to blackmail a foreign country into helping him win an election—is unforgivable. Does this rise to the level of an impeachable offense? Of course it does. Of course it does.
The term “high crimes” derives from English law. “Crimes” were committed between subjects of the monarchy. “High crimes” were crimes committed against the Crown itself. The framers did not design a monarchy; they designed a democracy, a nation where the People were King. “High crimes” are those committed against the entire people of the United States.
This president sought to cheat the people out of a free and fair election. How could such an offense not be deemed a “high crime”—a crime against the people? As one constitutional scholars in the House Judiciary hearings testified: “if this is not impeachable, then nothing is.”
I agree. I judge that President Trump is guilty of the first article of impeachment.
The second article of impeachment is equally straightforward. Once the president realized he got caught, he tried to cover it up. The president asserted blanket immunity. He categorically defied Congressional subpoenas, ordered his aides not to testify, and withheld the production of relevant documents.
Even President Nixon—author of the most infamous presidential cover-up in history—permitted his aides to testify in Congress in the Watergate investigation.
The idea that the Trump administration was properly invoking the various rights and privileges of the presidency is nonsense. At each stage of the House inquiry, the administration conjured a different bad-faith justification for evading accountability. There is no circumstance under which the Administration would have complied. When I asked the president’s counsel—twice—to name one document or one witness the president provided to Congress, they could not answer. It cannot be that the president, by dint of legal shamelessness, can escape scrutiny entirely.
Once again, the facts are not in dispute. But some have sought to portray the second article of impeachment as somehow less important than the first. It is not.
The second article of impeachment is necessary if Congress is ever to hold a president accountable again, Democrat or Republican. The consequences of sanctioning such categorical obstruction of Congress will be far-reaching and they will be irreparable.
I judge that President Trump is guilty of the second article of impeachment.
The Senate should convict President Trump, remove him from the presidency, and disqualify him from holding future office.
The guilt of the president on these charges is so obvious that, here again, several Republican Senators admit the House has proved its case. So instead of maintaining the president’s innocence, the president’s counsel ultimately told the Senate that even if the president did what he was accused of, it’s not impeachable.
This has taken the form of an escalating series of Dershowitzian arguments, including: Abuse of power is not an impeachable offense; the president can’t be impeached for non-criminal conduct, but also can’t be indicted for criminal conduct; if a president believes his own re-election is essential to the nation, then a quid pro quo is not corrupt. These are the excuses of a child caught in a lie, each explanation more outlandish and desperate than the last. It would be laughable if not for the fact that the cumulative effect of these arguments would render not just this president, but all presidents, immune from impeachment – and therefore above the law.
Several members of this chamber said that even if the president is guilty, and even if it’s impeachable, the Senate still shouldn’t convict the president because there’s an election coming up, as if the framers forgot about elections when they wrote the impeachment clause. If the founders believed that even when the president is guilty of an impeachable offense that the next election should decide his fate, they never would’ve included an impeachment clause in the Constitution. That much is obvious.
Alone, each of the defenses advanced by the president’s counsel comes close to being preposterous. Together, they are as dangerous to the Republic as this president, a fig leaf so large as to excuse any presidential misconduct. Unable to defend this president, arguments were found to make him a king. Let future generations know that only a fraction of the Senate swallowed these fantasies. The rest of us condemn them to the ash heap of history and the derision of first-year law students everywhere.
We are only the third Senate in our history sit as a court of impeachment for a president. The task we were given was not easy. But the framers gave the Senate this responsibility because they could not imagine any other body capable of it. They considered others, but they entrusted it to us.
And the Senate failed.
The Republican caucus trained its outrage not on the conduct of the president but on the impeachment process in the House, deriding—falsely—an alleged lack fairness and thoroughness. The conjured outrage was so blinding that the Republican majority ended up guilty of the very sins it falsely accused the House of committing. It conducted the least fair, least thorough, most rushed impeachment trial in the history of this country.
A simple majority of Senators denied the Senate’s right to examine relevant evidence, call witnesses, review documents, and properly try the impeachment of the president—making this the first impeachment trial in history of this country that heard from no witnesses. A simple majority of Senators, in deference to—and most likely in fear of—the president of their party, perpetrated a great miscarriage of justice in the trial of President Trump.
As a result, the verdict of this kangaroo court will be meaningless. By refusing the facts – by refusing witnesses and documents – the Republican majority has placed a giant asterisk, the asterisk of a sham trial, next to the acquittal of President Trump, written in permanent ink. Acquittal in an unfair trial – with this giant asterisk, the asterisk of a sham trial – is worth nothing at all, to President Trump or anybody else.
No doubt the president will boast that he received total exoneration. But we know better. We know this wasn’t a trial by any stretch of the definition. And the American people know it too.
We’ve heard a lot about the framers over the past several weeks. About the impeachment clause they forged, the separation of powers they wrought, the conduct they most feared in our chief magistrate. But there is something the founders considered even more fundamental to our Republic: Truth.
The founders had seen and studied societies governed by the iron fist of tyrants and the divine right of kings, but none by argument, rational thinking, facts and debate. Hamilton said the American people would determine “whether societies are really capable of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or…forever destined to depend on accident and force.”
And what an astonishing thing the founders did. They placed a bet with long odds. They believed that “reflection and choice” would make us capable of self-government; that we wouldn’t agree on everything but could at least agree on a common baseline of facts. They wrote a constitution with the remarkable idea that even the most powerful person in our country was not above the law and could be put on trial. A trial—a place where you seek the truth.
The faith our founders placed in us makes the failure of this Senate even more damning.
Our nation was founded on the idea of Truth, but there was no truth here. The Republican majority couldn’t let the truth into this trial. The Republican majority refused to get the evidence because they were afraid of what it might show.
Our nation was founded on the idea of truth, but in order to countenance this president, you have to ignore the truth. Republicans walk through the halls with their heads down. They didn’t see the tweet. They can’t respond to everything he says. They hope he learned his lesson this time. Yes, maybe this time, he learned his lesson.
Our nation was founded on the idea of truth, but in order to excuse this president, you have to willfully ignore the truth, to indulge the president’s conspiracy theories: Millions of people voted illegally! The deep state is out to get him! Ukraine interfered in our elections!
You must attempt to normalize his behavior. Obama did it too, they falsely claim. Democrats are just as bad.
Our nation was founded on the idea of truth, but this president is such a menace, so contemptuous of every virtue, so dishonorable, so dishonest, that you must ignore—indeed sacrifice—the truth to maintain his favor.
The trial of this President—its failure—reflects the central challenge of this presidency and maybe the central challenge of this time in our democracy.
You cannot be on the side of this president and be on the side of truth. And if we are to survive as a nation, we must choose the truth. Because if the truth doesn’t matter, if the news you don’t like is “fake,” if cheating in an election is acceptable, if everyone is as wicked as the wickedest among us, then hope for the future is lost.
The eyes of the nation are upon this Senate, and what they see would strike doubt in the heart of even the most ardent patriot. The House managers established that the president abused the great power of his office to try to cheat in an election, and the Senate majority is poised to look the other way.
So I direct my final message not to the House managers or the president’s counsel or even my fellow Senators, but to the American people. My message is simple: don’t lose hope. There is justice in this world, and truth, and right. I believe that. I wouldn’t be in government if I didn’t. Somehow, in ways we can’t predict, with God’s mysterious hand guiding us, truth and right will prevail.
There have been dark periods in our history, but we always overcome. The Senate’s opening prayer yesterday was Amos 5:24, “let justice roll down like water, righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” The long arc of the moral universe does bend towards justice. America does change for the better, but not on its own.
It took millions of Americans hundreds of years to make this country what it is today: Americans of every age and color and creed who marched and protested, who stood up and sat in; Americans who died defending democracy in its darkest hours.
On Memorial Day in 1884, Oliver Wendell Holmes told his war-weary audience that “whether [one] accepts from Fortune her spade, and will look downward and dig, or from Aspiration her axe and cord, and will scale the ice, the one and only success which it is [yours] to command is to bring to [your] work a mighty heart.”
I have confidence that Americans of a different generation, our generation, will bring to our work a mighty heart—to fight for what’s right, to fight for the truth, and never lose faith.