Schumer Remarks On The House Of Representatives’ Impeachment Of President Trump And The Need For A Fair And Honest Trial In The Senate

December 19, 2019

Washington, D.C. – Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer today spoke on the Senate floor calling for a fair and honest trial in the Senate following the House approval of two Articles of Impeachment against President Donald J. Trump. Below are Senator Schumer’s remarks, which can also be viewed here:

Last night, the House of Representatives voted to impeach President Donald Trump. It is only the third time in our nation’s history that the President of the United States has been impeached.

The articles of impeachment charge that President Trump abused the powers of his office by soliciting the interference of a foreign power in our elections, not for the good of the country, but to benefit himself personally. The articles also charge that the president obstructed Congress in the investigation of those matters. Together, these articles suggest the president committed a grave injury to our grand democracy; the conduct they describe is very much what the founders feared when they forged the impeachment powers of the Congress.

The founders, in their wisdom, gave the House the power to accuse, the Senate the power to judge. We are now asked to fulfill our constitutional role as a court of impeachment. Now that the House of Representatives has impeached President Trump, the nation turns its eyes to the Senate.

What will the nation see? Will the nation see what Alexander Hamilton saw, a body of government with “confidence enough…to preserve, unawed and uninfluenced, the necessary impartiality?” Or will the nation see the Senate dragged into the depths of partisan fervor?

The nation just witnessed how the Republican Leader sees his role in this chapter of our history—demonstrating both an unfortunate descent into partisanship and demonstrating the fundamental weakness of the president’s defense.

Leader McConnell claimed that the impeachment of President Trump is illegitimate because the House voted along party lines. Forgive me: but House Democrats cannot be held responsible for the cravenness of the House Republican caucus and their blind fealty to the president.

Leader McConnell claimed the impeachment was motivated by partisan rage. This from the man who said proudly, “I am not impartial. I have no intention to be impartial at all” in the trial of President Trump. What hypocrisy.

Leader McConnell accused the House Democrats of an obsession to get rid of President Trump. This, from the man who proudly declared his “number one goal” was to make President Obama a one-term president.

Leader McConnell claimed that Democrats impeached the president for asserting executive privilege. President Trump never formally claimed executive privilege; he claimed “absolute immunity” and the White House counsel wrote a letter stating that the administration would not comply with any subpoenas.

Leader McConnell claimed that the Democrats' “obsession” with impeachment has prevented the House from pursuing legislation to help the American people. Leader McConnell knows very, very well that the House Democratic majority has passed hundreds—literally hundreds—of bills that gather dust here in the Senate, condemned to a legislative graveyard by none other than Leader McConnell himself who proudly called himself the grim reaper.

Members of the 116th Senate have been denied the opportunity to legislate by Leader McConnell. We aren’t even allowed to debate the issues that would impact the American people: health care, infrastructure, prescription drugs. We could have spent the year debating these issues, we weren’t doing impeachment. Leader McConnell has chosen not to focus on these issues and to put none of these bills on the floor. As he reminds us often: he alone decides what goes on the floor.

Leader McConnell claimed that the House did not afford the president due process. The Leader knows well that President Trump refused to participate in the process, despite invitation, and blocked witnesses and documents from Congress in unprecedented fashion.

Leader McConnell claimed that the House ran the “most rushed, least thorough, and most unfair impeachment inquiry in modern history.” I know that that’s the Republican talking point, but here’s the reality: Leader McConnell is plotting the most rushed, least thorough, and most unfair impeachment trial in modern history.

His plan to prevent House Managers from calling witnesses to prove their case is a dramatic break from precedent. We heard a lot about precedent from the leader. Never has there been a presidential impeachment trial in which the Majority prevented the House Managers from fairly presenting their case--to have witnesses explain their knowledge of the alleged malfeasance. Will Leader McConnell, breaking precedent, strong-arm his caucus into making this the first Senate impeachment trial of a president in history that heard no, no witnesses?

We ask, is the president’s case so weak that none of the president’s men can defend him under oath?

Is the president’s case so weak that none of the president’s men can defend him under oath?

If the House’s case is so weak, why is Leader McConnell so afraid of witnesses and documents? We believe the House’s case is strong, very strong…but if the Republican leader believes it’s so weak, why is he so afraid of relevant witnesses and documents (which will not prolong things very long in our proposal, four hours for each witness)?

It is true, as the Leader has said, that the framers built the Senate to provide stability and to keep partisan passions from boiling over. However, their vision of the Senate is a far cry from the partisan body Sen. McConnell has created.

I hope America was watching the Republican leader deliver his speech. I truly do. Because most glaring of all, was the fact that Leader McConnell’s thirty-minute partisan stem-winder contained hardly a single defense of the President of the United States on the merits. Almost none defended President Trump because they can’t.

In the wake of an enormous amount of evidence uncovered by House investigators—much of it in the form of testimony by top Trump officials whom the administration tried to silence—the Republican Leader could not rebut the accusations against the president with facts.

The Republican Leader complained about the process. The Republican Leader made many partisan and inflammatory accusations about Democrats. But he did not advance an argument in defense of the president’s conduct on the merits. That, in and of itself, is a damning reflection of the state of the president’s defense.

Our goal in the Senate—above all—should be to conduct a “fair and speedy” trial. I have proposed a very reasonable structure that would do just that.

Four witnesses—only those with direct knowledge of the charges made by the House, only those who could provide new, relevant, and potentially illuminating testimony. Strict time limits on each stage of the process to prevent the trial from dragging out too long. It is eminently reasonable; it is eminently fair. A group who had no partisan bias would come up with this type of proposal.

I have yet to hear one good argument why less evidence is better than more evidence, particularly in such a serious moment as impeachment of the President of the United States. In Leader McConnell’s thirty-minute screed, he did not make one argument why the witnesses and documents should not be part of the trial.

President Trump protests that he did not receive due process in the House impeachment inquiry. Due process is the ability to respond to charges made against you and present your side of the case. The president was invited to provide witnesses and provide documents at every stage of the process, he chose not to.

Still, Democrats are offering the president due process again here in the Senate. The witnesses we suggest are top Trump-appointed officials. They aren’t Democrats. We don’t know if their testimony would exculpate the president or incriminate him, but their testimony should be heard. If the president’s counsel wants to call other witnesses with direct knowledge of why the aid to Ukraine was delayed, we say they should be able to.

President Trump claims he wants due process. I suspect he would rather hide or name-call…because if he really wanted due process, he could get it easily. One phone call to Leader McConnell telling him to let his aides testify. One phone call to his Chief of Staff telling him to release the documents to Congress. Both of those actions would let the truth come out.

I ask again: Can none of the president’s men come defend him under oath?

To my Republican colleagues: our message is a simple one. Democrats want a fair trial that examines the relevant facts. We want a fair trial. The message from Leader McConnell, at the moment, is that he has no intention of conducting a fair trial, no intention of acting impartially, no intention of getting the facts.

Despite our disagreements, I will meet with Leader McConnell soon to discuss the rules. But each Senator will influence whether the Senate lives up to its constitutional duty to serve as an impartial court of impeachment.

In the coming weeks, Republican Senators will face a choice, each Republican Senator will face a choice: Do they want a fair trial? Or do they want to allow the president free reign? Each Senator must ask him or herself: Do you want a fair trial? Or do you want the President to do whatever he wants, regardless of rule of law, regardless of the consequences to this great nation?

The nation turns its eyes to the Senate. What will it see?

The President of the United States has spent the past several months telling Congress it has no right to oversight; no right to investigate any of his activities; that he has absolute immunity. That Article II of the Constitution gives him the “right to do whatever [he] wants.” That’s the president’s words. Past Senates have disagreed with such views and strongly, proudly stood up for the notion that the president is not omnipotent. Democrats have done it, Republicans have done it, often to presidents of their own party. The Senate has said in the past that the president serves the people, not himself. That he is not a king. Will it do so again? Or will it shirk from that responsibility?

If the Republicans proceed with the Majority Leader’s scheme to sweep these charges under the rug and permit the president to ignore Congress, they will be creating a new precedent that will long be remembered as one of the Senate’s darkest chapters. It will be remembered as the time when a simple majority in the Senate sought to grant two new rights to the president: the right to use the government for personal purposes; and the right to ignore Congress at his pleasure.

Here I agree with Senator McConnell. As he said, “moments like this are why the Senate exists.”

If the president commits high crimes and misdemeanors and the Congress can do nothing about it, not even conduct a fair tribunal where his conduct is judged by dispassionate representatives of the people, then the presidents can commit those crimes with impunity. This president can, others can. I have little doubt that if we tell the president that he can escape scrutiny in this instance, he will do it again, and again, and again. Future presidents will take note, and may do worse. And the most powerful check on the executive, the one designed to protect the people from tyranny, will be erased.

This chapter in our history books could be a lesson about the erosion of checks of balances in our modern age, or it could be a proud reaffirmation of those founding principles. This chapter in our history books could be about the overpowering partisanship of our times, or it could be about the Senate’s capacity to overcome it.

Again, moments like this are why the United States Senate exists.