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McConnell’s Final Reflections on Impeachment: It “Should Never Have Come to the Senate Like This”

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) delivered the following remarks today on the Senate floor regarding impeachment:

‘It has been one week since the Senate concluded the third presidential trial in American history. Things move quickly in Washington, as always, and so it is natural that our focus is shifting to the many policy subjects where we have more work to do for families across this country.

‘But when the Senate acts, we do not only address the particular issue before us. We create lasting precedent. That is especially true during something as grave and uncommon as an impeachment trial.

‘Just as citizens, scholars, and Senators ourselves studied the past precedents of 1868 and 1999, so will future generations examine what unfolded over the last few months.

‘So before we adjourn for the upcoming state work period and leave impeachment fully in the rear-view mirror, I wanted to speak about it one more time. Not about the particulars that have been so exhaustively discussed and debated, but the deeper questions.

‘To record some final observations for the future.

‘The Senate did its job. We protected the long-term future of our Republic. We kept the temporary fires of factionalism from burning through to the bedrock of our institutions. We acted as Madison wished: as an “impediment” against “improper acts.” The Framers’ firewall held the line.

‘But in this case, all is not well that ends well. We cannot forget the abuses that fueled this process. We cannot make light of the dangerous new precedents set by President Trump’s opponents in their zeal to impeach at all costs. We need to remember what happened — so we can avoid it ever happening again.

‘As we know, the left-wing drive to impeach President Trump predated any phone call to Ukraine — and, in fact, his inauguration. This isn’t a Republican talking point; it’s what was reported by outlets like Politico and the Washington Post. House Democrats barely tried to hide that they began with a guilty verdict and were simply shopping for a suitable crime.

‘So unfortunately, it was predictable that the House majority would use the serious process of impeachment as a platform to politically attack the President. It was less predictable that they’d also attack our nation’s core institutions themselves.

‘But that’s what happened.

‘First, the House Democrats chose to degrade their body’s own precedents. The majority sprinted through a slapdash investigation to meet arbitrary political deadlines. They trivialized the role of the House Judiciary Committee, the body traditionally charged with conducting impeachment inquiries. They sidelined their own Republican minority colleagues and the President’s counsel to precedent-breaking degrees.

‘All this was very regrettable.

‘But from a purely practical perspective, breaking the House’s own china was Speaker Pelosi’s prerogative. What was truly outrageous is what came next: A rolling attack on the other institutions outside the House.

‘To begin with, the recklessly broad articles of impeachment were an attack not just on one President, but on the office of the presidency.

‘Their first article criticized the alleged motivation behind a presidential action, but failed to frame their complaint as a definable “High Crime [or] Misdemeanor.”

‘This House set out into uncharted constitution waters by passing the first-ever presidential impeachment that did not allege any violations of criminal statutes.

‘Clearly, they owed the Senate and the country a clear limiting principle, to explain why removal on these new grounds would be different from the malleable and subjective “maladministration” standard which the Framers rejected as a ground for impeachment. But they offered no such thing.

‘And their second article sought to criminalize the normal and routine exercise of executive privileges that presidents of both parties have rightly invoked throughout our history. This was, in effect, criminalizing the separation of powers itself.

‘So the House’s articles would have sharply diminished the presidency in our constitutional structure. To extract a pound of flesh from one particular president, House Democrats were willing to attack the office itself.

‘But it did not stop with the House and the presidency. Next in the crosshairs came the Senate.

‘The very night the House passed the articles, the Speaker began an unprecedented effort to reach outside her own chamber and dictate the contours of the Senate trial to Senators. The bizarre stunt of withholding the articles achieved nothing, but the irony was enormous.

‘The House had just spent weeks jealously guarding their “sole power” of impeachment and criticizing other branches for perceived interference. Indeed, this reasoning was the entire basis for their second article of impeachment. But their first act out of the gate was to try to bust constitutional guardrails and meddle in the Senate.

‘When that stunt went nowhere and the trial began, House Democrats brought their war on institutions to this chamber. From the first evening, it was clear the House Managers would not even try to persuade a supermajority of Senators, but simply sought to degrade and smear the Senate itself before the nation.

‘Senators were called “treacherous” for not structuring our proceedings to the Managers’ liking.

‘Finally, when the trial neared its end, and it became clear that bullying the Senate would not substitute for persuading it, the campaign against institutions took aim at yet another independent branch:

‘The Supreme Court, in particular the Chief Justice of the United States. A far-left pressure group produced ads impugning him for presiding neutrally and not seizing control of the Senate. One Democratic Senator running for president made the Chief Justice read a pointless question gainsaying his own “legitimacy.”

‘So in summary, the opponents of this President were willing to throw mud at the House, the presidency, the Senate, and the Supreme Court — all for the sake of short-term partisan politics.

‘The irony would be rich if it were less sad. For years, this president’s opponents have sought to cloak their rage in the high-minded trappings of institutionalism. This president’s opponents profess great concern for the norms and institutions of our government.

‘But when it really counted — when the rubber met the road — that talk proved cheap. It was they who proved willing to degrade public confidence in our government. It was they who indulged political bloodlust at the expense of our institutions.

‘Reckless insinuations that our 2016 election was not legitimate…

‘Further insinuations — right here on this floor — that if the American people re-elect this president in 2020, that result will be presumptively illegitimate as well…

‘Bizarre statements from the Speaker of the House that she may simply deny reality and refuse to accept the Senate’s verdict as final…

‘There has been much discussion about the foreign adversaries who seek to reduce the American people’s faith in our democracy and cause chaos and division in this country. Rightly so. But we must also demand that our own political leaders exercise some self-restraint and not do the work of our adversaries for them.

‘The critics of our Constitution often say that because our Framers could not have imagined modern conditions, their work is outmoded. We hear that the First Amendment or the Second Amendment or the separation of powers must be changed to suit the times.

‘But the geniuses who founded this nation were actually very prescient. Case in point: The reckless partisan crusade of recent weeks is something they predicted more than two centuries ago. Hamilton predicted “the demon of faction will, at certain seasons, extend his scepter” over the House of Representatives.

‘He predicted that partisan anger could produce “an intemperate or designing majority in the House of Representatives,” capable of destroying the separation of powers if left unchecked.

‘The Framers predicted overheated House majorities might lash out at their peer institutions, and display, quote, “strong symptoms of impatience and disgust at the least sign of opposition from any other quarter; as if the exercise [of] rights, by either the executive or judiciary, were a breach of their privilege and an outrage to their dignity.” They knew the popular legislature might be “disposed to exert an imperious control over the other departments.”

‘They predicted all of this.

‘So they did something about it. They set up a firewall. They built the Senate.

‘This body performed admirably these past weeks. We did precisely the job we were made for.

‘But impeachment should never have come to the Senate like this.

‘This most serious constitutional tool should never have been used so lightly, as a political weapon of first resort. As a tool to lash out at the basic bedrock of our institutions because one side did not get their way.

‘It should never have happened. And it should never happen again.’

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