Many members of Congress have had a great few years in Washington. When you’re in the majority party, you have the joy of bigger offices and many extra side benefits, and have the ability to bring numerous grants and benefits home to your constituents. It’s not a bad job, but sooner or later you have to cast some tough votes that may decide whether you’ll be re-elected.
The moment of truth is fast approaching for Democratic lawmakers who will have to decide whether to vote to impeach President Trump. There will be little or no hand-wringing on the part of any Republican House or Senate members. Many fear a party primary challenge from the conservative wing, so they’re prepared to die for the president. Others are party loyalists.
I must confess that I don’t envy any lawmaker who must take a controversial vote on any issue. I was a State Assembly member for 23 years, and during that time I had to make many choices that were unpopular with some of my constituents. Women’s reproductive rights, increasing taxes and the death penalty were just a few of those tough votes during very conservative times. Any of those votes could have ended my career in the Assembly, but my oath of office came first.
A vote to impeach Trump might end a few congressional careers, but allowing his conduct to go unpunished would be a signal that he is free to ignore the Constitution and to continue to turn the office of president into a hollow shell. Trump’s defenders say the impeachment effort is an attempt to subvert the results of the 2016 election. But winning an election isn’t a free pass to do anything you want for the rest of your term. Trump’s idea that he could shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue and get away with it is his idea of what the Constitution allows him to do.
Encouraging a foreign government to interfere in our politics in order to facilitate his re-election isn’t protected by any clause in the Constitution. Threatening witnesses who appear before Congress is a crime. Ignoring subpoenas from Congress, and silencing government officials who are required to testify, are violations of law. Fighting court orders to turn over your tax returns and records of hush-money payments isn’t protected by any law.
The country hasn’t been the same since Jan. 20, 2017, the day Trump was inaugurated. Unemployment may be at its lowest level in years, and the stock market may be booming, but are those the only measures of whether America is a better place? Did the country give its consent to the administration to fight against laws that guarantee 20 million people access to health care? Did voters consent to allow the president to wipe out hundreds of environmental protections so that a few industries can profit by polluting our air and water?
I don’t recall the majority of voters instructing the president that women who have abortions should be subjected to criminal penalties. And there were no words in the oath of office Trump took allowing him to encourage the growth of white supremacy. How about the dramatic increase in anti-Semitic incidents over the past three years? Are they just an accident?
It’s true that a number of these arguments are far outside the scope of the anticipated articles of impeachment. There will be more than enough substance to those charges that they won’t need to be embellished. In the end, the members of Congress who vote for impeachment will have decided what kind of president they want to lead us.
The Senate may vote for more of the same in the White House. Yes, some in the House of Representatives — and perhaps even a few in the Senate — may cast career-ending votes, but no true public official should take the oath of office and leave their conscience outside the Capitol.
Jerry Kremer was a state assemblyman for 23 years, and chaired the Assembly’s Ways and Means Committee for 12 years. He now heads Empire Government Strategies, a business development and legislative strategy firm. Comments about this column? JKremer@liherald.com.