In defecting from the Republican pack to support the impeachment of Donald Trump, Utah Sen. Mitt Romney gave what will be remembered as one of the most important speeches in U.S. history. It is a speech that will forever affix itself to the tarnished legacy of this corrupt president.
“The president asked a foreign government to investigate his political rival,” Romney declared from the Senate floor, shortly before that body voted along otherwise party lines to acquit Trump of the charges against him.
“The president withheld vital military funds from that government to press it to do so. The president delayed funds for an American ally at war with Russian invaders. The president’s purpose was personal and political. Accordingly, the president is guilty of an appalling abuse of public trust.”
Other Republican senators have also acknowledged Trump’s wrongdoing, while insisting that it did not rise to the level of an impeachable offense.
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said the charges against the president were “proven,” adding that it was “inappropriate for the president to ask a foreign leader to investigate his political opponent and to withhold United States aid to encourage that investigation.”
The experiences of Jimmy Carter and George Bush are a reminder that the nine months from now to Election Day are a political lifetime, columnist Carl Leubsdorf says.
Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) said Trump’s call asking the president of Ukraine to investigate a potential political rival was “wrong and inappropriate.” Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) also pegged Trump’s actions as “inappropriate.” And Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Ala.) called Trump’s behavior “shameful and wrong.”
But only Romney had the courage to hold the president accountable, supporting the charge that Trump abused his power and calling for his removal from office.
“I knew from the outset that being tasked with judging the president, the leader of my own party, would be the most difficult decision I have ever faced,” Romney told his Senate colleagues, after becoming momentarily choked up. “I was not wrong.”
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Romney, the Republican Party’s nominee for president in 2012, said there was “no question in my mind” that Trump was engaged in a “political pursuit” against former Vice President Joe Biden, a leading contender for the Democratic presidential nomination. He agreed that Trump had “committed an act so extreme and egregious that it rises to the level of a high crime and misdemeanor.”
In the end, the fires of the American Experiment were extinguished by a crude demagogue and the power of his mean tweets, columnist Will Bunch says.
Trump’s actions, Romney said, amounted to “a flagrant assault on our electoral rights, our national security and our fundamental values. Corrupting an election to keep oneself in office is perhaps the most abusive and destructive violation of one’s oath of office that I can imagine.”
Romney said he found it impossible to “ignore the evidence” and “disregard” his oath to defend the Constitution “for the sake of a partisan end,” saying that this would “expose my character to history’s rebuke and the censure of my own conscience.”
No matter the verdict, Ukraine has become the symbol of Trump's worst authoritarian impulses both at home and in foreign policy, columnist Trudy Rubin says.
Trump and his allies, predictably, are lashing out at Romney.
Trump dismissed him on Twitter as a “failed presidential candidate” now caught up in the throes of sanctimony, while the president’s grifter son, Donald Trump Jr., declared on Twitter that Romney is “now officially a member of the resistance & should be expelled from the @GOP.”
Such attacks will of course continue, but so will expressions of respect and appreciation for Romney’s solitary act of courage in an era of partisan pusillanimity.
Where other members of his party capitulated to fear of Trump’s wrath and the low ethic of party loyalty, Romney acted in accordance with his conscience.
He has, among his GOP colleagues in Congress, placed himself on the right side of history. For that, he emerges from this disgusting period of American history as an authentic hero.
Bill Lueders is editor of The Progressive. This column was produced for the Progressive Media Project and distributed by Tribune News Service.