Opinion|Steny Hoyer: I Understand Party Loyalty. I’ve Never Seen Anything Like This.
When the framers of our Constitution laid out the process of impeachment in 1787, they could hardly imagine the circumstances that brought us to this week’s vote in the House. With the combination of a telephone call soliciting foreign interference in our election, the hiding of that call’s summary on a special computer server and a barrage of presidential tweets denying any quid pro quo, it’s easy to imagine Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay scratching their heads.
The underlying issue of this 21st-century scandal is exactly what these 18th-century American revolutionaries feared the most: that a president, indifferent to the rule of law, would put himself before the country, seeking personal gain rather than the nation’s best interests.
The facts in this matter are not in question. President Donald Trump called the president of Ukraine on July 25 and asked him to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, using critical military assistance and a coveted White House meeting as leverage.
He put his own interests before those of the country and did so at the expense of our national security and the integrity of our elections. When he got caught, he refused to comply with the subpoenas of congressional investigators and ordered a blanket ban on White House officials’ testifying.
The president’s Republican defenders in the House and Senate know that the facts are not on their side. They continue to pound on the table and have contorted themselves with arguments about process. They insist that the matter of ignored subpoenas and withheld documents ought to be litigated in court for months, during which time the president would have ample time to continue violating the law by seeking foreign help for his re-election. They ignore his pattern of obstructing Congress and how he places himself shamelessly above the law.
I understand party loyalty. It’s what enables our two-party system to function. But in my 38 years representing Maryland in Congress, I never thought I’d see this system break down to the extent that one party is willing to sacrifice its duty to the Constitution and to the country for the sake of defending its president.
Party loyalty has its place, but partisanship must have its limit. When representatives and senators are asked to defend the very structures of our republican form of government, loyalty to party must yield to a higher obligation.
That is why I will cast my first-ever vote to impeach a president, something I hoped I would never have to do. I will vote to hold this president accountable to the Constitution we both swore to defend. And I will vote to ensure that no future president, Republican or Democrat, can repeat such abuses without consequence.
Democrats did not rush to this conclusion. We were reluctant to wield a tool that the framers intended to be the last line of defense against tyranny without a clear case of impeachable offenses. Democrats rejected moving forward with articles of impeachment against President Trump in three separate votes, in December 2017, January 2018 and July 2019.
While we have had strong disagreements with the Trump administration on policy and have been deeply alarmed by this president’s acts of wrongdoing, we pursued an impeachment inquiry this September only after his effort to solicit Ukrainian interference in the 2020 election came to light.
Now the case for impeachment is clear. In his willingness to abuse his power, President Trump disregarded the rule of law. Many Democrats will cast difficult and courageous votes, earning themselves a place among those President John Kennedy celebrated in “Profiles of Courage.”
Republicans of courage and conscience ought to join them.
If House Republicans vote as expected, they will fail to put country first and hold the president accountable. The framers would be the first to remind us that impeachment is an assessment not only of a president’s commitment to the Constitution, but also of our own.
Each representative and senator must answer the same question: Will we allow a president — any president — to hold himself or herself above the law?
Senators, when they undertake their role as jurors, take an oath to “do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws.” If the House approves these articles of impeachment today, I urge senators to approach their coming trial with true impartiality, not as Democrats or Republicans, but together as Americans first.
If the Senate abdicates Congress’s power to impeach — or fails even to hold a serious trial — history will remember those senators for their failure to set party aside to preserve the rule of law.
There is still a chance for Republicans to summon the courage this moment demands. Not to do so would diminish our democracy and imperil the future of our republic.