Trump Pence at Capitol
Credit: The White House/Flickr

Members of the Senate are about to cast the two most important votes of their political careers. The first, whether to call witnesses like John Bolton to testify in the Senate trial, will come on Friday.

As I noted previously, Republicans have placed themselves between a rock and a hard place on this vote by defending the most corrupt president in our country’s history. If they vote to call witnesses, they not only make it more difficult to exonerate Trump, they open the door to forcing other members of the administration to testify under oath. But if they vote to exclude witnesses, they face the very real possibility of having exonerated the president as more damning evidence surfaces in the lead-up to the 2020 election.

When evaluating these options, several of the Republicans who are up for re-election in November have come down on the side of excluding witnesses.

Sens. Cory Gardner of Colorado, Martha McSally of Arizona and Thom Tillis of North Carolina, who face competitive races in the fall, addressed their colleagues in the meeting, people familiar with the matter said. Mr. Gardner said a longer trial would lead to more Democratic attacks, according to a spokesman, and Mr. Tillis called impeachment a sham.

These Republicans know that voting to exclude witnesses could hurt them with some voters in the swing states they represent. But voting to hear from people like John Bolton ensures their defeat, as Carl Hulse explains.

Nearly all of the politically vulnerable Senate Republicans up for re-election in November have embraced their party’s strategy. They have made it clear that they favor taking their chances defending their votes against witnesses over trying to explain to voters loyal to Mr. Trump why they backed broadening an investigation into a president who is very popular with the Republican electorate.

The vote on Friday about whether to call witnesses will soon be eclipsed by a vote on whether or not to remove Trump from office. The connection between the two, however, is obvious. The senators who will say “no” to witnesses want to exonerate the president as quickly as possible. They will then face voters in nine months and learn whether or not that was enough to keep them in office.

But as Ryan Goodman points out, that isn’t the end of it. Whether they win or lose their bid for re-election, these votes will determine their legacy. Goodman reviewed the obituaries of the seventeen Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee who voted on the impeachment articles brought against Richard Nixon.

Regardless of whether the congressmen voted for or against the articles of impeachment, their legacies were largely defined by this one moment. So much so that newspapers titled their obituaries with reference to this vote:

“Former Rep. Joseph Maraziti, 78, Defender of Nixon on Watergate”

“Wiley Mayne; House GOP Member Who Voted Not to Impeach Nixon”

“Sandman, Nixon Supporter, Dies”

“Lawrence J. Hogan Sr., Md. Republican Who Called for Nixon’s impeachment, Dies at 88”

“M. Caldwell Butler, a Key Vote Against Nixon, Dies at 89”

“R. McClory; Backed Nixon’s Impeachment”

“Thomas Railsback, Congressman Who Broke with GOP to Back Nixon Impeachment, Dies.”

“Charles Wiggins, 72, Dies; Led Nixon’s Defense in Hearings”

Goodman also points out that, “if the reference is not made in the obituary’s headline, it still appears as a central point in the narrative of their lives as that single decision affected the course of history.”

The people who will write that history have already weighed in.

Over 2,000 historians signed onto a statement saying:

“President Trump’s numerous and flagrant abuses of power are precisely what the Framers had in mind as grounds for impeaching and removing a president. Among those most hurtful to the Constitution have been his attempts to coerce the country of Ukraine.”

The statement goes on to say, “It is our considered judgment that if President Trump’s misconduct does not rise to the level of impeachment, then virtually nothing does.”

In other words, no matter what these Republican Senators have accomplished in their political careers, they will be remembered for these votes that “affected the course of history.” They will forever be tied to the catastrophic effects of a Trump presidency.

Nancy LeTourneau

Follow Nancy on Twitter @Smartypants60.