What Ernst and Grassley are telling Iowans about impeachment

UPDATE: As expected, Iowa’s senators voted to acquit Trump. Their statements explaining that decision are posted here. Original post follows.

Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial began on February 9, with House Democrats arguing it is constitutional and necessary to convict the former president, and lawyers for Trump making a less coherent case that the trial is unconstitutional.

Even if you are not inclined to watch the full four hours of the proceedings, every American should watch the 13-minute, graphic video montage of the January 6 coup attempt, as well as Representative Jamie Raskin’s heartbreaking account of that day at the Capitol. These words from Raskin offered the most concise case for conviction: “This cannot be the future of America. We cannot have presidents inciting and mobilizing mob violence against our government and our institutions because they refuse to accept the will of the people.”

All 50 Democratic senators and six Republicans voted late in the day that Trump is “subject to a court of impeachment for acts committed while president.” The other 44 Republicans, including Iowa’s Senators Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley, voted against the premise of this trial.

Neither Ernst nor Grassley released any statement explaining their vote, and they didn’t mention the impeachment proceedings on their social media feeds. However, form letters sent directly to Iowans in recent weeks shed light on how the senators will likely justify their votes to acquit, which are a foregone conclusion.

“MY CONCERN RIGHT NOW IS THAT THE PRESIDENT IS NO LONGER IN OFFICE”

The letter from Ernst (enclosed in full below) begins with a few paragraphs summarizing the impeachment process. The senator describes impeachment as “an important constitutional tool” giving Congress a way to remove an unfit president, “to preserve the safety and security of our nation.”

Ernst implies that her mind is open–“Over the coming weeks, I will have the opportunity to listen to the arguments for and against convicting a former president”–before giving the game away.

My concern right now is that the president is no longer in office. As such, Congress would be opening itself to a dangerous standard of using impeachment as a tool for political revenge against a private citizen, and the only remedy at this point is to strip the convicted of their ability to run for future office – a move that would undoubtedly strip millions of voters of their ability to choose a candidate in the next election.

As I’ve said, President Trump exhibited poor leadership and holds some responsibility for the anarchy that ensued at the heart of our democracy. The individuals who lawlessly stormed the Capitol, murdered police, and attempted to prevent Congress from doing its job, should be held accountable to the full extent of the law.

If the individuals who attacked the Capitol “should be held accountable,” why let the person who incited them off the hook? None of the January 6 events would have happened if Trump had followed the constitution and accepted the results of a free and fair election. He lied to his followers, claiming Vice President Mike Pence could set aside the electoral college count. He encouraged supporters to come to Washington on that day. He urged an angry crowd to “walk down to the Capitol” and “demand that Congress do the right thing” (that is, not certify that Joe Biden won the presidency).

Iowa reporters with access to Ernst should press her on why the chief instigator of the Capitol riot should face no consequences for the crimes and loss of life that ensued.

“A PERMANENT SCAR ON THE PRESIDENT’S TENURE”

Grassley’s form letters on the same subject, also enclosed below, acknowledge right away that Trump “displayed poor leadership in his words and actions” and “must take responsibility.” But Iowa’s senior senator expressed concern about the timing: “President Biden was sworn in five days before the House even sent this article, and it is not clear in the Constitution whether or not a former president can be convicted in such a trial.”

Grassley has told constituents he sees “reasonable arguments on both sides of this debate” and was looking forward “to hearing from constitutional experts about this question.” Not surprisingly, though, he was unpersuaded by the authorities House managers cited during their presentation on February 9.

Like Ernst, Grassley professes to have an open mind about Trump’s trial. However, he goes on to imply that the outcome doesn’t really matter.

Ultimately, I will reserve final judgement on any articles of impeachment until the conclusion of a Senate trial, but it is clear that the violence on that terrible day left a permanent scar on the president’s tenure. No matter what happens regarding this impeachment, it is clear that President Trump greatly damaged his ability to lead. We now have a new president. I am focused on finding common ground with President Biden and helping him to fulfil his commitment to unify the country.

Grassley then pivots to talking about issues he hopes Biden will pursue.

Reporters who are invited to the senator’s conference calls should ask why he rejected the view of numerous legal scholars, who have said “the Constitution’s text and structure, history, and precedent make clear that Congress’s impeachment power permits it to impeach, try, convict, and disqualify former officers, including former presidents.” In addition, Grassley should be pressed on why reputational damage to Trump should dissuade senators from holding him responsible for crimes he incited.

UPDATE: Jennifer Jacobs of Bloomberg News tweeted on February 10, the second day of the impeachment trial, “GOP’s @ChuckGrassley has concealed an iPad-like device in his half-open desk drawer so he can read during Democrats’ impeachment case against Trump, per Hill pool. He’s been occasionally looking up—he did watch the ‘Hang Mike Pence’ video, per pooler.”

Have you received a newsworthy letter or email from one of the Iowans in Congress? Please forward the message to Laura Belin (info AT bleedingheartland dot com). Bleeding Heartland’s policy is not to publish the names of recipients unless those people want to be identified.


Letter Senator Joni Ernst’s office has been sending Iowans via email (this example is from February 4):

Dear [name],

Thank you for taking the time to contact me about our nation’s impeachment process. It is important for me to hear from folks in Iowa on matters such as this.

According to Article II of the Constitution, the President, Vice President, and other federal officers can be removed from office if convicted of “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” As you know, when articles of impeachment are first offered, the House Judiciary Committee decides whether or not to proceed with the impeachment process. If the Committee agrees to move forward, it will send a resolution stating why impeachment is necessary to the full House of Representatives. The House will then vote on the articles of impeachment and a simple majority vote would be necessary to adopt the articles and impeach the President.

Once impeached by the House, the President’s case then goes before the Senate for a trial where the House trial managers prosecute the case. According to the Constitution, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court presides over the trial and the Senate acts as the jury. A two-thirds vote is required in the Senate in order to convict the President and the decision on whether to convict on each of the articles must be made separately.

On January 11, 2021, Speaker Pelosi presented the Article of Impeachment to the House floor. On January 13, 2021, the House of Representatives voted to impeach President Trump by a vote of 232 – 197. On January 25, 2021, Speaker Pelosi sent the Article of Impeachment to the Senate for consideration. Currently, the Senate is set to begin its impeachment proceedings on February 9, 2021. However, the Chief Justice is not slated to preside over the trial — instead the Democratic President Pro Tempore, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) will preside.

Impeachment is an important constitutional tool. When we have a president that demonstrates he or she is unfit to continue holding office, it provides Congress a pathway to remove the president, to preserve the safety and security of our nation. Over the coming weeks, I will have the opportunity to listen to the arguments for and against convicting a former president—and as always, I will hear from my fellow Iowans, like you, on the matter.

My concern right now is that the president is no longer in office. As such, Congress would be opening itself to a dangerous standard of using impeachment as a tool for political revenge against a private citizen, and the only remedy at this point is to strip the convicted of their ability to run for future office – a move that would undoubtedly strip millions of voters of their ability to choose a candidate in the next election.

As I’ve said, President Trump exhibited poor leadership and holds some responsibility for the anarchy that ensued at the heart of our democracy. The individuals who lawlessly stormed the Capitol, murdered police, and attempted to prevent Congress from doing its job, should be held accountable to the full extent of the law.

I will be sure to keep your views in mind as the impeachment process come before the Senate. Feel free to contact my office with any further information, as I always enjoy hearing from Iowans.

Sincerely,

Joni K. Ernst
United States Senator

January 25 news release from Ernst’s office:

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) released the following statement after the House of Representatives delivered an article of impeachment against former President Donald Trump to the Senate:

“Violence, no matter your party affiliation, is wrong. Destroying homes and businesses is lawlessness. A mob attack on the U.S. Capitol is inexcusable. The political rhetoric that has reverberated throughout this country for too long will only lead to more anarchy; it’s time we tone it down and come together. We have an obligation to watch our words, because they have all-too-real consequences.

“As I’ve said, President Trump exhibited poor leadership and holds some responsibility for the anarchy that ensued at the heart of our democracy. The individuals who lawlessly stormed the Capitol, murdered police, and attempted to prevent Congress from doing its job, should be held accountable to the full extent of the law.

“Impeachment is an important constitutional tool. When we have a president that demonstrates he or she is unfit to continue holding office, it provides Congress a pathway to remove the president, to preserve the safety and security of our nation.

“Over the coming weeks, I will have the opportunity to listen to the arguments for and against convicting a former president—and as always, I will hear from my fellow Iowans on the matter. My concern right now is that the president is no longer in office. Congress would be opening itself to a dangerous standard of using impeachment as a tool for political revenge against a private citizen, and the only remedy at this point is to strip the convicted of their ability to run for future office – a move that would undoubtedly strip millions of voters of their ability to choose a candidate in the next election.

“As we go through this process, I urge every member of the Senate to keep in mind what is best for our nation, and ultimately what will bring us together, not further divide.”

Letter Senator Chuck Grassley’s office has been sending Iowans via email:

February 8, 2021

Dear [name]:

Thank you for taking the time to contact me about your support for conviction of former President Trump for his actions on January 6, 2021. As I hope everyone can agree, January 6 was a sad and tragic day for America. As a nation, we must be better than this.

What happened on that day was not a demonstration of any of our protected, inalienable rights. It was a direct, violent attack on the U.S. Capitol and on American democracy itself. Those who plowed over police barricades, ignored law enforcement, and desecrated our monument to representative democracy flouted the rule of law and disgraced our nation. Six people, including two U.S. Capitol Police Officers, now lie dead in the wake of this assault. The perpetrators must be brought to justice, and I am glad to see that the FBI is conducting an extensive investigation to ensure that this is the case.

While the ultimate responsibility for this attack rests upon the shoulders of those who unlawfully entered the Capitol that day, I agree that everyone must take responsibility for their destructive actions that day, including the former president. As the leader of the nation, the president bears some responsibility for the actions that he inspires — good or bad. Undoubtedly, then-President Trump displayed poor leadership in his words and actions, and he must take responsibility.

As you know, on January 13, 2021, the House of took the unprecedented step of voting to impeach then-President Trump for a second time. The article approved by the House charges the president with the high crime and misdemeanor of “Incitement of Insurrection.” It alleges that his actions leading up to January 6, such as his January 2 call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, constitute efforts to illegally change the results of the 2020 presidential election. More specifically, the article states that this effort — culminating in his speech shortly before the attack on the Capitol Building itself — created an environment that “gravely endangered the security of the United States and its institutions of government.”

On January 25, 2021, the House transmitted this article to the Senate. As a result, the Senate was not able to begin a trial until this date. There has been much debate about this timing, as President Biden was sworn in five days before the House even sent this article, and it is not clear in the Constitution whether or not a former president can be convicted in such a trial. The Senate took a vote on this question shortly after the trial started on January 26. Senator Paul motioned to declare the trial unconstitutional on the grounds that the Senate cannot try a president who is no longer in office.

It is important to note that the Senate did not get the chance to vote directly on Senator Paul’s concern, instead Senator Schumer motioned to immediately end discussion and table the measure. I voted against this because I feel that there are reasonable arguments on both sides of this debate. The Constitution always talks about “the president” being impeached, and we only have one president at a time. In fact, the Senate has never convicted a former official in its entire history. However I am not a lawyer and I feel that this very serious question deserves more than just a couple minutes of debate. I look forward to hearing from constitutional experts about this question, and I would have appreciated the opportunity to hear these arguments presented. The Senate is meant to be a place for debate, and it serves no one to simply prevent any debate on a matter that has split both the Senate and the legal community.

Ultimately, I will reserve final judgement on any articles of impeachment until the conclusion of a Senate trial, but it is clear that the violence on that terrible day left a permanent scar on the president’s tenure. No matter what happens regarding this impeachment, it is clear that President Trump greatly damaged his ability to lead. We now have a new president. I am focused on finding common ground with President Biden and helping him to fulfil his commitment to unify the country.

To that end, I expect that President Biden would prefer we focus on getting his cabinet confirmed and beginning to work on legislating in this new session of Congress. Although I have made it no secret that I disagree with the new president on many points of policy, I am also looking forward to working with him when we can find common ground, just as was the case with President Trump when he held the office. In fact, President Biden has stated that one of his primary goals is to reduce the price of prescription drugs, an area where I have been leading the charge in the Senate. I am hopeful that he is true to his word and is willing to work across party lines to make this type of meaningful difference for Iowans, rather than pursue sharply partisan agendas as has been advocated by some of those entering the administration.

It is passing exactly this type of substantive change that Iowans elected me to do, and I look forward to working with the Biden administration on this and other issues. In the meantime, I will be sure to keep your thoughts in mind during the Senate impeachment trial.

Thank you again for contacting me. Please do not hesitate to reach out if I can be of any help in the future. Keep in touch.

Sincerely,

Chuck Grassley
United States Senate

Earlier version of letter from Grassley:

January 22, 2021

Dear [name]:

Thank you for taking the time to contact me about your support for the removal of former President Trump for his actions on January 6, 2021. As I hope everyone can agree, January 6 was a sad and tragic day for America. As a nation, we must be better than this.

What happened on that day was not a demonstration of any of our protected, inalienable rights. It was a direct, violent attack on the U.S. Capitol and on American democracy itself. Those who plowed over police barricades, ignored law enforcement, and desecrated our monument to representative democracy flouted the rule of law and disgraced our nation. Six people, including two U.S. Capitol Police Officers, now lie dead in the wake of this assault. The perpetrators must be brought to justice, and I am glad to see that the FBI is conducting an extensive investigation to ensure that this is the case.

While the ultimate responsibility for this attack rests upon the shoulders of those who unlawfully entered the Capitol that day, I agree that everyone must take responsibility for their destructive actions that day, including the former president. As the leader of the nation, the president bears some responsibility for the actions that he inspires — good or bad. Undoubtedly, then-President Trump displayed poor leadership in his words and actions, and he must take responsibility.

Several responses have recently been proposed as a result of the previous president’s actions on that day. First, some called for the then-president’s resignation. Ultimately, this was the decision of the president himself. Congress does not have any ability to force this course of action and he chose not to leave office early.

Many also advocated for then-Vice President Pence and a majority of the cabinet to invoke Section 4 of the 25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. This clause was intended to temporarily relieve the duties of a president who is medically incapacitated. Should this clause have been invoked, and had President Trump appealed by informing Congress that he believed he could discharge the duties of his office, the cabinet’s decision would only be upheld with a 2/3 vote in both chambers of Congress — a higher bar than impeachment itself. The intended purpose is clear in the text of the amendment, making it poorly-suited for removing a president for any reason other than a legitimate medical incapacity. As a result, then-Vice President Pence stated that he believed this course of action would be unconstitutional under the circumstances following January 6.

While the 25th Amendment was intended to relieve from duty a president who is medically unable to perform the duties of office, impeachment exists as a remedy if a president commits “Treason, Bribery, or other High Crimes and Misdemeanors.” Alleging that he has done this, the House of Representatives recently took the unprecedented step of impeaching then-President Trump for a second time. While I will reserve final judgement on any articles of impeachment until the conclusion of a Senate trial, it is clear that the violence on that terrible day left a permanent scar on the president’s tenure. That being said, the House did not transmit the articles of impeachment to the Senate while President Trump was in office, preventing a trial from beginning until after President Biden was sworn in. There remain legitimate constitutional questions about whether or not a president can be impeached after leaving office.

No matter what happens regarding this impeachment, it is clear that President Trump greatly damaged his ability to lead. We now have a new president. I am focused on finding common ground with President Biden and helping him to fulfil his commitment to unify the country. To that end, I expect that President Biden would prefer we focus on getting his cabinet confirmed and beginning to work on legislating in this new session of Congress. Although I have made it no secret that I disagree with the new president on many points of policy, I am also looking forward to working with him when we can find common ground, just as was the case with President Trump when he held the office. In fact, President Biden has stated that one of his primary goals is to reduce the price of prescription drugs, an area where I have been leading the charge in the Senate. I am hopeful that he is true to his word and is willing to work across party lines to make this type of meaningful difference for Iowans, rather than pursue sharply partisan agendas as has been advocated by some of those entering the administration.

It is passing exactly this type of substantive change that Iowans elected me to do, and I look forward to working with the Biden administration on this and other issues. In the meantime, I will be sure to keep your thoughts in mind during any upcoming Senate impeachment trial.

Thank you again for contacting me. Please do not hesitate to reach out if I can be of any help in the future. Keep in touch.

Sincerely,

Chuck Grassley
United States Senate

Letter from Grassley regarding Trump’s phone call with Georgia’s secretary of state:

February 3, 2021

Dear [name]:

Thank you for taking the time to contact me with your concerns regarding President Trump’s call to the Georgia Secretary of State. As your senator, it is important to me that I hear from you.

I appreciate hearing your concerns regarding President Trump’s call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. I have heard from numerous Iowans concerned about President Trump’s comments on the call and I appreciate being made aware of your views as well.

President Trump was wrong to call the Georgia Secretary of State as he did. The president’s campaign was afforded the opportunity to present legal challenges to election results in Georgia through our independent judicial system. The campaign was not able to meet the legal standards to prove that there was widespread fraud or irregularities of the magnitude that would affect the election results. In fact, some of the more prominent claims about systematic, widespread fraud have been made primarily in the media, while the actual court filings by the Trump campaign’s lawyers either stipulated that fraud did not occur or such claims were withdrawn.

At the time of the president’s call, Georgia’s election results were already certified by the Georgia secretary of state and the governor of the Georgia, Brian Kemp. Simply put, there was no avenue by which that certification could have been revoked despite the president’s claims otherwise.

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are the duly President and Vice President of the United States. As your senator, you can rest assured that I will work with them whenever I can find common ground in the best interests of our state and the nation and I will oppose policies that I do not think meet that standard as I have with every other president during my time in Congress.

Again, thank you for taking the time to contact me. Please keep in touch

Sincerely,

Chuck Grassley
United States Senate

  • Thoughts

    As I was preparing my comments to the senators, the history of responses I have received from them was one of my concerns for their ability and willingness to listen and then decide. This is hot just about the impeachment trial, though. There have been many times Democrats in Iowa have left me wondering where my representation is as they speak the party line, without giving recognition to constituents or voters who may agree with the goal but have concerns with the details. The appropriateness of impeachment of Trump to me is simple. If Trump can be tried under common laws, perhaps for accessory to or incitement of a crime, impeachment might not be so important. However, on Jan. 6, Trump was president and if impeachment is the only option for giving legal consequences to his actions, then it must be considered fairly. Laws have effective dates and lawmakers do not write legislation that says if a person stealing to have money to buy drugs then withdraws from drug use, the crime does not have a legal penalty. Going beyond the impeachment trial, I wonder what the lack of willingness to consider Trump’s actions when he was president has for future Congresses and legislators willing to cede more of their legislative authority to the president.

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