Editorial: Senators split over impeachment

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 14, 2021

Perhaps the biggest surprise in Saturday’s impeachment vote was a split between North Carolina’s two U.S. senators.

Donald Trump’s removal from office and/or conviction on impeachment charges were never going to receive enough support in the senate. Democrats hold a majority by the narrowest of margins in the U.S. Senate — Vice President Kamala Harris’ tiebreaker vote — and 17 votes for impeachment is far too many to expect from a party that the former president fundamentally reshaped. The Republican Party still belongs to Trump and Saturday’s 57-43 vote proves that.

Many GOP members of Congress have issued statements condemning the deadly riot on Jan. 6, but taking it one step further and saying that Trump is responsible for the actions is a step just seven Republicans were willing to take Saturday.

Sen. Richard Burr, a Republican from North Carolina, was one of those seven. Many will logically surmise that his plans not to seek another term mean he’s unconcerned with any political fallout that may follow. But it’s also worth seriously considering that this is a different Republican Party.

Let’s start with North Carolina’s junior Republican senator, Thom Tillis, who voted to acquit and might reasonably run for re-election in 2026. Tillis said he based his vote on Trump being “a private citizen” and that the charge of inciting an insurrection was subjective because politicians on both sides of the aisle have “repeatedly used overcharged and provocative rhetoric,” pointing to a specific example of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s statements on the steps of the Supreme Court.

As a general matter, Tillis is right about language among politicians and people talking about politics. The two-party system in politics creates a team mentality that’s become closer to good vs. evil on seemingly every issue. Things might be different with several parties on the ballot and ranked choice voting, but language usually reflects our current dichotomy.

Tillis is wrong to ask, “What about this” instead of dealing with the specific statements in question. It also was confusing to read a statement from Tillis that simultaneously said Trump “shares responsibility for the disgrace that occurred on January 6.” His explanations simply do not match with one another.

Burr offers a suitable rebuttal to Tillis’ opinion, which is shared by many others in the U.S. Senate, about Trump being a private citizen and the entire matter being unconstitutional.

“When this process started, I believed that it was unconstitutional to impeach a president who was no longer in office. I still believe that to be the case,” Burr said in a statement. “However, the Senate is an institution based on precedent, and given that the majority in the Senate voted to proceed with this trial, the question of constitutionality is now established precedent. As an impartial juror, my role is now to determine whether House managers have sufficiently made the case for the article of impeachment against President Trump.”

Burr says the president promoted unfounded conspiracy theories to cast doubt on a free and fair election because he did not like the results. The president directed his supporters to disrupt the counting of electoral votes. When the crowd became violent, Trump inflamed the situation instead of calling for an end, Burr said.

Burr faced quick criticism from his own party, which said the vote was “shocking and disappointing.” Mark Walker, a former Republican congressman running to replace Burr, seized on the vote, saying North Carolina needs a “true conservative champion.”

Suffice to say, Burr may not speak this year at many Lincoln-Reagan dinners, a major fundraiser for local parties. He’ll also receive letters, emails and phone calls from voters telling him how wrong he was.

In an era when the two major political parties have already found themselves as polarized as they’ve ever been, the same trend is taking place within parties. It’s likely the reason for Saturday’s split between the state’s two U.S. senators. In this case, the Republican Party is splitting from its members who might have been considered conservative stalwarts just a few election cycles ago.