On Saturday, seven Republicans joined all 50 Democrats in the U.S. Senate to convict Donald Trump of the one count of inciting an insurrection for which the House of Representatives impeached him during his last weeks in office. Neither Sen. Chuck Grassley nor Sen. Joni Ernst were among the seven Republicans.
The 57 to 43 vote was 10 short of the two-thirds majority needed to convict, but the addition of those seven Republicans to the Democrats meant this was the most bipartisan presidential impeachment in history.
Grassley and Ernst, who have been Trump loyalists since he secured the Republican nomination for president in 2016, also voted on the first day of the trial against the Senate beginning the proceedings because Trump was no longer in office. But six Republicans joined Democrats in a vote establishing the Senate’s authority based on the Constitution to proceed. On Saturday, five Republicans joined Democrats in voting to allow witnesses to be called in the trial. Grassley and Ernst voted against it.
The decision to call witnesses was partially spurred by Republican Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler’s disclosure of a conversation she had with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. In a statement released late Friday, Herrera Beutler said McCarthy told her that when he’d finally been able to reach Trump as the rioters were still in the Capitol, Trump told the Minority Leader, “Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are.”
Impeachment managers wanted to be able to subpoena Herrera Bulter and have her testify. Trump’s attorney reacted angrily and threated to indefinitely prolong the trial by calling hundreds of witnesses. (That threat was largely empty, since the Senate would have to vote to approve each witness.)
The vote caused enough consternation among Senators, particularly Republicans, that a two-hour break followed it. During that time, a compromise was reached, in which a statement from Herrera Bulter would be admitted to the trial record and no witnesses would be called.
Democrats backed down from calling witnesses after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and other Republican leaders threatened to stop all other work in the Senate as long as the trial lasted. Ernst was one of the leaders making that threat.
Before the compromise was announced, Ernst was asked by New York Times congressional reporter Emily Cochrane about the possibility of calling witnesses.
“Total, total shit show,” Ernst said, claiming Democrats were just seeking revenge against Trump.
“If they want to drag this out, we’ll drag it out,” Ernst said. “They won’t get their noms, they won’t get anything.”
“Total, total shit show,” Joni Ernst says when I asked about her reaction to this, calling it “a tool of revenge” against Trump. Adds: “if they want to drag this out, we’ll drag it out. They won’t get their noms, they won’t get anything.”
— Emily Cochrane (@ESCochrane) February 13, 2021
In statements issued after Trump was acquitted on Saturday, Grassley and Ernst offered justifications for their votes.
In her one paragraph-long statement, Ernst followed the same path as many of her Republican Senate colleagues and avoided commenting on the merits of the case against Trump, or even commenting on his actions.
I’ve said throughout this process my concern is with the constitutionality of these proceedings. The Constitution clearly states that impeachment is for removing a president from office. The bottom line for this impeachment trial: Donald Trump is no longer in office, he is a private citizen.
Ernst’s assertion about the Constitution is wrong. Art. I Sec. 3 states, “Judgment in Cases of Impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from Office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States.” The prospect of disqualification from the holding of future federal office is why a person already out of office can be impeached and tried, according to the more than 150 legal scholars, including prominent conservatives, who signed a letter to Congress explaining why trying Trump was Constitutional.
There’s also historical precedent for such a trial. The House has only impeached 20 officials in its history, and three of them were already out of office when impeached. The Senate took up each of those cases.
Trump, of course, was still in office when he was impeached, but then-Senate Majority Leader McConnell refused to allow the Senate to consider the article of impeachment during Trump’s remaining time in office.
Ernst, who threatened to shut down the Senate so Democrats “won’t get anything” if witnesses were called, concluded her statement by saying, “I urge all of my Senate colleagues to once again refocus on working together for the American people – not ourselves or political ambition, but for the hardworking men, women, and kids across this country who are in desperate need of help and hope.”
In his much longer statement, Grassley also asserted that a Senate trial for an ex-president is unconstitutional, but he does address the case brought by the House impeachment managers.
The House Managers tried to prove that President Trump incited an insurrection. That is a difficult argument to make. There were many other articles over which they could have impeached President Trump but this is what the House of Representatives chose. They didn’t meet their burden.
Grassley does not mention what the “many other articles” for which Trump could have been impeached are.
Grassley also goes further than Ernst, because he offered some restrained criticisms of Trump.
Undoubtedly, then-President Trump displayed poor leadership in his words and actions. I do not defend those actions and my vote should not be read as a defense of those actions.
The italics and bolding are in the original. Grassley has never been that emphatic in spoken criticisms of Trump.
Grassley waters down his criticism of Trump by claiming that Democrats have behaved the same way Trump did.
Unfortunately, others share the blame in polluting our political discourse with inflammatory and divisive language. As President Trump’s attorneys showed, whatever we heard from President Trump, we had been hearing from Democrats for years. National Democrats — up to and including President Biden and Vice President Harris — have become regular purveyors of speech dismissing and even condoning violence.
Grassley goes on to suggest campaign speeches by Democrats caused “organizations like Antifa [to] actually take to the streets of our cities with shields and bats and fists, destroying lives and livelihoods.”
Grassley also attempts to equate Hillary Clinton’s behavior in 2016 with Donald Trump’s attempts to overturn the election results in 2020.
“Yes, I think President Trump should have accepted President Biden’s victory when it became clear he won. I think Secretary Clinton should have done the same thing in 2016,” Grassley wrote.
Clinton, of course, formally conceded the day after the election in 2016. Trump has still not done so.
No one expected Grassley to vote to convict Trump, no matter what evidence was presented, which might explain why the senior senator chose to close his 27-paragraph statement by saying he spent the five days of the Senate trial giving the case his full attention.
“These are difficult issues I have considered over the past week,” he wrote.
But a report from Bloomberg White House correspondent Jennifer Jacobs, who was watching the trial from the Senate’s press gallery, suggested Grassley’s attention may have wandered, at least on the second day of the proceedings.
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.
— Jennifer Jacobs (@JenniferJJacobs) February 11, 2021
Grassley pushed back against Jacobs in a tweet on Saturday. The tweet was in plain English, instead of Grassley’s signature gnarled style, and ended with a Trumpian flourish.
I’ve been in my seat on Senate floor the entire impeachment trial analyzing arguments & taking it all in Only time I leave is for bathroom breaks Anything u see to the contrary on social media is FAKE NEWS
— ChuckGrassley (@ChuckGrassley) February 13, 2021