Among the amazing scenes in our Capitol during the failed insurrection of Jan. 6, few were more remarkable than a brief speech by Sen. Kelly Loeffler, of Georgia, shortly after Congress reconvened.
Loeffler, addressing Vice President Mike Pence, said, in part: “Mr. President, when I arrived in Washington this morning, I fully intended to object to the certification of the electoral votes. However, the events that have transpired today have forced me to reconsider, and I cannot now in good conscience object to the certification of these electors. The violence, the lawlessness and siege of the halls of Congress are abhorrent and stand as a direct attack on the very institution my objection was intended to protect, the sanctity of the American democratic process.”
In Washington political calculation is often confused with good conscience, but I choose to believe that Loeffler was speaking in good faith, demonstrating that conscience still has relevance in American politics. Her speech embodies a latent hope for the redemption of a sorely needed, rational Republican Party, freed from the beguiling thrall of Donald Trump.
Republicans of good conscience need a chance to express their commitment to American democracy beyond mere words or resignations from jobs they were already going to lose anyway. Few acts could work better to restore their party than an immediate, bipartisan impeachment and conviction.
With fewer than 10 days remaining in Trump’s term, what’s the point? For one thing, it’s not hard to argue that as long as Trump is in office, he is still dangerous. Five people died during the attempted insurrection that he incited on Jan. 6, including a policeman trying to defend the legislators. There’s no reason to think that Trump will restrain himself from rash actions, domestic or international, just because he’s leaving office soon. On the contrary.
Pence will not invoke the 25th Amendment. Trump is not going to resign. Both houses of Congress were attacked by a mob provoked by Trump and his enablers in an effort to subvert a clearly legitimate national election. Congress has only one way to hold Trump to account. And Republicans who have not been completely compromised by Trump should welcome an opportunity to act on their admission that this time, at last, Trump has gone too far.
Could impeachment succeed? Probably not. Some Republican representatives would join Democrats to pass articles of impeachment in the House by a simple majority, but finding 67 senators to vote for conviction in the Senate would be a heavy lift.
Still, consider Loeffler. Who knows when an attack of conscience might strike? Some Republican senators are disgusted with Trump. Sen. Lisa Murkowski has called for him to resign. Sen. Ben Sasse has indicated his willingness to consider impeachment. Sen. Mitt Romney demonstrated his political courage by voting for conviction the last time Trump was impeached. Sen. Pat Toomey says that the president has “committed impeachable offenses.”
And Sen. Susan Collins might welcome an opportunity to redeem her unfortunate remark about Trump learning his lesson, uttered in justification of her vote to give him a pass for clearly trying to extort the president of Ukraine for political help.
Even Sens. Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz, Trump’s unashamed collaborators in spreading lies about the election, might see an opportunity. Conviction in the Senate would bar Trump from running for office in 2024. Both Hawley and Cruz want desperately to be president. When their personal political interests align with the national interest, who knows what might happen?
Maybe Hawley and Cruz will recalculate how well their political ambitions are served by continuing to serve Trump.
Still, the Senate probably won’t convict Trump. But the path to redemption for the Republican Party begins with repentance and then repudiation. Republicans who may have changed their minds about Trump have a right to go on record regarding the attempted insurrection of Jan. 6.
And American voters have a right to know whether their representatives’ allegiance to Trump is greater than their allegiance to the essential democratic ideals of our nation. Impeachment would support both of these rights.
John M. Crisp, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, lives in Georgetown, Texas.