WASHINGTON – Today on the Senate floor, U.S. Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.) announced his vote on the two articles of impeachment following the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump.
“So, to my colleagues: Do you doubt that President Trump did what he is accused of? Do you doubt he would do it again? Do you think for even one moment he would refuse the help of foreign agents to smear any one of us if he thought it was in his best political interests? And I have to ask what becomes of our democracy when elections become a no-holds-barred blood-sport, when our foreign adversaries become our allies, and when Americans of the opposing party become our enemies?” said Senator Coons.
“But at this point, some might suggest it would be hopelessly naïve to expect of President Trump that he would apologize or strive to heal our country or do the important work of safeguarding our next election. And so that falls to us. To my colleagues who’ve concluded impeachment is too heavy a hammer to wield: If you believe that the American people should decide the fate of this President in the next election, what will you do to protect our democracy?” said Senator Coons.
Audio and video available here
Excerpts from the speech:
The last time this body, the last time the Senate, debated the fate of a presidency in the context of impeachment, the legendary Senator from West Virginia Robert Byrd rose and said: “I think my country sinks beneath the yoke. It weeps, it bleeds, and each new day, a gash is added to her wounds.” Our country, today as then, is in pain. We are deeply divided. And most days, it seems to me that we here are the ones wielding the shiv, not the salve. The Founders gave this Senate the sole power to try impeachments because, as Alexander Hamilton said, “Where else than in the Senate could have been found a tribunal sufficiently dignified, or sufficiently independent.” I wish I could say with confidence that we here have lived up to the faith our Founders entrusted in us. Unfortunately, I fear in this impeachment trial, the Senate has failed an historic test of our ability to put country over party.
Foreign interference in our democracy has posed a grave threat to our nation since its very founding. James Madison wrote that impeachment was an indispensable check against a President who would betray his trust to foreign powers. The threat of foreign interference remains grave and real to this day. It is indisputable that Russia attacked our 2016 election, interfered in it broadly. President Trump’s own FBI Director and Director of National Intelligence have warned us they are intent on interfering in our election this coming fall.
So, to my Republican colleagues, I have frankly found it difficult to understand why you would continue to so fervently support a President who has repeatedly and publicly invited foreign interference in our elections. During his 2016 campaign, Donald Trump looked straight into the cameras at a press conference and said, “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find [Secretary Clinton’s] 30,000 emails.” We now know with certainty that Russian military intelligence hackers first attempted to break into Secretary Clinton’s office servers, for the first time, that very day. Throughout his campaign, President Trump praised the publication of emails that Russian hackers had stolen from his political opponent, and he mercilessly attacked former FBI Director Robert Mueller throughout his investigation into the 2016 election and allegations of Russian interference. Now we know following this trial, that the day after Special Counsel Mueller testified about his investigation to this Congress, President Trump on a phone call with the President of Ukraine asked for a favor. He asked President Zelensky to announce an investigation of his chief political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, and he asked for an investigation into a Russian conspiracy theory about that DNC server. In the weeks and months since, he has repeated that Ukraine should investigate his political opponents, and that China should as well.
During the trial here, after the House Managers and President’s counsel made their presentations, Senators had the opportunity to ask questions. I asked a question of the President’s lawyers about a sentence in their own trial brief, one that stated, “Congress has forbidden foreigners’ involvement in American elections.” I simply asked whether the President's own attorneys believe their client, President Trump, agrees with that statement. They refused to confirm that he does. And how could they, when he has repeatedly invited and solicited foreign interference in our elections? So, to my colleagues: Do you doubt that President Trump did what he is accused of? Do you doubt he would do it again? Do you think for even one moment he would refuse the help of foreign agents to smear any one of us if he thought it was in his best political interests? And I have to ask what becomes of our democracy when elections become a no-holds-barred blood-sport, when our foreign adversaries become our allies, and when Americans of the opposing party become our enemies?
Throughout this trial, I have listened to the arguments of the House Managers prosecuting the case against President Trump and the arguments of counsel defending the President. I engaged with colleagues on both sides of the aisle and listened to their positions. The President’s counsel has warned us of danger in partisan impeachments. They have cautioned that abuse of power, the first article, is a difficult standard to define. They have expressed deep concern about an impeachment conducted on the brink of our next presidential election. I understand those concerns and even share some of them. The House Managers in turn warned us that our President has demonstrated a perilous willingness to seek foreign interference in our elections and presented significant evidence that the President withheld foreign aid from a vulnerable ally not to serve our national interest but to attack a political opponent. And they demonstrated the President has categorically obstructed congressional investigations to cover up his misconduct. These are serious dangers, too. We then are faced with a choice between these serious and significant dangers, and after listening closely to the evidence, weighing the arguments, and reflecting on my constitutional duty and my oath to do impartial justice, I have decided today I will vote guilty on both articles.
I recognize that many of my colleagues have made up their minds. No matter what decision you have reached, I think it is a sad day for our country. I myself have never been on a crusade to impeach Donald Trump as has been alleged against all Democrats. I’ve sought ways to work across the aisle with his administration. But in the years that have followed his election, I have increasingly become convinced that our President is not just unconventional. He is not just testing the boundaries of our norms and traditions. He is at times unmoored. Throughout this trial, I have heard from Delawareans who are frustrated that the Senate refused to hear from witnesses or subpoena documents needed to uncover all of the facts about the President’s misconduct. I have heard from Delawareans who fear our President believes he’s above the law, and that he acts as if he is the law. I have also heard from Delawareans who just want us to find a way to work together.
It is my sincere regret that, with all of the time we have spent together, we could not find common ground at all. From the opening resolution that set the procedures for trial adopted on a party line basis, the Majority Leader refused all attempts to make this a more open, more fair process. Every Democrat was willing to have Chief Justice Roberts rule on motions to subpoena relevant witnesses and documents. Every member of the opposing party refused. We could not even forge a consensus to call a single witness who has said he has firsthand evidence, who is willing to testify, and was even preparing to appear before us. Mr. President, when an impeachment trial becomes meaningless, we are damaged and weakened as a body, and our Constitution suffers in ways not easily repaired. We have a President who hasn’t turned over a single scrap of paper in an impeachment investigation. Unlike Presidents Nixon and Clinton before him, who directed their senior advisors and cabinet officials to cooperate, President Trump stonewalled every step of this, Congress’s, impeachment inquiry and then personally attacked those who cooperated. The people who testified to the House of Representatives in spite of the President’s orders are dedicated public servants and deserve our thanks not condemnation.
Where do we go from here? Well, after President Clinton’s impeachment trial, he said, “This can be and this must be a time of reconciliation and renewal” for our country, and he apologized for the harm he’d done to our nation. When President Nixon announced his resignation, he said, “The first essential is to begin healing the wounds of this Nation.” I wish President Trump would use this moment to bring the country together. To assure us he would work to make the 2020 election a fair contest. That he would tell Russia and China to stay out of our elections. That he would tell the American people whomever his opponent may be, the fight will be between candidates, not families. And that if he loses, he will leave peacefully, in a dignified manner. And that if he wins, he will work tirelessly to be the President for all people.
But at this point, some might suggest it would be hopelessly naïve to expect of President Trump that he would apologize or strive to heal our country or do the important work of safeguarding our next election, and so that falls to us. To my colleagues who’ve concluded impeachment is too heavy a hammer to wield: If you believe that the American people should decide the fate of this President in the next election, what will you do to protect our democracy? What will you do to ensure the American people learn the truth of what happened, so that they can cast informed votes? Will you cosponsor bills to secure our elections? Will you insist that they receive votes on the floor? Will you express support for the intelligence community that is working to keep our country safe? Will you ensure whistleblowers who expose corruption are protected, not vilified? Will you press the administration to cooperate with investigations, to allow meaningful accommodations so that Congress can have its power of oversight? Why can we not do this together?
Each day of this trial, we said the pledge of allegiance to our common nation. For my Republican friends who have concluded the voters should decide President Trump’s fate, we need to do more together to make that possible. And many of my Democratic friends I know are poised to do their very best to defeat President Trump at the ballot box. So here is my plea: That we would find ways to work together to defend our democracy and safeguard our next election. We have spent more time together here in the last few weeks than in the last few years. Imagine if we dedicated that same time to passing the dozens of bipartisan bills that have come over from the House that are awaiting action. Imagine what we could accomplish for our states and our country if we actually tackled the challenges of affordable health care and ending the opioid crisis, of making our schools and communities safer and bridging our profound disagreements. What fills me with dread, to my colleagues, is that each day, we come to this floor, we talk past each other, not to each other, and fail to help our constituents. Let me close by paraphrasing our Chaplain, Chaplain Black, whose daily prayers brought me great strength in recent weeks: May we work together to bring peace and unity. May we permit Godliness to make us bold as lions. May we see a clearer vision of our Lord’s desires for our Nation and remember we borrow our heartbeats from our Creator each day.
Thank you, Mr. President.