Cartoon by Adam Zyglis

Of All Trump’s Defenses, This Is the Lamest

By Frank Bruni

The New York Times: Once the Senate concludes its trial of President Trump, it should go into recess. Until next January. The House, too. Lawmakers shouldn’t pass legislation, consider nominations or make any important decisions whatsoever: This is an election year, and the voters will soon weigh in on the direction of America. The nation’s business should await that judgment, lest members of Congress contradict it.

A ludicrous proposal? Indeed. But it’s in line with — and an extrapolation of — a favorite argument against Trump’s conviction and removal from office. His Republican supporters say that lawmakers shouldn’t speak for voters on such a crucial issue. To pre-empt the verdict at the ballot box, they say, is to subvert the people’s will.

Nice try. Lawmakers are elected specifically to speak for voters on crucial issues. That’s the system. That’s their job. American government doesn’t operate by daily, hourly or issue-by-issue polls (at least not overtly). Congress doesn’t have exponentially more power one week after Election Day than it does one year later (though it may indeed have more political currency).

And lawmakers shouldn’t defer to their constituents at every turn. Those constituents expect them, over the course of their legislative terms, to use their judgment as better-informed proxies for the people they represent. So does the Constitution, which created America as a representative democracy, not a direct one. Our lawmakers are supposed to lead as well as follow, to be responsive to public sentiment but not mesmerized or paralyzed by it. That’s even truer when the stakes are huge than when they’re small.

Republicans have decided to sing a different tune. If it sounds familiar, that’s because they turned to the same music when the Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia died, President Barack Obama nominated Merrick Garland to replace him and the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, declared that a presidential election about eight months in the offing prevented the Senate from taking any action. It was a song not of principle but of political convenience. The same holds true now.

“Give the people back their power,” the House minority leader, Kevin McCarthy, implored a few months ago, arguing against impeachment itself. Referring to the president’s transgression and the November 2020 election, McConnell said, “The American people, if they think this is a very significant episode, can take it into account.” Senator Lindsey Graham chimed in: “I really do believe that the best person — group of people — to pick a president are the voters, not a bunch of partisan politicians.” Pat Cipollone, one of the president’s lawyers, added: “No one ever thought that it would be a good idea for our country — for our children, for our grandchildren — to try to remove a president from a ballot, to deny the American people the right to vote.”

No one? Really? How about the framers of the Constitution, who established the impeachment process to do essentially that and declined to add any asterisks about the next election’s imminence? “If the framers thought impeachment in an election year was a bad idea, they could have set things up differently,” noted Jill Lepore, a Harvard history professor and the author of the 2018 book “These Truths: A History of the United States.” >>>

Frank Bruni has been with The Times since 1995 and held a variety of jobs — including White House reporter, Rome bureau chief and chief restaurant critic — before becoming a columnist in 2011. He is the author of three best-selling books.