Ohio U.S. Sen. Rob Portman voted 11 times on Jan. 21 and 22 to block witnesses and evidence in the impeachment trial of Donald J. Trump. In doing so, he demonstrated a shocking disregard for the future of our system of constitutional government. On Jan. 29, he expressed concern that calling witnesses would prevent the Senate from taking up other important business. There is no more important business.
Does Sen. Portman think our system of government is indestructible — that pushing forward a sham trial and a cover up will do no lasting harm? If he thinks that, he is wrong.
The U.S. Constitution is not indestructible. Democracies die. This is not theoretical. I know; I’ve lived in two countries —Zimbabwe and Turkey — where specific decisions made by corrupt, power-hungry leaders and their enablers turned real democracies into autocracies hiding behind a thin veneer of “elections.”
When Senator Portman votes against witnesses and evidence, he is voting to put Trump above the law. Putting Trump (and all future presidents) above the law dislodges the most important foundational stone of our Republic. It renders the U.S. Constitution meaningless and leaves us, the people, with no protection from the kind of things that happen in sham democracies every day:
- Getting beaten up if you don’t attend a pro-government rally (Zimbabwe)
- Being jailed if you sign a petition denouncing the government’s decision to bomb civilians (Turkey)
- Being surveilled, arrested, imprisoned, raped, or tortured if you support the opposition (Zimbabwe)
- Having social media outlets turned off to prevent you from organizing (Turkey)
- Living in a society where the press corps is attacked, demeaned and imprisoned so that leaders cannot be held accountable, and their self-serving and corrupt actions cannot be exposed (Turkey and Zimbabwe)
- Accepting as a given endemic government corruption on such a monumental scale that it affects the whole country’s economic future (Turkey and Zimbabwe)
It may seem hard to imagine these kinds of things happening here, but it all begins with ignoring the rule of law. The U.S. Constitution and the rule of law matter. If you think they don’t, it’s because you’ve never lived without the freedoms the Constitution guarantees. The rule of law is what keeps us on the long road toward a more perfect union. You don’t have to think the United States is perfect to realize that things would get worse if those in power could do whatever they wanted without fear of exposure, censure, or limit.
We all know that a fair trial includes witnesses and evidence, and that (by a huge margin) Americans from all sides of the political spectrum want a fair trial, not a cover-up. But we don’t have the power to make that decision. One hundred Senators do. All we can do is ask them to do their job. Sherrod Brown has said that he wants a thorough trial with witnesses, but Portman has not. So, our message is: if the choice is between protecting Trump or protecting the Constitution, choose the latter. It matters.
Republicans and Democrats must put country over party to allow evidence and critical firsthand witnesses as part of the impeachment trial. On behalf of nearly 23,000 Common Cause members in Ohio, we call on Senator Portman to vote to ensure a fair and transparent trial with first-hand witnesses and new evidence, because no one — especially not the president — is above the law.
Since 1970, Common Cause has been holding power accountable through lobbying, litigation, and grassroots organizing. Our non-partisan, pro-democracy work has helped pass hundreds of reforms at the federal, state, and local levels. We now have 30 state chapters and more than 1.2 million members around the country.