February 03, 2020

ICYMI: Manchin Delivers Remarks On Impeachment Trial

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) today delivered remarks on the Senate floor regarding the Senate impeachment trial of President Trump.

Senator Manchin’s remarks can be viewed here or read as prepared below:

Mr. Chief Justice/ M. President:

I rise today to speak on the impeachment trial of President Donald John Trump. I know this was not a difficult decision for many of my friends and colleagues on both sides of the aisle, but it is one that has weighed heavily on me. Voting whether or not to remove a sitting President is no easy decision, and it shouldn’t be, as the consequences for our nation are severe.

As a moderate centrist Democrat from West Virginia with one of the most bipartisan voting records in the Senate, I have approached every vote I have cast in this body with an open mind and pride myself in working across the aisle to bring my Republican and Democrat friends together to do what is best for our country.

Where I come from, party politics is more often overruled by commonsense, and I have never in over 35 years of public service approached an issue with premediated thoughts that my Republican friends were always wrong or that my Democrat friends were always right. Since the people of West Virginia sent me here in 2010, I have never forgotten the oath I took to defend the Constitution and faithfully discharge the duties of the office of which I am honored to hold.

It is by the Constitution that we sit here today as a “court for the trial of impeachments.” It is the Constitution that gives us what Hamilton called “the awful discretion” to remove the President from office. At the start of this trial my colleagues and I took an oath swearing to do impartial justice. I have taken this oath very seriously throughout this process and I would like to think my colleagues have done the same, because as the House Managers and our former colleague, Republican Senator John Warner from Virginia said: it is not just the President who is on trial here, but the Senate itself.

The Framers of the Constitution chose the Senate for this grave task because, according to Hamilton, they expected Senators to be able to “preserve, unawed and uninfluenced the necessary impartiality” to discharge this awesome responsibility fairly, without flinching.

The Framers knew this would not be easy, but that is why they gave the job to the Senate.

They believed the Senate was more likely to be impartial and independent, less influenced by political passion, less likely to betray our oaths and more certain to vote on facts and evidence. This process should be based simply on our love and commitment to our country, not the relationship any of us have with this President. I have always wanted this President and every President to succeed, but I deeply love our country and must do what is best for the nation.

The Constitution refers to impeachment “trials” and says the Senate must “try” impeachments. The Framers chose their words carefully. They knew what a trial was and what it meant to try a case. By using the terms of the courtroom, the Constitution imposes on us a duty to meet the basic standards of judicial fact-finding. It calls on us to do what courts do every day and receive relevant evidence and examine witnesses.

Sadly, the Senate has failed to meet its Constitutional obligation set forth by the Framers to hold a fair trial and do impartial justice, and we have done so in the worst way - by letting tribal politics rule the day. I supported President Trump’s calls for a fair trial in the Senate, which he suggested would include witnesses. But instead this body was shortchanged with the majority of my Republican colleagues, led by the Majority Leader, voting to move forward without relevant witnesses and evidence necessary for a fair trial as our Framers intended.

History will judge the Senate harshly for failing in its constitutional duty to “try” this case and do the impartial justice, to defend the Constitution, and to protect our democracy.

Sadly this is the legacy we leave our children and grandchildren. Removing a President from the office to which the people have elected him is a grave step to take. But the Framers gave the Senate this solemn responsibility to protect the Constitution and the people of this nation.

Over the duration of this trial I have listened carefully to both the House managers and White House counsel make their case for and against the articles of impeachment. I commend both sides for their great and grueling work in defending their respective positions.

The House managers have presented a strong case, with an overwhelming display of evidence that shows what the President did was wrong. The President asked a foreign government to intervene in our upcoming election and to harm a domestic political rival. He delayed much-needed security aid for Ukraine to pressure newly elected President Zelensky to do a favor. And he defied lawful subpoenas from the House of Representatives.

However, the President’s counsel too defended these actions by laying out their case of the President’s actions. They pointed to the unclassified transcript of Trump’s July 25 call with newly elected Ukrainian President Zelensky to make the argument Trump discussed burden sharing with other European countries and a mutual interest in rooting out corruption. They presented their views that the President was not given due process in the House of Representatives and highlighted the expedited nature of the House’s proceedings. Finally, they argued that “If a president does something which he believes will help him get elected in the public interest that cannot be the kind of quid pro quo that results in impeachment.”

Over the long days and nights of this trial I have listened to both sides present their case and answer our questions. I remain undecided on how I will vote, but these points I believe to be true.

First, it was not a “perfect” call. The July 25th call was far from perfect. A newly elected President Zelensky, with no experience in international politics, gets a call from the leader of the free world asking for a favor related to U.S. domestic political affairs. No one, regardless of political party, should think what the President did was right. It was simply wrong. Pressuring an ally who is actively fighting off Russian aggression in its country is wrong. Zelensky – or anyone else - should never feel beholden to the super power of the world for a “favor” before it can receive military aid. That is not who we are as a country. We stand shoulder to shoulder with our allies and never condition our support of democracy on political favors.

Second, no President is a King. Of all the arguments we have heard from the House Managers and White House Counsel during the long days and nights we have sat here, the most dangerous, the most troubling to me is the false claim that the President can do no wrong, that he is above the law, and if it is good for his reelection that it is good for the country. This is Preposterous. That is not who we are as Americans. That is not how I was raised in the small coal mining town of Farmington, West Virginia. Where I was raised no one believed they were better than someone else and could act with total disregard for the wellbeing of their neighbor if it was in their own self-interest. That is not why over 230 years ago the founding generation rebelled against a king and refused to crown a new one in this Republic. So let me be clear: No one, not even the President, is above the law.

Finally, the purpose of impeachment is not to punish the President, but to protect the public. The ultimate question is not whether the President’s conduct warrants his removal from office, but whether our nation is better served by his removal by the Senate now or by the decision the voters will make in November. As Hamilton warned us, impeachments “seldom fail to agitate the passions of the whole community”; they divide us on party lines and inflame our animosities. Never before, in the history of our Republic, has there been a purely partisan impeachment vote of a President. Removing this President, at this time, would not only further divide our deeply divided nation, but also further poison our already toxic political atmosphere.

In weighing these thoughts, and all of the arguments brought forward in the case, I must be realistic. I see no path to the 67 votes required to impeach the President and haven’t since the trial started. However, I do believe a bipartisan majority of this body would vote to censure President Trump for his actions in this matter. Censure would allow this body to unite across party lines, and as an equal branch of government, to formally denounce the President’s actions and hold him accountable. His behavior cannot go unchecked by the Senate, and censure would allow a bipartisan statement condemning his unacceptable behavior in the strongest terms. History will judge the Senate for how we have handled this solemn Constitutional duty and without bipartisan action the fears of the great Senator Byrd will come true – as he said during the Clinton impeachment – “The Senate will sink further into the mire because of this partisanship.”

“There will be no winners on this vote,” Byrd said, “Each Senator has not only taken a solemn oath to support and defend the Constitution but also to do “impartial justice” to help the nation, so help me God. That oath does not say anything about political party; politics should have nothing to do with it.”

I am truly struggling with this decision and will come to a conclusion reluctantly, as voting whether or not to remove a sitting President is the most consequential decision that I, or any U.S. Senator, will ever face.

But regardless of my decision, and in the absences of 67 votes, I am reminded again of the words of Senator Byrd. The House and Senate – Republicans and Democrats—and the President—“must come together to heal the open wounds, bind up the damaged trust, and, by our example, again unite our people. For the common good, we must now put aside the bitterness that has infected our nation….”

We must “begin by putting behind us the distrust and bitterness caused by this sorry episode, and search for common ground instead of shoring up the divisions that have eroded decency and good will and dimmed our collective vision.”

It is not the legacy of individual Senator’s that we should be concerned about, but it is the legacy of this great institution the United States Senate that we leave for generations to come.

Thank you, and May God continue to bless our great country during this trying time.