Merkley says impeachment trial is ‘constitutional responsibility’

Senators were focused as they considered evidence this week in the second impeachment trial of former president Donald Trump, according to Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley.

“The mood was very somber, and very focused. Virtually all of us had been in that chamber on the day of the assault,” the Democratic senator told reporters at a press conference Thursday. “I don’t think most senators had realized how close we were to that higher level of disaster. So, it was very focused attention, very rapt attention as these videos were shown.”

Throughout the week, managers from the House of Representatives presented evidence in support of their charge that Trump incited an insurrection at the capitol Jan. 6.

The evidence included the former president’s tweets and statements claiming the 2020 presidential election was “stolen” from him and his supporters. Senators also reviewed chilling security camera footage of rioters storming the capitol building and threatening violence against lawmakers and staff who were, at times, hiding just feet away from the mob.

That evidence was “deeply troubling” to some Republican lawmakers, Merkley said.

“So, I think my Republican colleagues were really struggling with the fact that much of their base has been living inside of a Trump media bubble, in which these facts really have not been presented and they don’t understand what a big role the president played,” Merkley said. “They’re struggling with that, the support of their base, versus what they now know to be the case for the president’s role.”

On Friday, the former president’s legal team is expected to present its defense against the charges, largely centered on the argument that the capitol break-in wasn’t a result of Trump’s claims, and that he encouraged protesters only to demonstrate peacefully.

To convict the former president on the incitement charge, and open the door to preventing him from running for public office in the future, Democrats will need 17 Republican senators to join their cause, an unlikely scenario.

A vote Tuesday on whether the impeachment trial of a former president is constitutional provided a litmus test for the effort as a whole. Only five Republican senators voted in favor of the trial’s constitutionality.

Still, Merkley said the trial is worth holding.

“Failing to do our constitutional responsibility would not bring about unity,” he said. “It would be a failure of what the constitution calls for, and the senate rules call for, which is immediate consideration in a senate trial once the articles (of impeachment) are delivered.”

While many Republicans have argued the trial creates a divisive start at the beginning of a new presidential administration and new session of congress, Merkley feels that’s not the case.

“This is an opportunity for Democrats and Republicans to come together, to defend our constitution, to defend against the possibility of an imperial presidency,” Merkley said. “Realize that the heart of this conversation is about the peaceful transfer of power, a tradition that has been honored by every president since we were founded.”

And while the trial comes as millions of Americans are continuing to struggle economically as the COVID-19 pandemic approaches its one-year anniversary, Merkley said the multi-day process won’t slow work provide much-needed economic relief.

“We are full steam ahead. We have been arguing since the pandemic began (that) this is a moment we should all be together as Americans and quit playing politics and get the aid delivered,” Merkley said of a proposed $1.9 trillion aid package slowly working its way through congress. “We are holding that trial, as the constitution expects, but it’s not slowing down, (by) a single day, our response to the pandemic.”

Sen. Ron Wyden, Oregon’s other Democratic senator, has been fairly quiet publicly about the trial as it proceeds, but was a vocal supporter of efforts to remove the president just after the capitol riot.

After Trump’s defense team presents its arguments to senators, managers pursuing the charges will have the chance to ask senators to call witnesses to testify, though most lawmakers agree that process would unnecessarily prolong the trial, NPR has reported.

Following closing arguments from both sides, senators will vote on the article of impeachment, with a two-thirds majority needed to convict Trump. That could come early next week.