A Secret Ballot for Impeachment Would Be a Terrible Idea

A state legislator casts a secret ballot for secretary of state in Concord, New Hampshire, U.S., December 5, 2018. (Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters)

Over at Politico, Juleanna Glover, a former adviser for several Republican politicians, floats the idea that President Trump could be removed from office if three Republican senators insist upon a secret ballot for the vote on removal, and stand with Democrats to block any rules for impeachment that would involve on-the-record votes.

It is hard to describe just how terrible an idea this is. It would represent senators trying to avoid accountability for their votes, during an exercise that is supposed to be a legislative effort to hold the president accountable for his actions. This country has never forcibly removed a president from office. For such a consequential and historically important vote, the idea of senators being able to not tell the public how they voted — or to publicly claim they voted one way when they secretly voted the other — is unthinkable.

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We all know why some senators would want a secret ballot; plenty of Republican senators who privately can’t stand Trump and who would strongly prefer a President Pence would vote to remove Trump from office if they knew they wouldn’t face punishment in a subsequent GOP primary. In a 75-25 vote in favor of removal, all 53 Republican senators could insist they were among the “no” votes, with no official record to contradict them. (This might apply to relatively Trump-friendly red state Democratic senators like Joe Manchin, too.)

If Trump really is an unconstitutional menace who is abusing the power of the presidency for his personal interests, stopping him ought to be worth losing a Senate seat. And if this action isn’t worth losing a Senate seat over, then it’s hard to see how it is worth removing a president. In 1998, this country established the precedent that a president suborning perjury did not warrant removal from office. The bar is set high, and it ought to be set high. If a senator wants to say, “we’re less than a year from a presidential election, let the people decide if this justifies ending Trump’s presidency,” they’ve got that option, too.

President Trump stands accused of concluding the ends justified the means — that he really wanted an investigation of the Bidens, and he was willing to withhold Congressionally appropriated military aid from another country in order to strong-arm the foreign government into announcing an investigation into one of his potential rivals. Trump knew the outcome he wanted, and he didn’t care how he got there. A secret ballot is just continuing the same philosophy — people want Trump out of office, and they don’t really care how they get there. And they’re even willing to sacrifice basic fundamental concepts of government — such as informing the public of which senators voted for impeachment — to get what they want. This would represent an attempt to remedy a cynical act done for personal political advantage in secret . . . with another cynical act done for personal political advantage in secret.

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