HARTFORD—Last night, following the historic Senate impeachment trial of President Donald Trump, U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) delivered a speech at the University of Connecticut (UConn) School of Law, where he explained his decision to vote to remove the president from office. Following the speech, Murphy joined UConn Law professor Douglas Spencer for a conversation on impeachment and took questions from the audience.
“I voted to convict President Donald Trump on two articles of impeachment, one for abuse of power, and one for obstruction of Congress. I did so because I believe the attack that he has levied on our Republic…left unchecked, is potentially lethal to our democracy. That’s because I think that the one sacred covenant that a president makes with the government is to use all of the enormous power that is accumulated in this one office, inside of the Oval Office today, for the good of the country, not for the personal, financial or political benefit of the occupant of that office,” said Murphy.
“If this is the new normal, the new means by which a president can consolidate power and destroy political opponents, then we are no longer the America that we have come to know and love.
Murphy continued: “I’m here tonight to tell you that in order for our democracy to survive, America cannot condone actions like those that the president undertook, to trade away the security of the nation for foreign interference in an election. But I’m also here asking for your help, because the tough work isn’t really impeaching a president. The tough work is figuring out a way to reorder that incentive system and to recalibrate our faith so that the health of one party never again comes before the health of our country.”
Full transcript of Murphy’s opening remarks are below:
“Thanks for having me back. It’s always wonderful to be back here on campus. I am a proud graduate of the University of Connecticut School of Law, as is my wife. And it’s always wonderful to be back here with you.
“To Professor Spencer, thank you for taking some time this evening so that we can have a little bit more fulsome discussion about what has just happened and the consequences following the Senate’s actions yesterday afternoon.
“And I’m glad to have a full house of constituents here. We’re live streaming this as well, so there are many following online. I thought that it was important for me to come back to Connecticut as soon as the vote concluded to explain to you why I chose to make the move that I did and to have a discussion about how I got to that conclusion.
“For those of you may have seen my remarks on the Senate floor much of what I will say here will sound familiar. So I apologize for repeating tonight some of what I said yesterday, but there will be plenty of original material, I hope, in our discussion, and I look forward to that. My prepared remarks are fairly short.
“I want to start, frankly, by talking about the vote of another United States Senator, one that frankly got much more attention than mine did yesterday. I’ve had the fortune of becoming a friend of Senator Mitt Romney over the past year. We’ve traveled together overseas, we’ve had dinners together, we’ve worked on legislation together. I’ve come to know him as a man who understands that he’s already, in many ways, a historical figure. Of course he is, having been the Republican nominee for President of the United States. Now, not all of us are going to get written about by the history books someday. But Mitt Romney’s name is going to be in there, one way or another. And so maybe more than the rest of us, he wonders what those history books are going to say about him.
“I was at the Senate chamber yesterday afternoon to hear him give his remarks. And I admitted afterwards to being a little choked up as I listened. There only a handful of us who were there. And certainly my emotion was connected to the sizable political risk that my friend was taking right there at that moment, and all of the calamities that I knew were about to come this way. But I was also emotional because there was Mitt Romney, one of the great political figures of our time, recognizing that this is indeed a moment that the history books will spend pages and pages describing and analyzing and interpreting. My guess is that Mitt knows that this might be a pivotal moment in American history, a moment that we’re living in right now. My conjecture is that he, like I, wonders whether American democracy can recover from this episode.
“I think that he wants to make sure that if our normalization of this abuse of power ends up with the democracy that we’ve become accustomed to burning down to the ground, that he does not want his name on the list of the arsonists. Now, maybe that’s not how this ends up. Maybe we’re all a little hyped up on hyperbole these days. But it’s important to remind ourselves, at moments like this, how fragile our democracy is, how fragile it’s always been, how unnatural the idea of self-governance remains.
“I’ve said this before and some of you probably heard me say it but it bears repeating. Just think of all of the really important forums in your life: your workplace, your family, your favorite sports teams. None of them make decisions by democratic vote, right? The CEO of your company decides how much money you make. It’s not a vote of your fellow employees. We all love our kids, but growing up, you know, they didn’t get an equal say in household matters like mom and dad did. The plays that the Chiefs call and their game winning drive, they weren’t decided by a team vote. Almost everything in our life, other than the government under which we live, that really matters is not run by democratic vote. And of course, only a tiny percentage of humans, probably less than 1 percent—less than .1 percent—have lived in a democratic society over the last 1000 years of human history. Democracy, it’s just important to remember, is really unnatural. It is fragile. And if you take it for granted, if you don’t tend to it, if you don’t understand that it needs protection and nurturing, then it can disappear.
“And the body in which I serve, the United States Senate, it was really conceived by those who wrote the Constitution to be the ultimate guardian of this brittle experiment in governance. That 100 of us were given responsibilities unique from anybody else in the federal government to be the guardians of last resort.
“It’s simply amazing to me that I get to serve in the United States Senate today; that I get to be one of those 100. My mom grew up not far from here, a couple towns over in public housing, and she marvels at her nation, one of the few in the history of the world, where her son, one generation removed from poverty, could become a United States Senator, a national political figure. And so, coming from no political background, having no pedigree in public office, maybe I take these duties, which have been temporarily entrusted to me, a little bit more seriously than others.
“And of course, I grew up just down the street from here, in the immediate aftermath of one of those shining moments where the United States Senate actually lived up to that charge as the protector of American democracy. I was raised hearing stories about how the United States Senate saved our country. I was born three weeks after Alexander Butterfield revealed the existence of a taping system in the White House that likely held evidence of President Nixon’s crimes. I was born one week after the Senate Watergate Committee, on a bipartisan vote, ordered Nixon to turn over several of those key tapes. Now my parents were Republicans, my mom still is. Over the years, they voted for lots of Republicans and Democrats. And they raised me in the shadow of Watergate to understand that what mattered in politics is really not your party. To them, what mattered when they were choosing candidates is whether you were honest, whether you were decent and whether you were running for office and serving in office for the right reasons.
“In the year that I was born, the Senate watched a president betray the nation, and the Senate, both Republicans and Democrats, stood together to protect the country from this betrayal. One of those Senators was a Republican from Connecticut who stood up for what was right. His decision to put country over party, that’s exactly what our founders envisioned when they gave Congress the massive responsibility of the impeachment power.
“Now the founders wanted Congress to be careful about using that power. They said use it sparingly. They said, don’t use it to settle political scores. But they said to use it when a president has strayed from the bounds of decency and propriety. The founders wanted Congress to save the country from bad men who would try to use the awesome power of the Executive branch to enrich themselves or win office illicitly. And I grew up under the belief that when those bad men presented themselves, the Senate had the ability to put party decide and work to protect our fragile democracy from attack.
“Yesterday, I voted to convict President Donald Trump on two articles of impeachment, one for abuse of power, and one for obstruction of Congress. I did so because I believe the attack that he has levied on our Republic, through his malfeasance, left unchecked, is potentially lethal to our democracy. That’s because I think that the one sacred covenant that a president makes with the government is to use all of the enormous power that is accumulated in this one office, inside of the oval office today, for the good of the country, not for the personal, financial or political benefit of the occupant of that office. That, to me, is the difference between the United States of America or any modern democracy and many of the countries that I go visit overseas, the tin pot dictatorships. It’s here in a democracy that we don’t allow presidents to use the official levers of power at their disposal to destroy political opponents. But that’s exactly what President Trump did. And we all know it.
“It’s amazing to me to listen to Republicans who decided to acquit the president, admit in their remarks, the case that had been made by the House managers. And if they think that their endorsement of his actions through acquittal won’t have an impact, I just don’t think they know Donald Trump. I mean, just look at Rudy Giuliani’s trip to Ukraine during the middle of the impeachment trial. He went back to Ukraine to look for more dirt on the president’s political opponents. He hadn’t even made it to the gates after landing back in the United States before President Trump was on the phone with him, asking what he had found. The corruption hasn’t stopped. It’s ongoing as we speak. And if this is the new normal, the new means by which a president can consolidate power and destroy political opponents, then we are no longer the America that we have come to know and love.
“And so what’s happened in the Senate, to me, is so important because it is, in many ways, as much of a corruption as Trump’s scheme was. The trial was, in some ways, just an extension of his crimes. No documents, no witnesses. The first Senate trial in the history of the country–we’ve run over a dozen Senate trials, of presidents, at least one, and judges as well–never before, has there been an impeachment trial without any witnesses. And in this case, you had one witness in particular, John Bolton, practically begging to tell this firsthand account of the president’s corruption. That story was denied just to make sure that voters couldn’t hear the story in time and pressure their senators prior to an impeachment vote. But it was a show trial. It was a gift-wrapped present to the grateful leader of the Republican Party. And the Senate, I fear, became complicit in the very attacks on democracy that the Senate is supposed to guard against. And I fear that my colleagues, in doing this, failed to protect the Republic.
“And as I sat on the Senate floor yesterday, but I think it’s worth repeating, what’s interesting to me, it’s not like Republicans didn’t see this coming. It’s not as if this president turned into somebody new after he took the oath of office. One of my Republican colleagues said during the campaign, in 2016, speaking of President Trump: ‘he’s shallow, he’s ill prepared to be Commander-in-Chief. I think he’s crazy. I think he’s unfit for office’. Another said, ‘the man’s a pathological liar. He doesn’t know the difference between truth and lies’. Yet another one of my Republican Senate colleague said before he was elected, ‘what we’re dealing with here is a con artist. He is a con artist’. You can shrug this off to election year rhetoric, but no Democrat is saying those kind of things about other Democrats in the field today running for president. Republicans didn’t say those kind of things about anybody else running for president in 2016. No, the truth is that Republicans before Trump became the head of their party knew exactly how dangerous he was and how dangerous he would be if he won. They knew that he was the prototype of that bad man that the founders intended the Senate to protect democracy from.
“And today, I guess my worry is that that responsibility is no longer front and center in the Senate. Today our duty to protect the rule of law or to uphold standards of decency, they’re just not the priority in the Senate today. Today, in the Senate, it seems that what matters most is what party you belong to. And that’s something that we have to have a broader conversation about. It’s not that senators wake up every day thinking only about what’s good for party. It’s just that, the first thing they think about is what’s right for their party. And then the second thing they think about what they can do that day to make their nation better. And so, it’s my belief that what’s different about this impeachment is not that Democrats chose make it partisan as the president’s lawyers claim. It’s that Republicans chose to act differently than they had 45 years ago. It’s that Republicans chose to excuse their party’s president’s conduct in a way that they would not have a generation ago.
“I thought a lot about the challenge that Congressman Schiff presented to us right at the end of his remarks. He said in his closing argument, what would Democrats do, if it was a Democratic president who had engaged in the same kind of behavior? It was the question, of course that Senator Romney struggled with prior to making his decision. And I think it’s a really wise query. And I think it’s one that Democrats shouldn’t be so quick on the trigger to answer self-righteously. Would we have the courage to stand up to our base, to our political supporters? Would we have the courage to do what Senator Romney did: remove a Democratic president who had chosen to trade away the safety of the nation for political help? Would we have made the same decision that my friend did yesterday afternoon? And it wouldn’t be easy—and I thought a lot about this question—what would be easiest, to do what Republicans have done, box their ears and close their eyes to the corruption and just hope that it goes away. But I’ve come to the conclusion, at least for me, I would hold a Democrat to the same standard, I would vote to remove. But I admit to you that I have some doubt about that. And I just think it’s important for us all to be honest about it. Because it is true that the pressures today to put party first are real and they are so much more serious. They are so much bigger than they were during Watergate. And so I hope that’s part of the reality that we’re going to get to use as context for our discussion tonight.
“As much as we need tonight to drill down on the specific threats presented to the nation, by the president’s abuse of power, there is something much more universally rotten in the state of Denmark today. Today, leaders have got to come to terms with a political incentive structure that is designed to put party above country, which is particularly troubling for the United States Senate, because the founders believed that they were creating a body, the United States Senate, with incentive structures specifically designed to get the opposite result. Now, listen, I believe that the cult of personality that has become the Trump presidency means that this disease is more acute and more perilous to the nation’s health on the Republican side of the aisle, but I admit that this affliction has spread to all corners of Capitol Hill.
“So I’m here tonight to tell you that in order for our democracy to survive, America cannot condone actions like those that the president undertook – to trade away the security of the nation for foreign interference in an election. But I’m also here asking for your help, because the tough work isn’t really impeaching a president. The tough work is figuring out a way to reorder that incentive system and to recalibrate our faith’s so that the health of one party never again comes before the health of our country. To make sure that, just like those Republican Senators who stood up to President Nixon in 1973 and 1974, were not outliers, that no political figure in the future should have to endure being such an outlier as Mitt Romney, if you will, in the coming days, weeks and months. Now Mitt Romney and I are of different political parties, different ideologies, different economic backgrounds, different generations, but what we share is an understanding that our democracy is fragile. That democracy, in and of itself, is unnatural, that it is delicate. And it is constantly in need of tending if we intend as a nation to survive for another 240 years.
“I’m really grateful for you all being here to give me the chance to explain in some depth more than I get in a soundbite, in TV or a press release the reasons behind my vote yesterday. And I really look forward to the conversation to come”
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