“Hopefully he won’t do that again.”
That’s what Senator Lamar Alexander told me on Friday, discussing President Donald Trump’s push to have political rivals investigated by Ukraine. A lot of weight rests on those six words, especially the first. The veteran lawmaker would like the president not to abuse his power, and is relying on the political system to check him, even though Alexander does not think it is right to apply the most powerful check Congress has.
The Republican from Tennessee had been seen as an essential vote if the Senate was to call witnesses in the president’s trial. Last week he said he needed no testimony, because the House had already proved its case: “If you’ve got eight witnesses saying that you left the scene of an accident, you don’t need nine.” Alexander said he was equally certain that the president’s offenses do not merit removal. “You don’t apply capital punishment to every offense,” he said.
What is a proper response by Republicans who do not accept the president’s view that his conduct was “perfect”? How can Congress make sure “he won’t do that again”? “I think it’s appropriate for me as a United States senator to say, ‘Mr. President, you shouldn’t do that,’” Alexander told me. This sounds mild compared with the impassioned speeches by Representative Adam Schiff, leader of the prosecution. But Alexander stands as one of relatively few Republicans willing to publicly say a critical word about the president. In Alexander’s case, the word is inappropriate, his description of the acts for which the president was impeached. “I agree that he called the president of Ukraine and asked him to investigate the Bidens,” he said, and “I was convinced that at least in part, he withheld [military] aid in order to encourage the investigation.”