WASHINGTON ― Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) on Friday night implored Republican senators to show “moral courage” as they consider whether to remove President Donald Trump from office for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
“Real political courage doesn’t come from disagreeing with our opponents but from disagreeing with our friends, and with our own party,” Schiff said.
Schiff’s speech wrapped up a three-day opening argument by House Democrats on why the Senate should remove Trump from office on articles of impeachment that charge he pressured Ukraine to interfere in the 2020 election and hindered Congress’s efforts to investigate. Schiff began by arguing that Trump’s obstruction posed a lasting threat to the country and that if Congress lets it stand this time, “there will never be” an impeachment again.
Next, Schiff read part of the articles aloud on the Senate floor. After each paragraph, he said, “That has been proved.”
The next step will be convincing Republicans in the Senate that they should go against the president who leads their party, including by voting to allow more witness testimony. Addressing stone-faced Republican senators, Schiff called for a “fair” trial ― something he said could be done only if the White House stopped being allowed to obstruct the process by blocking key documents and witnesses.
Schiff quoted a 1966 remark from Sen. Robert F. Kennedy: “Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence. Yet it is the one essential, vital quality for those who seek to change the world which yields most painfully to change.”
Schiff said that his own denunciations of the president don’t count as courageous because he represents a liberal district and his constituents agree with him.
“But what happens when the heartfelt views, right or wrong, are in conflict with the popular opinion of our constituents?” he said. “What happens when the devotion to our love of country and oath and value depart from the momentary passion of a large number of people back home? Those are the times that try our souls.”
Schiff also offered a mocking rebuttal of the arguments that he expects the president’s lawyers to make over the next few days ― including that the president himself has said he did nothing wrong. On Saturday, Trump’s defense team will give a roughly three-hour preview of its argument for why the president should be allowed to remain in office. The president has said his call with the president of Ukraine requesting an investigation of a political rival was “perfect” and said he did nothing wrong.
“This is a well-known principle of criminal law that if the defendant says he didn’t do it, he couldn’t have done it,” Schiff said, to laughter in the chamber.
Schiff predicted other arguments likely to come from Trump’s team: that President Barack Obama also withheld aid at times ― although not for personal benefit and not secretively. Schiff said they’d likely argue that Trump’s targeted rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, was corrupt, which he said would be promoting the same message Trump was hoping to get across by pushing Ukraine to announce an investigation of Biden and his son Hunter.
He warned Trump’s allies would argue about the process and say it was unfair to the president, or threaten that, since he might assert executive privilege over witness testimony, there was no point in approving witnesses at all.
Schiff said Trump’s defenders would also likely say Democrats just “hate the president,” something he said was both untrue and an effort to distract from what Trump did.
“You’ll also hear the defense [say], ’They hate the president. They hate the president. You should not consider the president’s misconduct because they hate the president,’” Schiff said. “I will leave you to your own judgments about the president. I only hate what he’s done to this country.”
In the face of extensive evidence of Trump’s pressure campaign against Ukraine and the Trump administration’s nearly complete refusal to cooperate with the impeachment investigation, some Senate Republicans instead focused on a single comment in Schiff’s closing speech, in which he referenced a CBS report that said GOP senators were told by a Trump confidant that their “heads will be on a pike” if they vote against Trump.
“That’s not true,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), a key swing vote, said as Schiff spoke, shaking her head several times. Several other Republicans in the chamber gasped.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), another moderate seen as crucial to calling witnesses in the trial, told reporters afterward that Schiff’s presentation was satisfactory until he referred to the CBS report.
“He was doing fine with ‘moral courage’ until he got to the head on the pike. That’s where he lost me,” Murkowski said.
Democrats, meanwhile, downplayed the comment and said it shouldn’t overshadow what has otherwise been a stellar performance as lead House impeachment manager.
“Our job is to sit here and weigh the evidence, and a misstep for three sentences in a closing ― it doesn’t affect the evidence at all,” Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) said.