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Manchin: The President is not a king

Updated 9:45 PM ET, Thu February 13, 2020

Editor's Note: Senator Joe Manchin is a Democrat from West Virginia. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion at CNN.

(CNN) - Perhaps the most dangerous claim made during the Senate impeachment trial was the false assertion that the President can do no wrong, that he is above the law, and if it is good for his reelection, then it is good for the country. Make no mistake, no president is a king. That is not who we are as Americans.

Where I was raised in the small coal-mining town of Farmington, West Virginia, people did not believe they were better than someone else and could act with total disregard for the wellbeing of their neighbor if it was in their own self-interest. No one, not even the President, is above the law.

Voting on whether or not to remove a sitting president is the most difficult and serious decision any senator could face, as the consequences for our nation are severe. As a moderate centrist Democrat from West Virginia with the most bipartisan voting record in the Senate, I have approached every vote I have cast in the Senate with an open mind and pride myself in working across the aisle to bring my Republican and Democrat friends together to do what is best for our country.

In more than 35 years of public service, I have never approached an issue thinking Republicans were always wrong or that Democrats were always right, because where I come from, party politics are more often overruled by commonsense.

I have never forgotten the oath I took to protect and defend the Constitution while faithfully discharging the duties of the office I am honored to hold. At the start of the impeachment trial, my colleagues and I took another oath, swearing to do impartial justice, which I took very seriously throughout the process.

During the formation of our nation, the framers of the Constitution chose the Senate for what Hamilton called "the awful discretion" to remove the president from office. They believed the Senate was more likely to be impartial and independent, and less influenced by political passion, with senators less likely to betray their oaths and more certain to vote on facts and evidence. Sadly, the Senate failed to meet its Constitutional obligation set forth by the framers to hold a fair trial and do impartial justice. We have done so in the worst way -- by letting tribal politics rule the day.

Throughout the trial, I listened carefully as both the House Managers and the President's defense team made their case for and against the articles of impeachment. Both sides did a great job arguing their case and answering our questions, but I was terribly disappointed when a majority of my Republican colleagues voted not to allow relevant witnesses and documents during the Senate trial. As a result, the United States Senate betrayed the duties entrusted to this body by the Constitution and held the first Senate impeachment trial of a President without witnesses.

In light of my colleagues' decision not to support more information in the trial, I was realistic that there were not 67 votes required to impeach the President. However, I believed that a bipartisan majority of the Senate would vote to censure President Trump for his actions in this matter. Censure would allow the Senate to unite across party lines, as an equal branch of government, to formally denounce the President's actions and hold him accountable.

As I routinely do in the Senate, I reached across the aisle to see if any of my Republican colleagues would join me in censuring the President for his behavior, but unfortunately not a single Republican stepped forward.

With no additional information allowed by Republicans and no path to a bipartisan censure, I worked hard to evaluate the facts and arguments made before the Senate throughout the trial. From the testimony of witnesses under oath in the House of Representatives and arguments made by both sides in the trial, I believe President Trump's actions were impeachable and his behavior could not go unchecked by the Senate.

The July 25th call between President Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was far from a "perfect call." Pressuring an ally who is actively fighting off Russian aggression in its own country is wrong. That is not who we are as a country. We stand shoulder to shoulder with our allies and never condition our support of democracy on political favors.

After listening to the arguments from both sides, the compelling and overwhelming evidence presented left no doubt that the President must be held accountable for his behavior. I took no pleasure in voting to support the articles of impeachment, and let me be clear that there were no winners in this vote. I have always wanted this President and every president to succeed, but I deeply love our country and had to do what I believed to be best for the nation. America remains the superpower of the world, and all Americans expect their elected officials to conduct themselves like mature adults and do what is best for our democracy and our country.


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