Washington’s U.S. Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell Wednesday voted to convict President Donald Trump on two articles of impeachment, saying his solicitation of foreign interference in U.S. elections for personal political gain warrants his removal from office.
The stance by the two Democrats was perhaps as undramatic as the outcome of the impeachment trial itself, which had been preordained by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, to end with an acquittal.
But in interviews Wednesday morning with The Seattle Times, Murray and Cantwell said their votes will uphold a bedrock constitutional principle of protecting domestic elections from foreign influence.
“We need to fight this. … what has given the United States our leadership and authority is the fact that we have had free and fair elections,” Cantwell said.
Murray said endorsing or excusing Trump’s actions would send a dangerous message. “If we lower this bar and say foreign countries can interfere, we have set a precedent where we have to ask every president, who are you representing?” she said.
Both criticized the Senate trial, pointing to Republicans’ blocking relevant witnesses and documents related to Trump’s effort to get Ukraine to announce an investigation of a political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden.
Murray, the state’s senior senator, now serving her fifth term, contrasted the Trump impeachment with her 1999 vote to acquit President Bill Clinton on charges of lying under oath and obstruction of justice related to his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
During the Clinton impeachment, Murray acknowledged Clinton’s “reprehensible behavior” but said it didn’t merit his removal.
“If we are to remove a president for the first time in our nation’s history, none of us should have any doubts,” she said at the time. She also argued Clinton was redeemable and had been punished through the public spectacle of his trial.
“I will say for Bill Clinton, I had a personal conversation with him, and he knew he did wrong. He expressed that publicly as well,” Murray said Wednesday.
Trump has made no such admissions, referring repeatedly to his “perfect” phone call with Ukraine’s president. “This president has not only said he didn’t do wrong, but he’s made it very clear he will do it in the future. And that to me is extremely offensive,” Murray said.
During the Clinton impeachment trial, Murray said, the Senate ensured that at least the proceeding was seen as legitimate on a bipartisan basis.
“We were able to walk out of the Clinton trial, however we voted, and felt it was fair. The evidence was all brought before us, and it was based on our judgments on that. The difference this time is no one is going to walk out of this and say it was fair. No one is going to walk out of it and say evidence was presented. In fact, evidence was denied,” she said.
Murray also said Clinton’s offense centered on “lying about an affair,” while the allegations against Trump involve a more serious abuse of his office.
Some Senate Republicans have acknowledged that evidence in the impeachment inquiry showed Trump improperly pressured Ukrainian leaders to announce an investigation of Biden. But they said the misdeeds did not rise to the level of kicking Trump out of office ahead of the 2020 election.
Cantwell, serving her fourth term, said she heard from constituents demanding she take action to protect American institutions and elections.
“You didn’t hear about political convenience one way or another. Their point was you are supposed to hold people accountable for wrong actions — and what are you doing about this situation,” she said.
By declining to call new witnesses or hear all potential evidence, Cantwell said, Republicans could be setting themselves up for surprises as more information emerges on the Ukraine scandal.
Utah’s Sen. Mitt Romney was the lone Republican who voted to convict Trump on either charge. He voted in favor of a conviction on Article 1, abuse of power.
“I don’t think these guys were ever — I don’t know if it’s the power they see in Trump’s potential retribution, but [Republican senators] didn’t seem to gravitate toward here’s more ways we can get that information,” Cantwell said.
On Wednesday, House Judiciary Chair Jerry Nadler, D-New York, said it was “likely” that House Democrats will subpoena John Bolton, Trump’s former national security adviser, who has written a book saying the president told him to continue a freeze on military aid to the Ukraine until officials there helped with investigations into Biden.
Cantwell said evidence has shown Trump’s efforts to push Ukraine into a Biden probe involved more than the now-famous phone call between Trump and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky. “To me it was a scheme involving many people over a long period of time,” she said.
The impeachment positions of Cantwell and Murray mirror the straight partisan divide in the state’s 10-member House delegation during the December vote to impeach Trump. All seven of Washington’s House Democrats voted in favor of the two articles of impeachment, while the three Republicans voted no.
Both Murray and Cantwell gave speeches on the Senate floor earlier this week announcing their intended votes.
As the impeachment proceeding ends, Trump’s approval rating in the Gallup Poll reached 49%, his highest mark yet in the poll, leaving some Democrats fretting that the trial backfired.
Murray said she has no idea what the political consequences will be, “but I know personally that I am on the record, as a U.S. senator representing millions of people in my home state, that it is not OK for a president to ask a foreign country to interfere in our election.”