House impeachment manager Rep. Adam Schiff had a dire message for senators during his closing remarks in President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial on Friday night: Removing Trump isn’t just about punishment for past behavior — it’s about the saving the future of American democracy, too.
Friday marked the final day of opening arguments for House impeachment managers and for Schiff, who has taken on the role of lead prosecutor in the trial. Since Wednesday, the House team has painstakingly built a case against Trump by detailing his efforts to withhold military aid and a White House visit from Ukraine as he sought political favors. During his closing argument, Schiff had one request for senators: Put politics aside.
“Whether you like the president or dislike the president is immaterial. It’s all about the Constitution and his misconduct,” Schiff said. “What matters is whether he is a danger to the country, because he will do it again. And none of us have can have confidence, based on his record, that he will not do it again. Because he is telling us every day that he will.”
Schiff's closing: "It doesn't matter if you like him... what matters is whether he is a danger to the country because he will do it again." pic.twitter.com/EqtPXqM72C— Zach Wolf (@zbyronwolf) January 25, 2020
The lawmaker pointed to the evidence compiled by his party as crystal-clear proof of Trump’s misconduct, which managers presented to the Senate in logical, chronological order. He also reminded them that the president himself has released evidence of his attempts to pressure Ukraine.
Schiff argued it is Congress’ constitutional duty to hold presidents accountable for their actions, pointing to polls that show Americans both Republican and Democrat want a fair trial — and one that includes witnesses.
“The American people do not agree on much, but they will not forgive being deprived of the truth — and certainly not because it took a backseat to expediency,” Schiff said.
By not following the will of the people, Schiff said, senators place themselves in danger of their other achievements being overshadowed by their removal vote. Quoting Abraham Lincoln, Schiff said, “Fellow citizens, we cannot escape history,” and told his Senate colleagues, “Sometimes I think how unforgiving history can be of our conduct.”
As he invoked the disdain of future generations, Schiff encouraged senators to think beyond US borders, noting that the country’s system of democracy had encouraged other countries in the past and arguing it is in danger of doing so no longer.
“The founders gave us more than words. They gave us inspiration. They may have receded into mythology, but they inspire us still. And more than us, they inspire the rest of the world. ... And increasingly they don’t recognize what they see. It’s a terrible tragedy for them; it is a worst tragedy for us,” Schiff said.
He closed with a request: “Americans get a fair trial — and so I ask you, I implore you. Give America a fair trial. Give America a fair trial. She’s worth it.”
Schiff’s Democratic colleagues praised his closing arguments, and the work of House impeachment managers overall has been lauded throughout the week. On Thursday, for instance, Schiff went viral for telling senators, “You know you can’t trust this president to do what’s right for this country,” sparking the Twitter hashtag #RightMatters. Several GOP lawmakers, including Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), commented on how much they respected the managers’ presentations.
But respect for the managers isn’t enough for the president’s removal from office. In order for that to happen, at least 20 GOP senators would have to break from their party — and despite Schiff being praised by some Republicans for his general rhetoric, it isn’t clear he changed any minds.
Schiff gave a powerful closing argument, but Republicans appeared unmoved
In fact, Republicans found a lot to complain about Friday, with Sen. John Kennedy arguing that the House Democrats’ arguments went on too long — “Very few souls are saved after the first 20 minutes of a sermon,” Kennedy said — and others, like Sen. John Barrasso, lamenting a lack of new evidence.
“They ran out of things to say three days ago,” Barrasso told reporters.
As Vox’s Aaron Rupar has noted, Republicans would have been able to hear new evidence and testimony had they not blocked resolutions drafted by Senate Democrats calling for the consideration of both.
Those resolutions failed Tuesday and early Wednesday, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell promising to take up the issue of new witness testimony once senators had a chance to ask questions of both House impeachment managers and White House counsel, something that’s expected to happen next week.
One particular remark of Schiff’s incensed Republicans, however: his mention of a CBS News report, which alleged a Trump ally told GOP senators that if they voted against the president, their “head will be on a pike.”
In opening statements, House managers examined the debunked conspiracy theories invoked by Pres. Trump.— CBS Evening News (@CBSEveningNews) January 23, 2020
A @POTUS confidant tells CBS News that GOP senators were warned: “vote against the president & your head will be on a pike.”
Here's @nancycordes https://t.co/LV1Y6QveIh pic.twitter.com/tLB9EpoWr8
Journalists in the room noted Republican senators reacted strongly to Schiff’s mention of the report, which he argued showed how Trump sees himself as having the unchecked power of an absolute monarch. After the session concluded, GOP senators made their displeasure clear.
Alaska’s Sen. Lisa Murkowski, whose support Senate Democrats are counting on in their fight to include witnesses in the trial, said Schiff “overreached,” adding, “I thought he was doing fine with moral courage until he got to the head on the pike. That’s where he lost me.”
“I was visibly upset with it,” Sen. James Lankford said. “That’s insulting and demeaning to everyone to say that we somehow live in fear and that the president has threatened all of us.”
And Barrasso said, “Whatever gains he may have made, he lost all of it — plus some — tonight.”
A number of Republican senators reportedly responded to Schiff from their seats, audibly saying, “That’s not true.”
Even without outrage over the pike comments, Schiff and his fellow impeachment managers were well aware of the pushback against their arguments. Ahead of the trial, many Republicans, including McConnell, said they did not plan to be impartial jurors and suggested they would not vote to remove the president, regardless of the evidence the House presented. There is no sign the managers’ work changed this paradigm, meaning Trump’s acquittal remains very likely.