Bob Franken




Right now, you are probably asking yourself: Where do senators go first when they get a break in the impeachment trial, called a “recess, subject to the call of the chair”? Do they head for their phones, which have been taken from them so they can pay attention to the squabbling, or do they rush to the bathroom? The question gives new meaning to the terms “No. 1” or “No. 2,” although some of them have figured out how to grab their electronics in one motion as they race by. That way, they can combine both needs at the same time. For a few of them, the answer is “It Depends.”
What does “subject to the call of the chair” mean, anyway? It indicates that the chairperson has had his or her toidy time and perhaps caught up on messages. Otherwise, the senators are supposed to just sit there and ponder in silence whether Donald Trump should be removed from office, while watching the interlopers do battle and largely make total asses of themselves. The Constitution requires that the chief justice presides over this most solemn of government processes, but he really doesn’t have a lot to do, other than take his robes and walk across the street from the Supreme Court building to the Capitol, put on his robes and well … just sit there.
Chief Justice John Roberts famously described himself as nothing more than an umpire, as opposed to the hard-right ideologue that some of his colleagues are. But finally, even the non-assertive ump had enough of the antics in this Washington Senators game, with attorneys on both sides throwing verbal beanballs at each other:
“I think it is appropriate at this point for me to admonish both the House managers and president’s counsel in equal terms,” he scolded, “to remember that they are addressing the world’s greatest deliberative body.”

The Senate as “the world’s greatest deliberative body” is a fiction peddled since the beginning of the republic. The members lay insincere and extravagant courtesies on one another, bound by the rules of “comity”, that are really just provisions that allow them to conduct well-mannered but vicious brawls. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is your stereotypical senator.
The members, each a so-called juror in this impeachment trial, take an oath to “do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws.” But since McConnell is doing Trump’s bidding — or, as he calls it, “total coordination” with White House lawyers — it demonstrates how empty the oath is. It is appropriate to insert here that McConnell is up for reelection in his home state of Kentucky, where Donald Trump is almost as popular as bourbon, horses and basketball, so his protestations about protecting the Senate as an institution are overridden by his survival instincts. Putting it another way, his momma didn’t raise no fool.
Political considerations are the be-all-end-all of impeachment. Any claim that Donald Trump must have committed an actual violation of statutory law to meet the founders’ “high crimes and misdemeanors” standard is a crock. In all cases like this, it is whatever the members of Congress say it is. Obviously they need to put a gloss of legitimacy on the proceedings. What they fight about is this bogus sheen of fairness, but what is apparent is that the sheen is really a stain that is as foul as can be. Perhaps Chief Umpire Roberts is the appropriate one to run the game.
As for the requirement that the members sit down and shut up during the proceedings, many have acted like unruly sweathogs, fidgeting, talking, passing notes, doing everything but tossing spit wads. The “world’s greatest deliberative body” looks more like detention hall.
Maybe Roberts should bring in some parochial school nun to rap knuckles with a ruler when senators misbehave, and perhaps those obviously not up to the task can take a remedial course in dignity.

© 2020 Bob Franken
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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