Data Wonk

Rep. Sensenbrenner’s Disappointing Column

The Republican has showed his independence in the past. But not this time, not on impeachment.

By - Dec 26th, 2019 03:01 pm
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Jim Sensenbrenner. Photo from Sensenbrenner's office.

Jim Sensenbrenner. Photo from Sensenbrenner’s office.

On December 21 of this year, the New York Times published a column from Wisconsin Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner attacking the recently passed articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump. Rather than address the substance of the articles, the column consists largely of complaints about the lack of Republican support for the articles and about the process that produced them.

This is disappointing. Sensenbrenner occasionally showed flashes of independence during his 42 years in the House. Recently, for example, he was one of only 4 Republicans voting for HR 986, the Protecting Americans with Preexisting Conditions Act, opposing the Trump administration’s attempt to allow health policies that discriminate against people with preexisting medical conditions. Unfortunately, his column shows none of that independence.

Sensenbrenner complains about the lack of Republican support for impeachment. In part, this reflects the partisan realignment of Congress that started well before Trump took office. It also reflects Trump’s viciousness towards any Republican that defies him. To quote a recent article by the Times’ Jonathan Martin and Maggie Haberman: “To defy Mr. Trump is to invite the president’s wrath, ostracism within the party and a premature end to a career in Republican politics.”

For a Republican member of the House of Representative to support impeachment would invite a primary challenge and a return to civilian life. One of the long-term legacies of Trump’s administration is likely to be a Republican Party both in Wisconsin and the nation that is intolerant of independent thinkers. As Sensenbrenner has already announced his retirement, one would assume he is immune from Trump’s demands for obedience.

It is somewhat surprising, therefore, that he limited himself to repeating Republican talking points, like “President Trump has been robbed of his constitutionally protected due process rights,” without ever specifying what rights Trump was robbed of or where they are mentioned in the Constitution. The Constitution itself mentions impeachment twice. The first comes in Article I Section 2: “The House of Representatives shall … have the sole Power of Impeachment.”

Later, Sensenbrenner returns to the same theme: “The closed-door hearings led to a railroad job in the House Judiciary Committee, where a majority denied those of us in the minority our rights.” Again, the reader is left to guess what those rights were. The closest he comes is to point to the Clinton impeachment as the model for the right way to handle impeachment. However, Clinton’s impeachment was the culmination of the seemingly endless investigation by Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr.

Sensenbrenner claims that the obstruction of Congress charge is “particularly bad” because “Democrats failed even to give a court — the proper arbiter of these disagreements — the chance to weigh in on the matter.” Yet, Sensenbrenner’s attempt to give the judiciary co-responsibility for impeachment runs up against the Supreme Court’s decision in Nixon v. United States, which makes clear the court has no role to play.

In that case, Walter Nixon, a federal judge, was impeached and removed from office. The offense stemmed from the state drug prosecution of the son of Nixon’s business partner, who asked Nixon to speak to the prosecutor. The prosecutor, a long-time friend, dropped the case. When Nixon was interviewed by the FBI, he denied any involvement. The US Supreme Court denied Nixon’s appeal, referring to the other mention of impeachment in the Constitution: Article I, Section 3 giving the “sole power to try all impeachments” to the Senate.

Sensenbrenner’s attempt to address the substance of the impeachment articles consists largely of the following assertion: “When we finally considered the articles of impeachment, they were so broad and flimsy that almost any other president could most likely have been accused of them.” Contrary to this assertion, the actual articles offer specific details.

Going back through American history, it seems very unlikely that any previous president has done anything similar to Trump’s actions. Who among them pressured another nation for election help in exchange for US government support? Sensenbrenner doesn’t say.

The fact that Sensenbrenner attacks the process that led to the conclusions rather than substance of the conclusions suggests that he is unable or unwilling to defend Trump’s actions—that in Trump-speak they are “perfect.” In this he joins most of his Republican colleagues, who are very happy to point out supposed failures of process but become very quiet when it comes to Trump’s actions.

More about the Impeachment of President Trump

Categories: Data Wonk, Politics

11 thoughts on “Data Wonk: Rep. Sensenbrenner’s Disappointing Column”

  1. Trmott says:

    Perhaps we should consider that Jim Sensenbrenner may actually believe the things he expressed in his NYTimes column rather than surmising that he’s bowing down to DJT. Doesn’t that make more sense given his circumstances (e.g. seniority and retirement)? If so, he would align with a very large number of citizens who object to Trump’s style, temperament, and a plethora of etceteras, yet who believe the rationale for his impeachment is about as flawed as the man himself. (See: Turley). And therefore they in good conscience reject this particular impeachment push because of its shaky grounds and dubious process, the partisanship driving it (which could hardly be more obvious), the actual evidence puf forth, and its overly dramatic claims — to paraphrase, “clear and present danger to the future of our democracy, the sanctity of our electoral process, and our hallowed way of life”—really?.

    I have no love for the President, despite agreeing that profound change was and is needed in the way the country has been run by the political set, nor do I have any strong pro/con feelings about Sensenbrenner. That said, my (and our) vote(s) will prevail in several months. I selected months ago the candidate I will vote for whether or not s/he is nominated, so I have no favoite dog in this impeachment fight.

    A legislative veteran such as Sensenbrenner surely knows all the reasons so many dislike/despise the guy in the White House, as he might himself, but I cannot fault his opposition to impeachment of the President. Maybe Rep Sensenbrenner would prefer to retire from a Congress that had been debating and voting seriously on things of real substance versus being mired down in ego-driven acrimony from both sides of the aisle. If he feels that way, I think I’d understand that.

  2. Dan Wilson says:

    He won’t be missed.

  3. Duane says:

    It’s like Trump’s mental illness is wearing off on others and they don’t know how to deal, maybe they think “I will put my head in the sand and pretend there is nothing to see”. Sadly, it doesn’t change the fact that the dude is a life long criminal with mental health issues.

  4. Thomas Martinsen says:

    The fact that zero Republicans even tried to defend Trump on the actual charges against him: abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, and that they reiterated again and again some very weak talking points about the alleged unfairness of the process of the impeachment suggests to me that most Republicans in the House of Reps were hoping to hide behind the bully Trump in the hope that the bully would vanquish the challengers of a President who had clearly.dealt with devils to win election in 2016 (read the Mueller Report) and who was dealing with same for the 2020.election. Consider the testimony of 17 stellar witnesses in the impeachment hearings re the 2020 election.

    Rep. S. talked tough in the late 90’s when he was castigating an admittedly weakened President Clinton in that impeachment hearing. He sounded like a sissy in his efforts to defend a bully in 2019.

  5. Trmott says:

    I doubt that Sensenbrenner would acknowledge that one should be obliged to “defend Trump on the actual charges against him: abuse of power and obstruction of Congress,” His response would probably be that IF the charges were brought in good faith and had a clear set of relevant facts to interpret re: Trump’s impeachability (yes or no), then he would have to take them seriously. I listened to and read the same stuff everyone else did (ad nauseam), and can see how Sensenbrenner (or anyone else) could sincerely believe that nothing mentioned in the articles of impeachment rises to the level of impeachability, no more than other administrations’ did in the past.

    In response to your point about the Mueller report, am I wrong in saying nothing in there was a basis for the arricles of impeachment (I have not read the articles, frankly) just know the highlights ABOUT them. That Mueller Report was cleary a dud and because of that the search was on (as it had actually been from the day Trump was sworn in) to find something he could be impeached for. I philosophically oppose impeachment except in the clearest cases, for reasons that I’m sure you’ve heard before. So do I wish someone besides Trump had been elected? Sure. But that doesn’t make impeachment a good idea; in fact, it makes it a BAD idea if it originated based on political fervor.

  6. frank a schneiger says:

    Bruce Thompson and some of the respondents above are far too generous to Congressman Sensenbrenner. In actively supporting or remaining silent about the actions of President Trump and his administration, Sensenbrenner and his party are complicit in a range of unethical and criminal activities that should haunt them – and will certainly haunt our country – in the years to come, whatever the outcome of the impeachment trial is. Beyond the narrow – but compelling charges – related to Ukraine, here are just some of the activities that Sensenbrenner, the Republican Party and the 35% have actively supported:

    1) The destruction of truth by an administration, its propaganda network and a president who has now told approximately 9,000 lies at an accelerating pace to a support base that wants to believe those lies. Cue the “But what about….” response.
    2) A president who claims extraconstitutional powers and has gutted the institutions of our government, especially those related to justice, all with the silent compliance of Sensenbrenner and his colleagues.
    3) A concerted effort to cover up the fraudulent and criminal activities of the president – past and present- that have been the platform for Donald Trump’s entire career. Those doubting the truth of this statement should do some background reading.
    4) The destruction of families, the caging of children and the establishment of a chain of remote prison facilities for immigrants not accused of any crime, something that is okay with Congressman Sensenbrenner and his colleagues as long as those affected don’t look like their white constituents.
    5) The destruction of our alliances with democracies, the betrayal of those who have stood with us, e.g., the Kurds, and the formation of new friendships with autocrats like Bolsinaro, Erdogan, Kim, Dutarte and the president’s sponsor, Vladimir Putin, whose views and instructions are given priority over those of U.S. government agencies.
    6) The glorification of military spending, along with the glorification of American war criminals, something that Mr. Sensenbrenner has also not had much to say about, despite their profound implications for the future of our military forces.
    7) The destruction of our government’s scientific and analytic capacities, all in the name of “deregulation” and freeing the private sector, despite the again profound implications for public health and the environment. (For a case study of the consequences of these policies on a state level, see: Walker, Scott.)
    8) The undermining of efforts to address the profound threats and current realities of climate change
    9) The enormous tax cut for the wealthy and corporations, which has produced a trillion dollar deficit, in good economic times, laying the groundwork for calamity when recession comes. Sensenbrenner’s and his colleagues’ response: let’s cut food stamps and other programs for the most vulnerable people in society, and, Hey, look at how great the stock market is doing.
    10) Complicity in a political party that is now dependent on the support of a handful of right-wing plutocrats and extremist elements that now include Neo-Nazis, white supremacists and people who are actively threatening civil violence if Trump is not returned to office in 2020. All of whom are considered “fine people.”
    11) Systematic efforts to undermine a fair election by the Republicans, including voter suppression, disinformation, and the growing suspicion that they welcome Russian intervention if it will help them retain power.

    Congressman Sensenbrenner has been involved in all of these activities, including through his silence. This goes quite a bit beyond being “disappointing.” Complicity is a better term, and in the dark days of 1930s Europe, there was a word that was applied to people who went along with the program like James Sensenbrenner. They were called Quislings, a term that has lived in infamy ever since. It won’t be surprising if history repeats itself in the near future, but that will all depend on who is writing it.

  7. Thomas Martinsen says:

    The Mueller report was not a dud. The spin of Barr and Fox News would have us believe that.

    More articles of impeachment may yet be written: one or more of them referencing evidence from the Mueller Report.

  8. Thomas Martinsen says:

    Trmott’s post # 5 is essentially a reiteration of talking points that Republicans in the house used to avoid dealing with the very substantial charges that Democratic Congressmen presented in the impeachment hearings. Trmott, like 40 some Rpublicans in the house, is either delusional or hiding behind the bully Trump for self serving reasons. Trump tried to shake down Zelinsky to get the Ukrainian leader to help him berate a potential opponent in the 2020 election. There is ample evidence in support of that assertion.

  9. frank a schneiger says:

    Following up on Thomas Martinsen’s January 4 comment: Trmott’s comments reflect three common Trump supporter themes (cue the denial). First, that it’s all about style, and, while we may not like Trump’s style, he is “getting things done.”(cue the stock market) Second, the “everybody does it” theme. And, third, the “I’m just an objective observer” theme, unlike the Trump opponents who have a derangement syndrome.

    Well, anyone who watches one of Trump’s white trash Nuremberg style rallies can see for themselves that it’s the style that the fans love, especially the casual cruelty and character assassination that are the staples of these lie-fests. And, like Trmott, these are fans who you should never accuse of bias or bigotry. Those are all qualities of the radical liberals who are the real racists.

    Trmott’s big theme, a Republican centerpiece, is that “they all do it,” and, straight out of Fox News, that there was nothing in the Mueller Report that should trigger impeachment and removal from office. (Suggestion to Trmott: try reading it. It is a damning document, even without the absence of attention to Trump’s multiple crimes that Meuller did not focus on.) With respect to “they all do it,” it’s worth dividing a response into two time periods, before the election and the time that Trump has been in office.

    BEFORE BECOMING PRESIDENT: How many of Trump’s predecessors have had anything approximating the following track record:

    1) Multiple sexual assault charges, including one by his first wife, serial adulteries and the proud assertion that he can get away with anything, including grabbing women by their genitals, which he apparently did on numerous occasions. (cue the Bill Clinton comparisons, which would be appropriate but make Clinton look like a bush-leaguer in this category.)
    2) A long history of crooked business behavior, including tax evasion, the crooked Trump University, the crooked Trump Foundation, multiple bankruptcies, a consistent history of cheating/stiffing those he owed money to, drug running to his casinos, and, what in the end is likely to be most important, an entire business model built on money laundering with strong Russian connections.
    3) A campaign for president designed to make money and increase his celebrity, with the pervasive Russian connections documented in the Mueller Report and the involvement of people like Manafort and Flynn, whose connection cannot be explained outside of the Russia connection.
    4) A campaign steeped in racist appeals and narcissism that appealed to the worst instincts of Americans, and, with the aid of Russia, has raised social divisions and hatreds in our country to the danger point.

    IN OFFICE: In addition to those listed previously, other things that don’t fall into the “they all do it” category:

    1) Prison sentences, current and pending, for Trump’s closest allies and associates, last seen in the Nixon Administration
    2) A pervasive pattern of self-dealing/self- enrichment and nepotism, including what now appears to be a family dispute over who is next in the line of dynastic succession, Donald Jr. or Ivanka/Kushner. Anyone doubting the accuracy of this last should do a bit of research.
    3) Unprecedented laziness and a president who relies on Fox News fascists (Carlson, Hannity, Ingraham, The Five and Fox and Friends) for his policy views. (Term “fascist” not used loosely) leading to, contrary to his claims, a record of non-accomplishment, except for the tax giveaway and gutting environmental law, that may be unprecedented in recent history, e.g., where are the health care law replacement, the great infrastructure plan, the Middle East Peace Plan, etc?
    4) The glorification of violence, especially by white forces of law and order and the military, including the exoneration of a war criminal who is now part of Trump’s 2020 campaign, and a concerted pattern of intimidation and threats against anyone critical of the president.
    5) A cabinet full of sycophants and industry tools who continue to destroy federal agencies, and, in their worst crime, undermine efforts to address climate change at the behest of their sponsors in the fossil fuel industry, at what may be the pivotal moment in history.
    6) Continuing subservience to the foreign policy interests of Russian and Putin, and the increasing isolation of the United States globally.

    So, going back to trmott’s points, Donald Trump has certainly shaken things up, take a look at the results (cue the stock market numbers). Every administration “doesn’t do it.” For example, name the Obama official indictments, number: 0. (cue the “deep state” explanation). And, saying that I didn’t read any documents isn’t exactly objectivity.

  10. Trmott says:

    It’s clear that I and some others commenting here have some things in common. 1. We didn’t vote for Trump. 2. We never WILL vote for Trump. 3. There are many aspects of the man that we find distasteful, immoral, unethical, despicable. untrustworthy.

    Perhaps we have other things in common as well, hard to tell. One of my “things” is I am quick to rule out most state or national office candidates (especially the POTUS), as I did Trump. The first go/nogo is my evaluation of whether I would choose him or her to run my privately held business upon my death or retirement, of to be on the board or CEO of a corporation in which I had worked as a key employee. There are other coniderations about whom I would favor out of those who remain but most candidates, like Trump, fail that first test. And I don’t base it on ability to turn the biggest profit, but rather on how he/she would treat my employees, customers, key executives, and the community leaders, and how they would do in attracting other talented people to rely on, and then allow them to advance the enterprise. In other words, my candidate would be on the list of “most admired” of running something if a survey of that sector were done.

    I’ve known for a long time who my 2020 presidential choice is, and have sent some $$ and a few notes (suggestions) that way. He/she will not be on final ballot, but that’s what always happens!

    By looking at the field, II expect Trump will be reelected even though I predicted at the outset that he would flee the office at the end of one term or even DURING his first term. I underestimated his competitive drive, energy, and addiction to conflict and controversy. So, while I chose and choose not to like or support him on many things, I get why he was elected in the first place, which was an obvious distrust/dislike of the “establishment” in both major parties and the power elite’s disconnection with middle America, and tone deafness to public concerns about the direction in which the country has been heading.

    The people I know who accept Trump’s initiatives and priorities don’t preach it, and seldom even bring it up, unlike those who oppose him. They don’t go to rallies (never have, for anything) and just go about their lives. Mostly, they believe that nothing Washington does is central (pro or con) to their lives as citizens. But they do take note when they see references like “Trump’s white trash Nuremberg style rallies”, the “smelly Trump crowd” shopping at WalMart, “deplorables”, to people clutching thier Bibles and their guns, and all of that nonsense. Because they feel part of an opposition to entrenched career politicians, the liberal media, and millions of bureaucrats, those kinds of statements make them more Trumpish than they otherwise might be. Even if they won’t “rally” at Trump rallies, they are sure to vote when the time comes.

    To the original point of the article, as much a I share dislike of Trump on many levels, I don’t think impeachmenrt is the right step, and even less so now that’s become so bollixed up and political-vengeance driven. There’s a reason he wants a big-ass trial in the Senate. Just watch the money roll in for Trump when that circus rolls into town. It will be one glorious mud wrestling match, and he will be in his favorite place: the spotlight.

  11. frank a schneiger says:

    Trmott: A couple of thoughts. First, as with all groups, there is a continuum with Trump supporters. At the extreme are the Neo-Nazis and fascists followed by those who religiously attend the all white rallies, and then the “normal” Trump supporters who, at a minimum, share an indifference to what happens to anyone who doesn’t look like them.

    I used the terms about the rallies consciously for two reasons. One, as a test, because of all the points that I made, it was the least important, but, almost certainly, the one that would get picked up. Watch the rallies, and tell me where I am wrong as they cheer for each of Trump’s bigoted, cruel and violence-worshipping statements. It is also clear, and Trump has tapped into that clarity, that these fans, well beyond the ones at the rallies, buy into the notion that white people are the victims in American society. That is a very dangerous belief by a dominant group, with lots of historic examples to demonstrate that danger.

    You mention opposition to “entrenched politicians.” That doesn’t seem to be the case since these voters are quite happy to return “entrenched” people like Sensenbrenner, McConnell and the rest to office so long as they go along with the hate the liberals, white supremacist program. All the while serving the interests of the most retrograde corporate and financial interests that are screwing these same voters.

    Finally, take a look at the list of items that I made. Tell me which ones are inaccurate, and why they don’t rise to the level of impeachment and removal from office. Including actions and revelations in the past few days, e.g. Iranian-Americans refused entry into the country, deportation of the mother of a soldier and, most dramatically, the assassination, and the steady stream of lies related to each, which further demonstrate the corruption and radicalization of our government in the hands of this group of people for whom cruelty is the end, not the means.

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