Congressional Cowardice in Impeachment 2021

Steve Russell
5 min readFeb 7, 2021
Trump as a Legend in His Own Mind. Photo by Pixels in Public Domain.

If some contemporary admirer of JFK (or Ted Sorensen) wished to write a second volume to Profiles in Courage, it would be a very short book.

The last senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell (R-KY), seemed to take pride in his nickname, Grim Reaper, perhaps because it was directly connected to the source of his power, his ability to steer the senate away from situations that might require “his members” to cast a difficult vote. The primary difficulty to be avoided was controversy in their home states.

The issue is not having one’s true position smoked out by the vote. There might not even be a true position. The issue is having to cast the sort of vote that is bound to cost political support among those on the other side of the vote because it is a salient issue, an issue voters carry with them to the ballot box. Another feature of the “difficult vote” is that it is a public position for which reasons must be given. The vote might require the member to — -horrors! — -debate the issue, whether on the campaign trail or on the Senate Floor.

How is it, I wonder, that an outfit styling itself “the world’s greatest deliberative body” could harbor so many members who wish to avoid public deliberation? On the other side of the Capitol, the path to election as Speaker of the House is also paved with issue avoidance. A successful Speaker, like a successful Senate Majority Leader, helps the members avoid hard votes or serious debates.

When Barack Obama was President, each legislative session would begin with the White House running its traps to learn whether there could be a new Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) setting out the Congressional parameters for what we still call the “War on Terror.” A new AUMF was especially important after Obama warned the Assad government in Syria of a “red line” Syrian forces should not cross: using poison gas on Syrian civilians.

Assad trampled the red line, but Congress was still not interested in passing a new AUMF. As a result, the penalty for poisoning civilians was a tongue lashing and there was much cluck-clucking about Obama’s “weakness.” Even now, it’s not clear whether a majority of Congress favored punishing…

Steve Russell

Enrolled Cherokee, 9th grade dropout, retired judge, associate professor emeritus, and (so far) cancer survivor. Memoir: Lighting the Fire (Miniver Press 2020)