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    Symbolism in America

    While many countries unite behind symbolic references to their nations, no people are quite as motivated by symbolism as Americans.

    Since the beginning of our nation, symbols representing our ideals permeate our lives. From the stories about ringing the Liberty Bell in 1776 as soon to be revolutionaries read the Declaration of Independence, to the words in the national anthem celebrating the flag still waving over Fort McHenry as British ships bombarded Baltimore in the War of 1812, symbolism has been an integral part of our country’s fabric.

    This appreciation is often simple and poignant reminders of the many sacrifices our ancestors have made to ensure our freedom. They fill the halls of the Smithsonian and other national museums. Pictures and paintings like Betsy Ross sewing one of the first American flags, destitute people lined up for food in the Great Depression, the brave soldiers planting the flag on Iwo Jima, the draped coffin of President Kennedy passing his saluting son, John, and Neil Armstrong taking the first step on the moon. The list goes on and on.

    One of the most revered and honored symbols of our nation is the Presidency and the respect for which the office deserves regardless of partisan politics or the person who occupies the office.  While it is the right, indeed perhaps the duty, of every citizen, politician and media pundit who disagrees with the President to voice their views, there are certain times when it is wholly inappropriate and disrespectful not of the person but of the office itself. That is inexcusable and unacceptable.

    We saw a glaring example of such disrespect on Tuesday at the conclusion of the President’s State of the Union address. When Speaker Nancy Pelosi tore up the President’s speech for the world to see, she went over the line. She symbolically tore up the message behind everything President Trump said, including honoring our fallen heroes and celebrating new opportunities for Americans to follow their dreams. She literally destroyed a historical document that belongs in a museum, not a trash can. Please do not defend her disrespect because there are other copies of the speech. She tore up the copy passed from the President of the United States to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, as has been a tradition for as long as most of us have been alive. It’s not just any copy. That makes a difference.

    Some might defend her stunt as a statement targeting President Trump and the deep differences she has with him, both political and personal. Such a defense is sophomoric. She more than adequately insulted him by dropping the traditional introduction about honor and privilege, just as the President let his feelings known by not extending his hand for a handshake. Those rebukes of one another, as childish as they may have been, were directed at the individual, not the office or the ideals and dreams of America and Americans that were celebrated in the speech.

    The State of the Union address is steeped in tradition. More importantly, it is mandated in the Constitution. Article II, Section 3, Clause 1 of the Constitution calls for the President to periodically “give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.” While the Constitution does not require the President to make a speech (it can be a written report), with few exceptions a speech has been the tradition since Woodrow Wilson’s 1913 State of the Union address.

    While the Constitution calls for a report, it is not the right of the President to make a speech before a joint session of Congress. Indeed, to this day, the President can only do so upon invitation from the House in whose chambers he delivers the speech.

    The process is also steeped in protocol established over decades of history.

    By tradition, each member of Congress is permitted one guest and the President can invite up to 24 guests to accompany the First Lady. The Speaker of the House is also allowed to invite 24 guests.

    As the annual tradition unfolds, the Deputy Sergeant at Arms of the House addresses the Speaker and announces the arrival of the Vice President and members of the Senate, who enter and take the seats assigned to them. The Vice President sits at the podium beside the Speaker. The Speaker, and then the Vice President, specify the members of the House and Senate who will escort the President into the chamber upon his arrival. The Deputy Sergeant at Arms then addresses the Speaker again and announces, in order, the arrival of the Dean of the Diplomatic Corps, the Chief Justice of the United States, the Associate Justices, and the Cabinet, each of whom enters and takes their seats. While this order has on occasion been changed, such formalities are always a part of the event but rarely covered by the media.

    Meanwhile, the Sergeant at Arms of the House, traditionally on the left of the entrance door to the chamber, waits with the Sergeant at Arms of the Senate (to his or her right). When the President arrives, the Sergeant at Arms of the House enters and announces, “Madam [or Mister] Speaker, the President of the United States.” The President then enters the chamber.

    After handshakes, kisses and hugs as he walks down the aisle, the President makes his way to the podium and hands an envelope to the Vice President and the Speaker, each containing an official copy of his speech. He then turns to those gathered in the chamber and begins his address.

    The copies of the speech are as historical as any other symbol of our nation and democracy. Every official copy is part of our history. When Speaker Pelosi chose to tear it up as a gesture of disrespect, she symbolically tore up every ideal contained in it. Unlike a snubbed handshake or a disrespectful introduction, destroying the official copy was reprehensible. While she will never do so, she owes all Americans an apology. In my heart, I would like to think her inexcusable behavior was in the heat of the moment, but something tells me she planned it all along. Shame on you, Madam Speaker.

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    Capitol Hill Blunders Again

    For the few Americans who watched President Trump’s impeachment trial in the Senate, they witnessed yet another blunder, this time not only by the Democrats, but also by the Republicans.

    However, before I get to the Republican blunder, let’s look at the many blunders by the House of Representatives.

    No one can honestly argue that the House did a good job during its impeachment hearings that led to the Articles of Impeachment. They rushed out Articles so lacking in Constitutional legitimacy to be laughable if they were not such a serious attack on what the Founding Fathers and framers of the Constitution believed were proper grounds to remove a sitting president. The actual Articles, as pointed out by Prof. Alan Dershowitz, himself a Democrat who voted for Hilary Clinton, simply do not meet the Constitutional standard. At least that is his opinion.

    Don’t get me wrong. The Articles of Impeachment cited serious transgressions. The facts alleged, if true, most certainly warranted hearings. And if the House had taken the time to call more witnesses and allow for more discovery, even if it meant going to court to enforce subpoenas, they might well have discovered what could constitute “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors” (as the Constitution requires to impeach and remove a president).

    The first article alleges President Trump abused his power by soliciting “the interference of a foreign government, Ukraine, in the 2020 United States Presidential election.” The second article charges President Trump with obstruction of Congress by instituting an “unprecedented, categorical, and indiscriminate defiance of subpoenas issued by the House of Representatives …”.

    Let’s look at them in reverse order.

    We can dismiss the second article out of hand.  “Unprecedented, categorical, and indiscriminate defiance”?  Really?  I seriously doubt that there is anything unprecedented, categorical, or indiscriminate in Washington politics. Worse, the House clearly had a remedy assuming any legitimacy to the allegation. They should have gone to court to enforce their subpoenas. That is the accepted and proper remedy for defiance of service of process. Indeed, Congress has gone to court many times to enforce subpoenas. Think about it – if they had done so here and if a witness or President Trump then defied a court order to appear or produce, there would be no question such behavior would be a legitimate basis for impeachment if perpetrated by the President. Instead, the House chose not to exhaust its proper remedies and instead decided (on a purely partisan basis) that it did not have to go to court to resolve the issue. No serious Constitutional scholar can defend the House’s second Article when it failed to follow the judicial process underpinning the doctrine of separation of power between the Legislative and Executive branches of government. Therefore, the second article fails on its face.

    The first article, however, would have been more interesting if the House fully investigated it. With proper witnesses and discovery of documents, the House might well have been able to deliver evidence to the Senate that would have turned some Republican Senators to their side. The House chose not to do so. What they did instead was produce testimony and documents filled with opinions, hearsay, and evidence woefully inadequate to warrant a conviction. Nor in their hearings did the House allow President Trump to call his own witnesses or to cross-examine those who did testify. While it is the right of the House majority to make such procedural decisions, in hindsight, I think we all have to agree that its failure to be deliberative and more diligent severely undermined the legitimacy of the first Article of Impeachment. They should have – and could have – done a better job.

    They did not.  And to sit on the Articles for weeks before sending them to the Senate made them look all the more foolish. Put simply, they blundered.

    When the House did finally deliver the Articles to the Senate, the first thing the House Managers wanted was more witnesses, including some who they could have called at the House hearings but chose not to. Moreover, they wanted more documents that they failed to subpoena during their hearings. Both requests were tantamount to an admission that the House failed to finish its job before asking the Senate to try the President. Worse, it made their claim that they had a “rock-solid” case all the more fallacious. Another blunder.

    Senator McConnell and nearly every Republican Senator who could find a microphone or television camera jumped on the bandwagon of “no more witnesses”.  Senator Schumer and his cohorts likewise jumped on the bandwagon that more witnesses were necessary to find the truth, essentially admitting that the House case was weak. Never mind that Senator Schumer decried the idea of more witnesses when he sat in President Clinton’s impeachment. No one should assume that politicians – on either side of the aisle – are consistent in their views. What they believe is always dependent upon partisan winds. One day they say something is mandated to reach a decision and the next day they claim the very same thing is unnecessary.  t is no wonder so few Americans trust politicians.

    Now the Republicans have blundered.

    Witnesses could have been called at the Senate trial. But it is also clear that the decision to call additional witnesses or demand more documents rests solely with the Senate and if a majority should decide more witnesses and documents are not necessary, that decision is final. It is no different than the House’s decision to not allow President Trump to call or cross-examine witnesses in the House hearings.

    By a vote of 51 to 49, the Senate defeated a motion to call more witnesses. The issue was resolved. Had it gone the other way, many believe the trial would have continued for months. That was something no Democrat Senator trying to win his or her party’s nomination for President wanted.

    In the midst of all the political wrangling, House Manager Adam Schiff reportedly made a bold proposal. Some say out of desperation. Others say it was a strategic move. Schiff said, “I will make an offer to opposing counsel, who have said that this will stretch on indefinitely if you decide to have a single witness. Let’s cap the depositions to one week.”

    Whether Schiff formally made the offer or not, the Republicans never took him up on it. That was their blunder.

    Certainly, one more week would not have changed the inevitable outcome of acquittal. Thanks to leaks at the New York Times and letters from lawyers for likely witnesses, it is clear what the new Democrat witnesses were going to say.  And if the Republicans called witnesses like Vice President Biden, any first-year law student could handle the questioning. Nothing new would be learned.

    Here is the blunder.  Had the Republicans taken Schiff up on his offer, the House and Senate Democrats would no longer be able to claim there was no fair trial.  Had the Republicans given Schiff another week, Democrats would no longer have a credible claim that the Senate was guilty of a cover-up or overseeing a sham trial.  While some Democrats might continue to campaign on such accusations, they would carry no weight. Moreover, by calling a few more witnesses over an additional week, the country might have been spared what will undoubtedly be new hearings in the House in yet another partisan spectacle to smear the President and his associates. Likewise, if the Republicans called the Bidens, it might have spared likely hearings in the Senate in its own partisan effort to smear the Bidens and others.

    Perhaps Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski said it best, “Given the partisan nature of this impeachment from the very beginning and throughout, I have come to the conclusion that there will be no fair trial in the Senate. I don’t believe the continuation of this process will change anything. It is sad for me to admit that, as an institution, the Congress has failed.

    “It has also become clear some of my colleagues intend to further politicize this process, and drag the Supreme Court into the fray, while attacking the Chief Justice. I will not stand for nor support that effort. We have already degraded our institution for partisan political benefit, and I will not enable those who wish to pull down another.

    “We are sadly at a low point of division in this country.”

    Senator Murkowski is right. There was no fair trial in the Senate because there was no fair hearing in the House. This was all a partisan, political charade to help Democrats beat President Trump in 2020. Now, who is interfering with an election?  I doubt any Democrat or other Republican will show the same courage and conviction of Senator Murkowski to tell the American people the truth. The impeachment process was entirely about partisan politics and not Constitutional principles.