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Open defiance of an oath

What happens when the leadership in the U.S. Senate fails to live up to their vows

Melvin B. Miller
Open defiance of an oath
“We have a new hero. Senator Mitt Romney, who takes an oath before God and keeps his word.”

Many Americans consider the recent impeachment of Donald Trump to be just an especially hostile political encounter. However, the solemn defection of Sen. Mitt Romney from Republican unity forced thoughtful citizens to consider another aspect of the confrontation. Can there be adverse consequences to the nation if members of its leadership group in the U.S. Senate fail to comply with the demands of their vows?

Article 1, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution is clear. “The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments. When sitting for that Purpose, they shall be on Oath or Affirmation.” The Senate rules require every Senator who is trying an impeachment to swear or affirm that they will “do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws.”

Even before Trump’s impeachment trial began, several senators made it clear that they were not impartial. They indicated that they planned to violate their vows. An assertion from Trump’s supporters that there was insufficient evidence was used to justify their defiant position. However, when they voted to bar the presentation of witnesses and evidence at the trial, the legitimacy of that position collapsed.

Trump defenders were successful in herding all of the senators but one to break their vows, despite substantial evidence to the contrary, and vote to acquit. Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah stood alone and voted to convict on the impeachment article on abuse of power.

Romney concluded that Trump had committed a “high crime and misdemeanor” when he asked a foreign government to investigate his political rival. The president withheld vital military funds from that government to press it to do so. The president delayed funds for an American ally at war with Russian invaders. The president’s purpose was personal and political.

“Accordingly, the President is guilty of an appalling abuse of the public trust,” Romney said. “What he did was not ‘perfect’ — no, it was a flagrant assault on our electoral rights, our national security interests, and our fundamental values.”

Romney further stated, “The allegations made in the articles of impeachment are very serious. As a senator-juror, I swore an oath, before God, to exercise ‘impartial justice.’ I am a profoundly religious person. I take an oath before God as enormously consequential. … My promise before God to apply impartial justice required that I put my personal feelings and [political] biases aside. Were I to ignore the evidence that has been presented, and disregard what I believe my oath and the Constitution demands of me, for the sake of a partisan end, it would, I fear, expose my character to history’s rebuke and the censure of my own conscience.”

Every senator who sat as a juror in Trump’s impeachment took the same oath as Mitt Romney. Yet he is the only Republican to see that his president’s conduct was so “grievously wrong” that he had to convict in order to comply with the oath that he had taken. He was the only one of 53 Republican senators to convict. One has to wonder whether an oath before God has any meaning to most people these days.

Christianity is on the decline, according to a Pew Survey. In 2019, 65% of adults surveyed indicated that they were Christians. That is a big drop from 85% in 1990. But even more important is whether taking an oath before God has actionable consequences when the terms are defied. At the very least it raises questions about the character of someone who would fail to comply.

At the annual National Prayer Breakfast the day after his acquittal, Trump rejected the opportunity to be grateful for having survived impeachment. Rather he deplored Nancy Pelosi’s earlier expression of religious commitment that she prayed for him despite their political conflicts. Trump also attacked Romney, an ardent Mormon, for finding him guilty as a profession of his faith.

It appears that the conflicts in America are much greater than mere political differences.

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