Colorado Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet took to the Senate floor in advance of the historic vote in the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump to explain the reasoning for his vote.
His remarks reflected the knowledge going into Wednesday that the Senate would likely decide to acquit.
"The idea that we would turn our back and close our eyes to the evidence pounding on the outside of the doors of this Capitol is pitiful. It is disgraceful. And it will be a stain on this body for all time," Bennet said on the Senate floor.
Remarks as prepared for delivery, Feb. 5, 2020
When I was in the second grade, which I did twice because I was dyslexic so I don't know which year of the second grade it was, but one of those two years, we were asked to line up in order of whose family had been here the longest period of time and whose family had been here the shortest period of time. And I turned out to be the answer to both of those questions. My father's family went all the way back to the Mayflower and my mom's family were Polish Jews who survived the Holocaust. They didn't leave Warsaw because my grandfather had a large family he didn't want to leave behind. And, in the event, everybody was killed in the war except my mom, her parents, and an aunt. They lived in Warsaw for two years after the war, then they went to Stockholm for a year, then they went to Mexico City for a year, of all places, and then they came to the United States — the one place in the world they could rebuild their shattered lives. And they did rebuild their shattered lives.
My mom was the only person in the family who could speak any English. She registered herself in the New York City public schools. She graduated from Hunter College High School. She went on to graduate from Wellesley College in Massachusetts in one generation. My grandparents rebuilt the business they had lost during the war.
And I knew from them how important this symbol of America was to people struggling all over the world. They had been through some of the worst events in human history, and their joy of being Americans was completely unadulterated. I've meant many immigrants across this country, and I still haven't met anybody with a stronger accent than my grandparents had, and I have never met anybody who were greater patriots than they were. And they understood how important the idea of America was, not because we were perfect — exactly the opposite of that — because we were imperfect. But we lived in a free society that was able to cure its imperfections with the hard work of our citizens to make this country more democratic, more free, and more fair. A country committed to the rule of law — nobody was above the rule of law and nobody was treated unfairly by the law, even if you were an immigrant to this country.
From my dad's example, I learned something really different. It might interest some people around here to know he was a staffer in the Senate for many years. And I actually grew up coming here on Saturday mornings throwing paper airplanes around the hallways of the Dirksen building and the Russell building. He worked here at a very different time in the Senate. He worked here at a time when Republicans and Democrats worked together to uphold the rule of law, to pass important legislation that was needed by the American people to move our country forward. A time when Democrats and Republicans went back home and said, “I didn't get everything that I wanted, to be sure, but the 65 percent I did get is worth the bill that we had, and here’s why the other side needed 35 percent.” Those days are completely gone in the United States Senate. And I grieve for them. My dad passed away about a year ago, and I know how disappointed he would be about where we are. But there isn't anybody who can fix it except the hundred people that are here, and I suppose the American people for whom we ostensibly work.
In the last ten years that I've been here, Madam President, I have watched politicians come to this floor and destroy the solemn responsibility that we have — the constitutional responsibility we have — to advise and consent on judicial appointments — to turn that constitutional responsibility into nothing more than a vicious partisan exercise. That hasn't been done by the American people. That wasn't done by any other generation of politicians that were in this place. It's been done by this generation of politicians, led by the Senator from Kentucky, the Majority Leader of the Senate.
We have become a body that does nothing. We're an employment agency. That's who we are. Seventy-five percent of the votes we took last year were on appointments. We voted on 26 amendments last year — 26. In the world's greatest deliberative body, we passed eight amendments in a year. Pathetic. We didn't consider any of the major issues that the American people are confronting in their lives. Not a single one. After ten years of town halls when people say to me, “Michael, we are killing ourselves and we can't afford housing, health care, higher education, or early childhood education. We cannot save. We can't live a middle class life. We think our kids are going to live a more diminished life than we do.” What does the United States Senate do? Cut taxes for rich people. We don't have time to do anything else around here.
And now when we are the only body on planet Earth charged with the responsibility of dealing with the guilt or innocence of this president, we can't even bring ourselves to have witnesses and evidence as part of a fair trial. Even when there are literally witnesses with direct knowledge of what the president did practically banging on the door of the Senate, saying, “Let me testify.” We're too lazy for that. The reality is we're too broken for that. We are too broken for that. And we have failed in our duty to the American people.
Hamilton said in Federalist 65 that in an impeachment trial, we were the inquisitors for the people, the Senate. We were the inquisitors for the people. How can you be the inquisitors for the people when you don't even dignify the process with evidence and with witnesses?
Madam President, I often have schoolkids come visit me here in the Senate, which I really enjoy because I used to be the Superintendent of the Denver Public Schools. And when they come visit me, they very often have been on the Mall. They have seen the Lincoln Memorial. They've seen the Washington Monument. They have seen the Supreme Court and this Capitol. And there's a tendency among them to believe this was all just here. And of course, 230 years ago, I tell them, none of it was here. None of it was here. It was in the ideas of the Founders, the people who we call the Founders, who did two incredible things in their lifetime, in their generation, that had never been done before in human history. They wrote a Constitution that would be ratified by the people who live under it — never happened before. They would have never imagined that we would have lasted 230 years, at least until the age of Donald Trump. They led an armed insurrection against a colonial power — we call that the Revolutionary War — that succeeded too. They did something terrible in their generation that will last for the rest of our days, Madam President, and that is they perpetuated human slavery. The building we’re standing in today was built by enslaved human beings because of the decisions that they made.
But I tell the kids that come and visit me, there is a reason why there are not enslaved human beings in this country anymore, and that's because of people like Frederick Douglass. Born a slave in the United States of America. Escaped his slavery in Maryland. Risked his life and limb to get to Massachusetts and he found the abolitionist movement there. And the abolitionist movement, Madam President, had been arguing for generations that the Constitution was a pro-slavery document. And Frederick Douglass, who was completely self-taught, said to them you have this exactly wrong, exactly backwards, 180 Degrees from the truth. “The Constitution is an anti-slavery document,” Frederick Douglass said, “not a pro-slavery document. But we're not living up to the words of the Constitution.”
It's the same thing Dr. King said the night before he was killed in Memphis when he went down there for the striking garbage workers, and he said I am here to make America keep the promise you wrote down on the page. And in my mind, Frederick Douglass and Dr. King are Founders just as much as the people who wrote the Constitution of the United States. How could they not be?
The women that fought to give my three daughters the right to vote, who fought for 50 years to get the right to vote — mostly women in this country — they are Founders like the people who wrote the Constitution as well.
And over the years that I have been here, Madam President, I have seen this institution crumble into rubble — this institution become incapable of addressing the most existential questions of our time that the next generation cannot address. They can't fix their own schools. They can't fix our immigration system. They can't fix climate change, although they are getting less and less patient with us on that issue. But what I have come to conclude is that the responsibility of all of us, not just senators, but all of us as citizens in a democratic republic, 230 years after the founding of this republic, is the responsibility of a Founder. It's that elevated a sense of what a citizen is required to do in a republic, to sustain that republic.
And I think that's the right way to think about it. It gives you a sense of what's really at stake beyond the headlines on the cable television at night and certainly in the social media feeds that divide us minute to minute in our political life today. And the Senate has clearly failed that standard. We have clearly failed that standard.
The idea that we would turn our back and close our eyes to the evidence pounding on the outside of the doors of this Capitol is pitiful. It is disgraceful. And it will be a stain on this body for all time.
More than 50 percent of the people in this place have said that what the President did was wrong. It clearly was wrong. It clearly was unconstitutional. It clearly was impeachable. What president would never run for office, saying to the American people, I'm going to try to extort a foreign power for my own electoral interests to interfere in our elections? It is exactly the kind of conduct that the impeachment clause was written for. It is a textbook case of why the impeachment clause exists.
But even if you don't agree with me that he should have been convicted, or that he should be convicted, I don't know how anybody in this body goes home and faces their constituents and says, “We wouldn't even look at the evidence.”
And so I say to the American people: our democracy is very much at risk. I'm not one of those people who believes that Donald Trump is the source of all our problems. I think he's made matters much worse, to be sure. But he is a symptom of our problems. He is a symptom of our failure to tend to the democracy, to our responsibility as Founders. And if we don't begin to take that responsibility as seriously as our parents and grandparents did, people who faced much bigger challenges than we ever did. Nobody is asking us, thank God, to end human slavery. Nobody's asking us to fight for 50 years for the self-evident proposition that women should have the right to vote. We're not marching in Selma, being beaten for the self-evident prospect that all people are created equally. Nobody's asking us to climb the cliffs of Normandy to fight for freedom in a world war. We are being asked to save the democracy. And we're going to fail that test today in the United States Senate. And my prayer for our country, Madam President, is that the American people won't fail that test, and I'm optimistic that we won't. We have never failed it before. And I don't think we'll fail it in our time.
You want to know what is really going on these days, especially in Colorado. We can help you keep up. The Lookout is a free, daily email newsletter with news and happenings from all over Colorado. Sign up here and we will see you in the morning!