WASHINGTON – Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, delivered an impassioned speech on the Senate Floor today, in which he stressed Congress’ role as a co-equal branch of government and upholding the Constitutional system of checks and balances in announcing that he will vote to remove President Donald J. Trump.
“We need our Republican colleagues to be intellectually honest. We need them to speak the truth and say it’s impeachable, so we can mount a bipartisan defense of the Constitution and all that America stands for,” said the Senator. “I, for one, am prepared to defend our Constitution. I will vote guilty on the articles of impeachment, not because of loyalty to any party. Not because of how it will or won’t play in any upcoming election. I will vote for impeachment and removal not because I hate this President—because I don’t—but because I love our country more.”
Below are the Senator’s full remarks as delivered:
“I rise today as an unwavering believer in the system of checks and balances laid out by our Framers in the Constitution, with three co-equal branches of government at times working with each other, and at times working as a check against each other.
It is this system of checks and balances that safeguards our Republic against tyranny and ensures that our government by the people, for the people, as Abraham Lincoln said, does not perish from this earth.
My colleagues, what the facts of this trial have shown, and what every member of this body knows, is that President Trump did exactly what the House has accused him of doing in these two articles of impeachment: abusing his power and obstructing Congress.
These articles strike at the very heart of a Republic ruled not by men but by laws, and the very notion of a government elected by and for the people. I took my constitutional oath to do impartial justice seriously. I came to this trial with an open mind. I listened to both sides. I waited for the facts to persuade me. But in all the many hours I sat through this trial, not once did I hear the President’s team make a compelling defense.
Instead, I heard a damning case from the House managers detailing how President Trump subverted our national security and solicited foreign interference in our election for his own personal political benefit. The facts show the President used U.S. security assistance and an official White House meeting—two of Ukraine’s highest priorities— not to advance our national security, but rather his own 2020 re-election effort. And in doing so, he violated the law known as the Impoundment Control Act and undermined Congress’s constitutional authority.
As Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, I want to make something clear. When a foreign adversary like Russia interferes in our elections, it is not for the benefit of the United States. It is for the benefit of Russia.
The United States provides foreign assistance to countries all over the world because it benefits America’s interests. We help Ukraine in their fight against Russian aggression because it is the right thing to do for our national security. But when U.S. officials tell Ukraine that, in order to get the Oval Office meeting their President wants and the security assistance it urgently needs, their government must first announce investigations into President Trump’s political opponents, that’s not advancing our national security. That’s corrupting it.
That’s forcing a foreign country to choose between their own security and getting perversely involved in another country’s elections. When we use U.S. foreign assistance as a political pawn, we weaken our standing and credibility in the world.
Ukraine needed our help. And yet when it sought our military assistance, instead of sending it right away, the President of the United States said, “I would like you to do us a favor, though.”
The damage of that message cannot be undone. And if we don’t hold this President accountable, then we are saying it’s okay to do it again. I fear the consequences of the President’s actions, and I fear the consequences of our own inaction. Not just for today or this year but for years to come, when we have to explain to our allies, “trust us, we’ll be there.” Or when we tell the American people “trust us, we are doing this in the name of U.S. national security.” Or when we press other countries about strengthening the rule of law and holding free and fair elections.
If we do not rein in this conduct, if we do not call it the abuse of power that it is, then we have failed to live up to the ideals of our Republic. And I fear we have already let the American people and our Constitution down by failing to hold a fair trial.
There’s no American across this country who would call a trial without witnesses and documents a fair trial. They would call it a sham. And by refusing witnesses and documents, the Senate is complicit in the President’s obstruction of Congress, the essence of the House’s second article of impeachment.
The House had a constitutional prerogative to conduct an impeachment and oversight investigation. Yet President Trump engaged in unprecedented obstruction in order to cover up his misconduct; by blocking witnesses with firsthand knowledge; by denying access to any documents; by publicly disparaging and threatening those with the courage to defy his orders and testify publicly; by casting aside a co-equal branch of government as if he can really do, as he himself said, “whatever he wants.”
When a president tries to extort a foreign government for his own political aims, and in doing so, ignores the law and the Constitution, the only remedy can be that which our Framers gave us: impeachment and removal.
The Framers knew this day would come. They knew the threat of an executive who welcomed or solicited foreign interference in our elections was real. What the Framers of our Constitution never could have imagined is that there would come a day when the United States Senate would shrink in the face of a president who would behave like a king—not out of principle but out of willful ignorance and blind party loyalty. Our failure to conduct a fair trial casts doubt on the very verdict rendered by this body. This is not an exoneration of a President, it is the coronation of a king.
I believe that the day we fail to remove this President will go down in history as a day of constitutional infamy. It will be remembered as a dark day for our democracy, for our national security, and for our Constitutional order.
I ask my colleagues, what future damage will we enable if this body says that it’s okay for a President to subvert our national security interest and solicit foreign interference in our elections? What will be left of our system of checks and balances if there are no consequences for obstructing investigations, blocking witnesses, and withholding evidence from Congress? If we do not remove this President, can we pull ourselves back to a place where the rule of law matters? How much more shredding of the Constitution can we as a nation possibly endure?
We already know President Trump thinks he can go to war with Iran without a congressional authorization. He believes he can misuse congressionally-appropriated funds for whatever he wants, like taking billions from the Department of Defense to spend on a border wall that every day proves to be a colossal waste. And through it all, the compliant and complicit Republican majority has further emboldened this President, by eliminating the 60-vote threshold for Supreme Court nominations, by refusing to call witnesses in this trial, and by further stripping the Senate of its David against Goliath role in which we serve as a check on vast executive power.
If the Senate is prepared to say that this president, and all future presidents, of either party, can misuse congressionally-appropriated funding to extract political favors from a foreign power, can deny all witnesses, can withhold all relevant documents, can openly threaten ambassadors, career public servants, and Members of Congress—if a president can commit all of these gross abuses of power as he were above the law—then the very essence of our democracy is broken, and we must ask ourselves: what is left?
What is left of our Constitution if we are not prepared to defend it? What is left other than lawlessness? We need Republicans of conscience and courage to say more than just ‘yes, the President did it and it was wrong.’
We need our Republican colleagues to be intellectually honest. We need them to speak the truth and say it’s impeachable, so we can mount a bipartisan defense of the Constitution and all that America stands for.
I, for one, am prepared to defend our Constitution. I will vote guilty on the articles of impeachment, not because of loyalty to any party. Not because of how it will or won’t play in any upcoming election. I will vote for impeachment and removal not because I hate this President—because I don’t—but because I love our country more.
I took an oath to uphold the Constitution, and with this vote, I intend to do so.”