WASHINGTON — When it was time to decide whether the president of the United States should be impeached, Roger Wicker did not mince words.
“The rule of law means recognizing that felonious criminal conduct by the president of the United States cannot be tolerated,” Wicker said. “The rule of law is more important than the tenure in office of any elected official.”
Wicker, a rising Republican star in just his second term in the U.S. House of Representatives, was speaking ahead of the 1998 House impeachment vote of Democratic President Bill Clinton. The Republican-controlled House affirmed four impeachment articles against Clinton, and Wicker voted yes on all four.
More than two decades later, as the country is embroiled in the impeachment trial of another president — this time from his own party — now-Sen. Wicker’s few public statements stand in contrast to his sentiments of the Clinton impeachment in a then-Republican controlled House.
As of this week, the impeachment trial of Republican President Donald Trump commenced in the U.S. Senate after the Democratic-led House approved articles of impeachment against Trump for abuse of power and obstruction of justice.
Minutes after the December impeachment vote, Wicker released a statement condemning it as a “historic mistake” meant to besmirch Trump’s tenure in office. The statement made no mention of the accusation that Trump withheld military aid from Ukraine until that nation announced an investigation into Joe Biden, the former vice president, and his son. Biden is also a Democratic candidate for president and a potential election opponent for Trump.
“By impeaching President Trump on a partisan basis and with little evidence, (Democrats) have set a dangerous precedent,” Wicker said in a Dec. 18 statement. “The truth is, congressional Democrats have sought this result since the day Donald Trump was elected. Their effort has never been about the facts or accountability. It was always about politics and damaging a president they cannot tolerate.”
This week, Wicker is one of the 100 U.S. senators who will have to decide whether those words apply to the present day. The Senate will hear the House’s case for convicting Republican President Donald Trump on two impeachment articles.
The Senate spent much of Tuesday hammering out the details and rules of the trial.
During the first day of hearings on Tuesday, Wicker, using a number two pencil and a legal pad, diligently scribbled notes as Democrats argued their case. During the entirety of the Senate impeachment trial, senators are not allowed to bring electronics onto the chamber floor, and talking among colleagues is strictly prohibited.
Opening statements begin Wednesday, and are expected to go late into the evening each day. The scene inside the Capitol was frenzied as hundreds of spectators stood in line before the Senate convened, hoping to gain a seat in the public gallery.
One group stood together in black T-shirts, each with a white letter that spelled REMOVE TRUMP when they stood side-by-side. The building was effectively locked down 30 minutes before the trial began, with Capitol police stationed in every corner of the Senate side of the building. Many senators avoided speaking with reporters, who were also present en masse.
In his few interactions with reporters, including in an early January appearance in Jackson, Wicker has been more careful than he was in his initial statement, maintaining he will fulfill his constitutional duty to be an impartial juror.
In December he told Mississippi Today in a statement that he “takes seriously the responsibility of considering articles of impeachment.”
“I will listen, and I also will be transparent,” Wicker said. “Nothing I have seen or heard during the House process comes close to an impeachable offense or warrants removing a duly-elected president from office.”