WASHINGTON — Only a handful of U.S. senators participated in the past two presidential impeachments.
Roger Wicker, the senior senator from Mississippi, is one of them.
A longtime Tupelo resident and conservative, Wicker is also a staunch defender of President Donald Trump. This week, despite strongly asserting that he does not agree with Democrats that the president committed impeachable offenses, Wicker has appeared committed to intently listening to Democratic prosecutors’ case.
After the U.S. House of Representatives voted in December 2019 to impeach Trump, seven House members are now presenting their case to the Senate, which will in coming days decide whether to convict Trump and remove him from office.
Trump, who became just the third president in U.S. history to be impeached, faces abuse of office and obstruction of Congress charges. The proceedings have been partisan, with most Democrats supporting impeachment and conviction, while Republicans opposed impeachment and support acquittal.
On what was expected to be the final day of Democratic arguments, Wicker sat down with Mississippi Today moments before the day’s proceedings began to discuss his approach to the impeachment trial, whether he’s been impartial and how historians may recall the moment.
This story has been edited for clarity and length.
Mississippi Today: We’ve been in the press gallery this week. You’ve looked attentive. You’ve been taking notes and reading some of your public statements before and during the trial. What has your approach been this week as the hearings began?
U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker: My approach has been to listen. I haven’t had a preconceived idea about how (Democrats) should lay out their argument. We do cover the same ground over and over, but today I think we’re going to get more into obstruction of Congress. So that will be different. But you know, in the impeachment of Bill Clinton, nobody took anywhere near 24 hours. But apparently the House managers feel that it’s in their interest to take most of the 24 hours. My observation is that they are making a case to the general public more than they are making the case to senators. No one expects the president to be removed from office on these charges. And I’m convinced that the actions of the managers and the actions of the senators under Sen. (Chuck) Schumer are designed to influence the House and Senate elections in November — president Trump’s election.
Do you think that what President Trump has been accused of warrants removal from office?
No. I hope the lesson from this is what (Democratic U.S. Rep.) Jerry Nadler said two decades ago. Some of us are saying now what Alexander Hamilton said over 200 years ago. A narrowly partisan impeachment of the president is not what the framers intended and is not what’s good for the country. This was always going to be an impeachment done by a narrowly partisan majority. Nancy Pelosi said that as late as 2019. And she was correct. And I wish we hadn’t gone down this road, but she was overtaken by her more radical members. And I think she had to protect her position. But we are doing exactly what Nancy Pelosi said last year —it was pretty recent —that we shouldn’t. So we just have to get through it.
Do you think that president Trump did what they’re accusing him of doing, which is asking the Ukrainian government to step in and help investigate a political rival of his and ultimately potentially affect the outcome of this presidential election this year?
I don’t think they’ve made a case for removal of the president. The phone conversation, the transcript, speaks for itself. It’s not a tape, but I think everybody agrees it’s a fairly accurate transcript. But that is not the point of this proceeding. The point is: Did the president do anything that comes close to justifying his removal from office? The answer to that is no. And that’s what we’re in there about. Not to decide if a phone call was perfect or not. It’s a question of whether there’s anything impeachable, which is nothing that approaches an impeachable offense.
Trying to also listen as objectively as possible to the House manager’s cases, they’ve shown video clips of the testimony of at least half a dozen officials who said either directly or that they believe that there could have been a quid pro quo involved…
In all of that, there’s nothing close to an impeachable offense.
So in theory, if president Trump did exactly as the House members have said, you don’t think that that would be impeachable?
We’re not anywhere close to an impeachable offense.
Do you think that your colleagues in the Senate are actually listening to what House managers are presenting, or do you think that it’s just going to a vote along party lines anyway?
Well, we’re listening. And we’re listening to a lot of repetition. I’ve said this when I was a small town lawyer to juries, and I heard it said this week on the floor of the United States Senate. If you don’t check your common sense at the door when you walk in … was there the remotest chance when this trial began that I would be convinced that president Trump should be removed from office? Not really. I wasn’t going to check my common sense at the door. That doesn’t mean I didn’t listen respectfully…other members repeatedly acknowledged that we are sitting there and listening respectfully. But I think realistically, based on what I’ve seen over the months, there was not the remotest chance that this was going to convince me that Donald Trump deserved to be removed because of this.
You mentioned earlier the narrowly partisan impeachments. You were in the House for the 1998 Clinton impeachment, and you voted in favor of all four impeachment articles. How is that Clinton impeachment different, in your mind, than this impeachment process of President Trump?
Well we did have a number of Democrats to impeach in the House. A duly constituted judge had found that the president of the United States committed perjury. If she had found that against me, I would’ve wound up in a federal penitentiary. It shouldn’t matter whether it’s a case of being a character witness in Washington, like the Mississippi sheriff in federal prison, which might have been before your time. Or if I’m testifying in a divorce case or a case involving sexual harassment. Once you raise your hand and you are under oath, to then lie is a felony. And there were other grounds, but to me, that was the central tipping point. A judge had ruled that perjury occurred.
If I had done to an intern what Bill Clinton admitted doing to an intern, I would have been ridden out of office on a rail. So those were the differences. But the quote that you all ran this week, I subscribe to. It was a violation of criminal law that I was referring to in that quote, so I didn’t much mind the article. I didn’t see much irony there, but you apparently did.
Twenty five, 30, 50 years from now, when historians and regular people look back on this week, when you were one of 100 senators on the floor hearing these arguments, how do you think people will look back on it?
I think they will look back on it as a narrowly partisan impeachment. There will be differences in opinion about that. …They will look back on Donald Trump as an unusual candidate that the pundits never thought could possibly win and that the experts never thought could be so wildly successful in turning the government and country around. I just think it’s been a phenomenal success, and a lot of people close to me never believed that the tariffs and the brinkmanship on trade would work. But it did.
We’ve got an agreement with China that is an achievement. It may lead to something better or it may come unstuck, but it’s an achievement that has pulled us back and is going to make a lot of money for Mississippi manufacturers and farmers and the workers. We’ve got (the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement). This was accomplished in a way that everybody around the president (said) that it was going to cause resentment in Mexico and Canada and would be counterproductive. He made this agreement with the center-right president down in Mexico who was on his way out and was wholeheartedly embraced by the socialist president of Mexico. And Justin Trudeau in Canada, everybody was saying you would offend these people, and here we are with trade agreements. The economy is booming.
This impeachment will be looked at 30 years from now in the context of the most underrated candidate that ever got himself elected to the highest office in the land, and it has absolutely – the people on the other side of those issues are just absolutely dumbfounded and livid that he’s there at all and that he’s continued to have the achievements he has.
They just cannot stand him and never have been able to. I don’t know what’s going to happen in November, and I don’t know what would happen in a second term, but boy I’ll tell ya, the success in terms of people working, in terms of minorities working, in terms of trade deals miraculously coming about has just been phenomenal.
(Editor’s note: Among racial groups, in the fourth quarter of 2019, whites and Asians have unemployment rates lower than the national average of 3 percent. The unemployment rate for Hispanics is 4 percent and for African Americans is 5.4 percent, the largest among racial groups, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)