JohnCasey is a PR professional and an adjunct professor at Wagner College in New York City, and a frequent columnist for The Advocate. Follow John on Twitter @johntcaseyjr.
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"When Jesus was falsely accused of treason, Pontius Pilate gave Jesus the opportunity to face his accusers. During that sham trial, Pontius Pilate afforded more rights to Jesus than the Democrats have afforded this President in this process." -Rep. Barry Loudermilk, Georgia Republican
I guess that's the how Republican's define the solemnity of the voting process - comparing Donald Trump to Jesus.
One of the most consequential votes in our lifetime, the impeachment of the president, took place, and it showed the Republicans total disrespect for the sacred voting process.
My first experience learning just how serious a vote in Congress is taken was when I was literally thrust into the job as press secretary for my congressman from Pennsylvania while he was being reprimanded by the House of Representatives. In the 95-page report released by the House ethics committee, the congressman was found to have permitted an unidentified person to use his voting card and cast his vote on the House floor on two occasions, which he denied. Still the charge was serious enough the rare punishment of a reprimand.
The next instance was during the first Iraq war, when the congressman undertook a heavy deliberation process, asking each of us on his staff our opinions, after reviewing countless emails, phone calls from his constituents, and his own conscience. I remember urging him to vote no, pleading that I had friends in the military who might be called upon. After careful thought and consultation, he voted against it.
The simple act of voting on bills in the House, be it for a budget bill, the renaming of a federal building or aid to farmers, for example, are solemn occasions. Each member is representing nearly three-quarters of a million Americans, their constituency, when they cast their votes. Each vote has consequences, most especially in matters of national security, war, and especially for impeachment.
The shear act of casting a vote is a very intricate process. There is a great deal of pressure on a member of Congress for any given vote. First, you must take into account how your constituency might feel towards a particular issue, and they make their voices heard by calling, texting, emailing and through social media comments. There is a whole staff that collects this information and evaluates it, so the congressperson has a strong sense of how the folks back home feel. And the member has Town Halls, where constituents make their voices heard in person, sometimes loudly.
Then there are those issues that confront Congress that provoke a flood of lobbyists and activists who bombard members' email boxes, phones and through frequent office visits. Back in my day, the two most over-the-top groups who badgered our staff were the right to life and gun lobbies. I think, to a degree, they are still leading the pack. Not all organizations are great. Not all of them bad. Not all are right. Not all are wrong. But for the most part, lobbying groups and activists can some times help enlighten and help inform members about their votes.
For our own community a bill that brought out activists, organizations, and then some, was for one of the most wrenching votes to occur in our lifetime, the errantly wrong Defense of Marriage Act. The law was passed by the 104th Congress in 1996, signed by President Clinton and later ruled unconstitutional in 2015 by the Supreme Court. This bill was a perfect storm of fired up lobbying groups as well as constituents, and it was also an example of one of the first partisan driven pieces of legislation. Further, it was a signpost of more radical attempts by members to protect their jobs.
Incumbency used to be a forgone conclusion to re-election. Then came the Republicans in 1994, who used unconventional and lethal methods to upend re-elections and thereby assumed control of the House for the first time in decades. In their effort to win at all costs, they demonized same-sex marriage and the LGBTQ community,
The same-sex marriage issue was central to their efforts to legislate culturally and threateningly, driving a sharp wedge in Congress and scaring many members. Most Democrats knew it was wrong, and wanted to vote against it, but didn't because they were frightened that the perception of supporting "gays" would cost them their seats. Being afraid is not the way a vote should be undertaken. In the end, only 65 voted against it, and one out Republican, Steve Gunderson.
Those 66 members likely voted with their conscience, which is another important component for members when deciding to cast those sacred votes. Members of Congress are elected - or should be elected - because their constituents trust their judgement. Sure, there are lapses in those judgements, and always will be, but in the end, the member has to weigh the critical-ness of their own thinking and the dexterity of their own minds as it relates to the decisions about votes while they are in office.
The final consideration for casting a vote by a member, and the most powerful, is how it relates to their oath of office: "I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic..." That is the first line in their pledge for a very obvious reason.
Members of the House of Representatives made perhaps their most consequential vote in the tenure of their terms. They decided whether or not to impeach Donald Trump - literally overturning an election - which is enormously substantial. Unfortunately, since that fateful DOMA vote in 1996, Congress is more partisan and polarized than ever. And rather than vote their conscience, or adhere to their oath, or listen to their staffs and perhaps relying somewhat on uniformed constituencies, Republican members trashed the delicate and deliberative process of solemnity that is tantamount to vote casting. They made a choice to selfishly and desperately protect their seats. Clinging to the lofty job should not be a consideration for a vote since that's not why we elect our representatives. We don't elect them so that they have gainful employment. We elect them to do the right thing for us and vote for us. Like we're supposed to do.
The Founders expected the citizenry to actively participate and vote in free and fair elections, and take the opportunity and right to do so with appreciation, earnestness, and with careful thought. We are voting to keep our Republic free and strong. If we are to take our votes seriously, then shouldn't we have expect our elected representatives to do the same?
And during this impeachment inquiry, it's apparent that what is a sham is not the hearings and investigations, rather the approach some members are took about their vote. The Republicans took a cue from the DOMA vote and cared more about protecting their seats, and scared again this time by a taunting president, they cast a "no." Their thoughts should have been about protecting our Republic and Constitiution.
"I know I speak for all House Democrats when I say that no one came to Congress to impeach a president," gay congressman David Cicilline soberly explained to me recently. "We want to get work done that strengthens our nation by giving our constituents the tools and resources they need to get ahead. At the same time, we swore an oath to defend the Constitution, and I take that very seriously. The fact that the president attempted to help his reelection by trying to bribe a foreign leader to interfere in the 2020 election is an assault on the very foundation of our democracy, and I believe he needs to be held accountable for that."
This entire story about the Republicans misplaced votes and slipshod attitude to casting those votes made me think about the voting card incident back in my day on the Hill.
Perhaps, they all should have turned over their voting cards to Congressman Devin Nunes, and had him cast their votes illegally?
And then we would have been able to subject each of those Republicans, who threw away their opportunity to vote correctly, to a House Reprimand for breaking House rules and decorum. After all, that is what they are did, so why not throw it all away?
Then we the people, led by Nancy Pelosi and House Ethics Chairperson Congressman Ted Deutsch, could have reprimanded each one of them for their selfish, inconsiderate, unthoughtful, and anti-oath approach toward the gravity the vote. History will not be kind to the 197 Republicans who shirked their duty.
We can now only hope and pray that the Republicans in the Senate approach the vote with more solemnity.