Utah Sen. Mike Lee says impeachment of Trump is unconstitutional; Romney says no question former president incited Capitol riot

All but five GOP senators say impeaching a former president is isn’t legal.

(Joshua Roberts | file pool photo via AP) Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, questions Homeland Security Secretary nominee Alejandro Mayorkas on Jan. 19, 2021. As Donald Trump's second impeachment trial begins, Romney is urging colleagues to do what is right and not what is politically expedient.

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, said expanding the power of impeachment to cover former President Donald Trump isn’t only problematic, it’s illegal. He joined all but five Republican senators Tuesday in voting that such a move is unconstitutional.

Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, though, joined Democrats in asserting that the impeachment is allowed by the Constitution.

“If the Senate were to adopt a broad interpretation of the impeachment power — one allowing federal officials to be convicted on impeachment charges even after leaving office,” Lee said in a prepared statement, “the result would not only be problematic, but also contrary to the text, structure, and historical understanding of the Constitution.”

Sen. Paul Rand forced Tuesday’s vote on whether impeaching a former president is constitutional. And while the trial will go forward it now appears all but certain that Trump will, for the second time, escape conviction.

Senate conviction would require more than three times as many Republican votes as were put up Tuesday on the constitutional question — at least 17.

Romney explained his vote as a matter of putting what’s right over what’s politically expedient.

“I look back in my life and I can point to a couple of places where I rationalized decisions which were in my best interest politically. … I probably knew in my heart that they were not quite right,” he said in an online discussion with the Economic Club of Chicago after the vote.

“Those things haunt me to this day,” he added.

So, Romney said that when he joined the Senate — and again at the start of both impeachment trials for Trump — he vowed never to do that again.

“I’m going to do my very best to live with integrity and be comfortable with myself by virtue of doing that — because I’ve tried the other way a couple of times and it doesn’t feel good,” he said.

“When I took the oath again today saying I will apply impartial justice, I believe very fundamentally that is something I have got to say to myself: ‘That is what I did,’” he said.

Meanwhile, Romney — who famously became the first member of Congress in history to vote to impeach a president from his own party in Trump’s first trial — signaled that while he is vowing to apply impartial justice in the second trial, he is probably leaning to vote against Trump again.

“Five human beings died” because of the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol, Romney told the economic club. “And there’s no question but that the president incited the insurrection that occurred. To what degree and so forth is something we’re going to evaluate in the trial.”

He added, “If you want to see national unity, you really have to rely on truth and justice — and justice being carried out is something which American people expect.”

Romney is even talking about preserving some of the damage in the Capitol from the Jan. 6 riot.

“Architecturally and historically I think it would be a good thing to preserve some evidence of the destruction of the building so that 150 years from now, as people tour the building, they’ll say, ‘Ah, this was where that insurrection occurred,’” Romney said in a statement released by his office.

Earlier in the day at a business meeting of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, Romney also commented as that group discussed integrity, “We just endured a president over four years that I’ll say generously had a relaxed relationship with the truth.”

The online discussion by the Economic Club of Chicago with Romney and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., was billed as a forum about whether it is possible to govern from the middle anymore and how moderates such as that pair can maneuver in highly partisan times.

Romney said he is seeing some willingness for more bipartisan action on crises such as COVID-19, immigration and global warming, but he is pessimistic that tough partisan rhetoric will change.

“I think both parties have found that playing to the base is in their electoral best interest,” Romney said. “They’re more concerned with the primary” — and extremists in their parties who tend to vote in them — “than they are with the general election.”

He added that when he looks at most of the Republicans now eying a run for president in four years, “I don’t hear them speaking in tones of moderation, but instead continuing the same rhetoric as in the past.”

Still, Romney said that doesn’t mean moderates can’t win the GOP nomination, but it shows they may need to work harder — something he found when he won the GOP presidential nomination in 2012.

“There’s no question but that I was not the ideal fit with the Republican Party at that time, nor am I the ideal fit today,” he said.

He recalled a talk with his chief presidential campaign strategist.

“He said, ‘You know, you’re Mormon, but the party is more and more evangelical. You’re a millionaire and the party is more and more populist. And you’re a moderate and the party is more and more conservative. And so we’re just going to work a lot harder.’”

Romney said he worries about polls showing that three-quarters of Republicans now believe that the last election was stolen from Trump, which he called “the big lie” that he blames not only on Trump but fellow Republicans who fail to stand up and denounce that.

“The challenge is, in my view, you have a lot of people who think it’s in their electoral best interest to continue with whatever lie’s being spread on social media, thinking that that’s going to get them more support,” he said.

“It takes leaders to do things that call for unity and that bring us together. And we haven’t seen that yet, not just from President Trump, who I don’t think will ever say, ‘I lost fair and square.’ So every other Republican ought to be saying it.”

Still, Romney says he is seeing more bipartisan sentiment than ever in the Senate to address such things as COVID-19, immigration and even global warming.

“I think most of us in the Senate want to get something done,” he said. “I’ve heard this from senator after senator frustrated over the last two years, saying, ‘You know, I didn’t just come here to vote on appointments. I want to get some stuff done.’”