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VIDEO: Booker: “Impeachment is a dark day, but “the hope of this nation lies with its people’”

February 4, 2020
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WASHINGTON, D.C.— U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) delivered passionate remarks on the Senate Floor today ahead of his vote tomorrow on the articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump. While acknowledging the unfair and unprecedented impeachment process as a “dark day” and “sad moment” for the nation, and criticizing the Senate for abdicating its Constitutional responsibilities, Booker ended by sharing a powerful, hopeful vision for how Americans can overcome near certain defeat and find “a higher ground of hope.”

 

WATCH HERE

 

KEY EXCERPTS:

 

“Yes, today is a sad moment, but we as a nation have never been defined by our darkest hours. We have always been defined by how we respond to our challenges, how we have refused to surrender to cynicism, how we've refused to give into despair. 

 

“And so, I fear, as senator after senator today gets up and speaks, I fear that mere words in this time are impotent and ineffective. It may mark where we as individuals stand for the record, but the challenge demands more from all of us in this time. 

 

“I say on this dark day that the hope of this nation lies with its people. As [Judge] Learned Hand said, the ‘spirit of liberty’ is not embodied in the Constitution. Other nations have constitutions that have failed. The hope of this nation will always lie with its people. And so, we will not be cured today. And I tell you, tomorrow's vote, it is a defeat. But we as the people facing other defeats in this body, we must never be defeated.

 

“Now is the time in America where we must begin in the hearts of people to turn to each other, to begin to find a way out of this dark time to a higher ground of hope.

 

“Those who swear an oath to this nation must now act with a greater unyielding conviction. We must act to do justice. We must act to heal harms. We must act to walk more humbly. We must act to love one another. Unconditionally.

 

“May we as a nation in this difficult time…may we meet this time with our actions of goodwill, of a commitment to love and to justice and to yet again elevating our country so that we, too, may be like as it says in that great text, a light unto all nations.”

 

FULL REMARKS AS DELIVERED:

 

“After the House Judiciary Committee voted to approve articles of impeachment against President Nixon, Chairperson Peter Rodino of my home state of New Jersey, a lifelong Newark resident of my home city, who had been thrust into the high-profile position only the previous year, returned to his office and called his wife. When she answered the phone, this Chairman, this longtime Congressman—broke down in tears and cried.

 

46 years later, our nation has found itself under similar duress. I agree with my fellow Newarker, impeaching a president is a profoundly sad time for our nation. It is a painful time no matter your party. If you love your country, then this is heartbreaking.

 

When we think about our history as Americans, so many of us have reverence for our founding fathers and our founding documents, they represented imperfect genius.

We talk about the Declaration of Independence. We hail the Constitution. These documents literally bent the arc of not just our own history, but human history for democratic governance on the planet. And while these were milestones in the past of our nation's relatively brief existence, the governing document that came before, between the Declaration of Independence and our Constitution is often overlooked, the Articles of Confederation.

 

With the benefit of hindsight, it's easy to view the development of our nation as preordained inevitable, as if it was an expected march towards the greatness we now collectively hail, that this was somehow a perfectly plotted path towards a more perfect union. But it wasn't.

 

In 1787, as our Founders gathered in Philadelphia, our fledgling country was in crisis and at crossroads. And its future, like in so many moments of our past, was deeply uncertain. You see, when the Framers designed our system of government in the Articles of Confederation, you could say they overcompensated with the tyranny of King George III fresh in their minds, they created a government with power so diffuse and decentralized that nothing could really get done. Instead of one nation, we were operating essentially as 13 independent states. The federal government could not tax its citizens. It could not raise money. It lacked a judiciary and an executive branch. So, when our framers arrived in Philadelphia in that hot summer, they would have to thread a difficult needle—providing for a strong central government that represented the people, and one that also guarded against the corrupt tendencies that come when power is constrained like they well knew was in a monarchy. Our democratic republic was their solution.

 

They needed a powerful executive, yes, but that executive needed guardrails. And its power needed to be checked and balanced. So, the Framers created what we almost take for granted, three coequal branches of government, the legislative, executive and judicial.

 

Each branch would have the ability to check the power of the other branches to ensure, as James Madison so profoundly argued, that ambition would be made to counter act ambition. But this system of checks and balances was not enough for our founders. Still reeling from their experiences under the oppressive rule of the King, many feared an unaccountable autocratic leader. And so, the founders created a mechanism of last resort–impeachment.

 

George Mason prophetically asked the founders to wrestle with the concept of impeachment at the Constitutional Convention saying, ‘shall any man be above justice?’ The Founders answered that question with a resounding no. The Constitution made clear that any federal officers, even the President, would be subject to impeachment and removal.

 

No one, no one, no one is above the law.

 

This was seen as the ultimate safeguard, and it's only been invoked twice before in American history. This is the third.

 

I sat in this very spot and listened to the evidence presented, honoring my oath to be objective. And based on the evidence that was presented in hour after hour after hour of presentations, I’ve concluded that the President, Donald John Trump, is guilty of committing high crimes and misdemeanors against the United States of America, against the people.

 

I believe he abused the awesome power of his office for personal and political gain to pressure a foreign power to interfere in the most sacred institution of our democracy –our elections. He then engaged in a concerted far-reaching and categorical effort to cover up his transgressions and block any effort for the people's representatives to have at the truth.

 

It brings me no satisfaction to come to this conclusion. I feel that sadness of my predecessor. Yet, we have sworn oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.

 

This is not a moment that should call for partisan passions. It is not a moment that we think of the limitless of personal ambition. This is a patriotic moment. It's about putting principle above party. It's about honoring this body and the Senate's rightful place in our Constitutional system of check and balance.

It's about fulfilling the enormous trust the founders placed in this body as an impartial court of impeachment and a necessary check on what they foresaw as the potential for grave abuses by the executive.

 

If we fail to hold this president accountable, then we fail the founders' intent. We fail our democracy. And I fear the injury that will result.

 

When our grandchildren and their children read about this chapter in the history books, a time far into the future when this President is a memory, along with those of us serving in this chamber, it will not be seen through the eye of politics or partisanship.

 

They will read about how this body acted in their moment of Constitutional crisis. And I fear that their unflinching eye, at a time when the full body of evidence will be out in the public domain, they will see clearly how this body abdicated its constitutional responsibilities, surrendering them to partisan passions.

 

They will read about how the Senate shut its doors to the truth, even though it was within easy reach. How for the first time in our history with impeachment proceedings for judges and for past presidents, that the world's greatest deliberative body conducted an impeachment trial without demanding a single witness and without subpoenaing a single document, how even as new evidence during the trial continued to be uncovered, its members of this body failed to even view it.

They failed to pursue with even the faintest effort those things that would have easily and more perfectly revealed the breadth and the depth of the President's misconduct.

 

We know across the street in the Supreme Court the saying is that justice is blind, but that means that no one is above the law.

 

It does not mean that this body should abdicate its responsibilities, that it should abandon its senses and even abandon common sense.

 

If there is evidence that we know about that could speak beyond a reasonable doubt to this President's alleged crimes and misconduct, it makes no sense whatsoever that we should deny in this deliberative body the truth. This kind of willful ignorance, this metaphorical closing of our eyes and ears, it is a grave danger to any democracy.

 

It is the rot from within when the ideals of truth and justice fall victim to the toxic tyranny of absolute partisanship. This President has claimed authoritarian power that our Constitution was explicitly designed to prevent. He has literally said that Article 2 allows him to do whatever he wants. And that outrageous statement, tomorrow could be given life within this democracy.

 

He has declared himself unaccountable to and above the law.

 

He has shred the very governing ideals of this great republic, and we the Senate, the body designed to check such abuses to power, that ‘dignified independent, unawed and uninfluenced’ tribunal, as Hamilton so famously wrote in Federalist Paper #65, we have been enablers to this destructive instinct.

 

This is a sad day. This is a sad moment in the history of this body and in our nation, and I fear that it is emblematic, that it is a symptom of deeper challenges to this nation, challenges that are being exploited by our enemies abroad and by opportunists here at home.

 

The factionalism that our founders warned us of has deepened beyond mere partisanship, to a self-destructive tribalism. ‘Cunning, ambitious, unprincipled men’ seeking to subvert the power of the people as Washington predicted in his profound and prophetic farewell address, these powers have found their season to flourish here in our time. Many in our society now hate other Americans not because of the content of their character or their virtue and values that they hold dear, but we as Americans now more and more see hate proliferating in our country between fellow Americans because of what party we belong to. We have failed to listen to the words that come out of each other's mouth, failed to listen to the ideals or the principles or the underlying facts because we now simply listen to partisanship.

 

This nation was founded with great sacrifice, the blood and sweat and tears of our ancestors gave life and strength to this nation. This is now being weakened and threatened by what our very first president warned us of. And so, yes, today is a sad moment, but we as a nation have never been defined by our darkest hours. We have always been defined by how we respond to our challenges, how we have refused to surrender to cynicism. How we've refused to give into despair.

 

And so, I fear, as Senator after Senator today gets up and speaks, I fear that mere words in this time are impotent and ineffective. It may mark where we as individuals stand for the record, but the challenge demands more from all of us in this time. We've already seen on this Senate floor that sound arguments have been dismissed as partisanship. We have heard speech after speech and seen how they will not cure this time. They will not save this republic from our deepening divides.

 

So, I ask, what will? How -- how do we heal? How do we meet this crisis?

 

I know that this president is incapable of healing this nation. I've never seen a leader in high office ever take such glee in meanness. He considers it some kind of high badge of virtue in the way he demeans and degrades his political adversaries. He demonizes others, often the weak in our society, and I firmly believe that he has shown that he will even conspire with foreign nations to defeat his adversaries and then defend himself, not with any truth or transparency but by trying to heighten and ignite even more partisan passions.

 

And so, the question is really, how do we heal this nation? How do we meet this challenge that is not embodied in any individual?

 

It was a man far greater than me named Learned Hand who said, and I quote, ‘Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women. When it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can save it; no constitution, no law, no court can even do much to help it. The spirit of liberty is a spirit which is not too sure that it's right. The spirit of liberty is the spirit which seeks to understand the minds of other men and women. The spirit of liberty is the spirit which weighs the interests, their interests alongside its own without bias.’

 

As I continue to quote this great judge, our dangers, as it seems to me, are not from the outrageous but from the conforming, not those who rarely and under the lurid glare of obloquy upset our moral complacence, or shock us with unaccustomed conduct but from those, the mass of us, who take their virtues and their tastes like their shirts and their furniture from the limited patterns which the market offers.

 

I love our nation's history, and I’m telling you right now, we have seen that the true test of our democracy will not come simply from the low actions from our leaders most high. The true test of our democracy will not turn alone on the actions of this body because presidents before and this body before has failed us in dark times. They've failed the ideals of freedom when time and time again they defended slavery. This body has failed the ideals of liberty when time and time again it rejected civil rights. This body has failed the ideals in the past of equality when it voted down again and again suffrage for women.

 

Low presidents before and the Senate before have failed this nation in the darkest of times, as the songs my ancestors have said, the paths have been watered with the tears and blood of ancestors. How do we heal? How do we move forward?

 

I say on this dark day that the hope of this nation lies with its people. As Learned Hand said, the spirit of liberty is not embodied in the Constitution. Other nations have constitutions that have failed. The hope of this nation will always lie with its people. And so, we will not be cured today. And I tell you, tomorrow's vote, it is a defeat. But we as the people facing other defeats in this body, we must never be defeated. Just like they beat us down at Stonewall. They beat us back in Selma. The hope of this nation lies with the people who face defeats but must never be defeated.

 

And so, my prayer for our republic now, yet in another crisis in the Senate, is that we cannot let this be leading us further and further into a treacherous time of partisanship and tribalism. Where we tear at each other, where we turn against each other. Now is the time in America where we must begin in the hearts of people to turn to each other, to begin to find a way out of this dark time to a higher ground of hope. This is not a time to simply point blame at one side or another. This is a time to accept responsibility, like our ancestors in the past so understood that change does not come from Washington; it must come to Washington.

 

As I was taught as a boy, we didn't get civil rights because Strom Thurmond came to the senate floor one day and pronounced that he'd seen the light. No, this body responded to the demands of people and now is a time that we must demand to the highest virtues of our land and see each other for who we are, our greater hope and our greatest promise.

 

We are a weary people in America again. We are tired. We are frustrated. But we cannot give up. That flag over there, we who swear an oath to it and don't just parrot words or say them with some kind of perfunctory obligation, but those who swear an oath to this nation must now act with a greater unyielding conviction. We must act to do justice. We must act to heal harms. We must act to walk more humbly. We must act to love one another. Unconditionally. And now, more than ever, perhaps we need to act in the words of a great abolitionist, the former slave who in a dark difficult time when America was failing to live up to its promise gave forth a sentiment in his actions captured in the poetry of Langston Hughes. He declared through his work and sacrifice that ‘America never was America to me and yet I swear this oath: America will be.’

 

May we as a nation in this difficult time, when we face the betrayal of a president, the surrender of obligation by a body, may we meet this time with our actions of goodwill, of a commitment to love and to justice and to yet again elevating our country so that we, too, may be like as it says in that great text, a light unto all nations. Thank you.”

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