Democrats have wrestled with the idea that even if they successfully bring articles of impeachment against Donald J. Trump that the Senate, which holds a Republican majority, will not vote to remove Trump from office. That conundrum may have just been solved. Furthermore, some experts say Mitch McConnell might actually warm up to the idea as it would serve his interests.
Juleanna Glover asks some good questions and offers a very plausible solution in her piece in Politico. She asks — then answers:
But what if senators could vote on impeachment by secret ballot? If they didn’t have to face backlash from constituents or the media or the president himself, who knows how many Republican senators would vote to remove?
A secret impeachment ballot might sound crazy, but it’s actually quite possible. In fact, it would take only three senators to allow for that possibility.
She is correct. A simple majority would be all that is needed to bring about a secret ballot. Glover goes on to explain how it might come about:
… according to current Senate procedure, McConnell will still need a simple majority—51 of the 53 Senate Republicans—to support any resolution outlining rules governing the trial. That means that if only three Republican senators were to break from the caucus, they could block any rule they didn’t like. (Vice President Mike Pence can’t break ties in impeachment matters.) Those three senators, in turn, could demand a secret ballot and condition their approval of the rest of the rules on getting one.
But would there be the political willpower in the GOP? Glover lays out why it is very possible:
… it’s not hard to imagine three senators supporting a secret ballot. Five sitting Republican senators have already announced their retirements; four of those are in their mid-70s or older and will never run for office again. They might well be willing to demand secrecy in order to give cover to their colleagues who would like to convict Trump but are afraid to do so because of politics in their home districts. There are also 10 Republican senators who aren’t up for reelection until 2024 and who might figure Trumpism will be irrelevant by then. Senators Mitt Romney and Lisa Murkowski have been the most vocal Republicans in expressing concerns about Trump’s behavior toward Ukraine. Other GOP senators have recently softened in their defense of him, as well—all before the House has held any public hearings.
And yes, it could very well be in Mitch McConnell’s interest to take allow such a path to happen — according to Glover:
Even McConnell might privately welcome the prospect of a secret ballot.He has always been intently focused on maintaining his Republican majority in the Senate. Trump’s approval numbers continue to languish, and support for impeachment has been rising. McConnell himself, facing reelection next year, has an approval rating of just 18 percent in Kentucky, not to mention that the Republican governor there just suffered a stunning upset in last week’s election. All of which suggests McConnell might warm to the possibility that he and his caucus could avoid a public up-or-down vote in defense of behavior by the president that’s looking increasingly indefensible.
Glover goes on to speculate that if such a move is made early enough, it could actually help the GOP in 2020, allowing them to have a decent shot at a vibrant primary fight leading to a strong candidate. That, however, is more dependent on the Democrats getting through their business sooner rather than later.
The final question is whether such a move is lawful/Constitutional. Well, there is nothing in the Constitution that prevents it. And while it might be an unusual move, there is some history of the Senate using secret ballots in our history as well as other examples where secret ballots are used by Americans. Glover explains that as well:
Some might say transparency in congressional deliberations and votes is inviolable, and it’s true that none of the previous Senate impeachments have been conducted via secret ballot. But the Senate’s role in an impeachment is analogous to a U.S. jury, where secret ballots are often used. When Electoral College gridlock has resulted in the House picking the president—the House elected Thomas Jefferson in 1800 and John Quincy Adams in 1824—that vote has been secret. And, of course, when citizens vote for president, they do so in private.
Is it plausible/possible? Certainly. Will it happen? Who knows. It would not be the norm, but in this political climate, very little is the norm anymore, it seems.