“Choose the harder right over the easier wrong.”
This principle, featured in the United States Military Academy Cadet Prayer, is part of the bedrock of true leadership. As a former Boy Scout and elected representative of this commonwealth, Sen. Pat Toomey undoubtedly knows that principle well.
Having proudly worn the uniform as a service member for more than 17 years, I can personally attest that while such a principle is easy to agree with, it can often be challenging in practice. After all, leaders are frequently faced with the tantalizing appeal of shortcuts, catering to their own interests, and the urge of self-preservation. True leaders stare down those temptations and make the right choice, putting integrity and duty first, even if it is painful to do so.
In voting against witness testimony during the impeachment trial of the president of the United States, Sen. Toomey stared down those very same temptations and blinked. Given the climate surrounding the trial, the decision on witnesses was no doubt a difficult one for any Republican senator. For Sen. Toomey, such a vote would have bucked his own party, angered a president who commands great influence over a swath of voters, and in turn, potentially jeopardized his eventual reelection chances. But those challenges were set against the need for a full and fair trial — a constitutional process that is one of the pillars of our system of checks and balances.
It does not take a law degree to understand that a fair trial is one where witnesses are called to testify, regardless of how the jurors ultimately vote. Past senators fully understood the necessity of witness testimony, which is why every single other impeachment trial has featured it. That necessity is especially present in this case, where several critical witnesses have been blocked from testifying about their direct knowledge of the allegations. Regardless of party, a senator’s oath in an impeachment is to uphold the Constitution and do impartial justice, not to defend the president, a political party, or one’s own job. When partisan and personal interests are balanced against the integrity of our government, there is only one way such a scale should tip.
Sen. Toomey attempted to justify his vote by claiming that the president was simply invoking his constitutional rights in blocking testimony. His explanation ignores the fact that the witnesses have been blocked by an unprecedented and legally dubious blanket decree of absolute immunity that has already been resoundingly rejected by a federal judge. No defendant in America has the right to blatantly order witnesses not to testify in court, yet Sen. Toomey’s action sets a different standard for defendants who belong to one’s own political party.
To know Sen. Toomey’s true motivations, look no further than his own words: “We don’t need to drag this out any longer. … We should move as quickly as we can to get this thing over with.” His rationale for his vote to acquit is cut from the same self-serving cloth. The senator makes sweeping conclusions about the president’s other possible motives for withholding aid as witnesses with direct knowledge of such facts sit muzzled on the sidelines. The senator harps upon the potential damage to the country wrought by removing a president without stopping for even a moment to address the potential long-term damage done to our democracy by the president’s conduct.
Sen. Toomey’s collective responses are not those of a representative of the people looking to do impartial justice or seek the truth. They are the words of someone who voluntarily chose to put himself and his party above the people of Pennsylvania and his solemn duty to the Constitution.
Sen. Toomey was elected to represent all of Pennsylvania. In something as serious as an impeachment, we all share a common interest in knowing the full truth behind the allegations, regardless of our political leanings or party affiliation. The senator may have paid a political price to allow the whole truth to come out, but we elected him to make the morally right call on tough decisions like these. Unfortunately, when it mattered most, Sen. Toomey chose the easier wrong.
My faith in our nation and its values will not be shaken by Sen. Toomey’s votes or this impeachment process. However, my faith in his ability to honorably represent our commonwealth has been broken by his failure in the face of this true test of morals. Pennsylvania deserves better.
Thomas Harper is a military officer and attorney from the Lehigh Valley.