Mainers told independent U.S. Sen. Angus King of Maine they’re distraught, they’ve lost faith in the checks and balances of government and that they feel hopeless about the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump.
More than 300 people turned out for a listening session with King at Bowdoin College Sunday afternoon. King did not say whether he plans to vote to convict or acquit Trump this week, but he expressed grave concerns about how much power is being given to the president.
One person compared the town hall-style meeting to a wake, and another said it was like a community coming together to grieve after a mass shooting. Nora Bishop of Bowdoinham told King she feels “hopeless for the country” because of what she views as a civil war that’s taking place.
“We are at a war with each other and I recall that almost every time you speak you end up with a quotation from Lincoln,” she said.
“You can never go wrong with Lincoln,” King said.
Bishop, with King’s assistance, then went on to quote President Abraham Lincoln from 1861.
“We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature,” they said.
John Dever, a social studies teacher from Bath, said his own faith in the Constitution’s system of checks and balances — that he’s been teaching his students about for 20 years — has been shaken.
“I’m naïve to think that there’s even a shred of the vote going the way I hope it goes, but I feel this is a real crisis and the Senate must vote for our institutions,” he said.
And Cindy Reese, a grandmother and second grade teacher from Oakland, seemed to sum up the feelings of many in the crowd when she asked King this question:
“What can we do now? I mean we have this corrupt machine going on in Washington. I feel like we should be taking to the streets. What can we as individuals do?” she said.
King told Reese that what she and others do matters, and while he said he thought Friday’s vote by the Senate not to call witnesses to the impeachment trial was the most dispiriting day he’s had in the seven years that he’s been there, he urged her not to give up.
“We’ve got to stay engaged. Engagement is the key. And, clearly, voting is part of it,” he said.
To illustrate that point, King reminded the audience of the election results in 2016.
“Sixty-two million people voted for Donald Trump, 65 million people voted for Hillary Clinton and 120 million people didn’t vote. That’s awful,” he said.
In other words, King said, almost as many people didn’t vote as voted for both candidates. But King was also challenged to take additional steps before Wednesday’s vote on impeachment. Author and minister Peter Panagore is a resident of East Boothbay who says the GOP decision to disallow witnesses and a trial “unbalances the balance of governmental power.”
“I have one single question, senator,” he said. “It’s my understanding that it’s lawful to hold a secret ballot in the Senate. It’s my understanding that one senator has the right to make that motion. Will you be that senator?”
King said he would have to talk to the Senate Parliamentarian to find out if it is the case that one senator could make that motion. On the one hand, King said it might change the result of the trial. On the other, it might relieve members of the Senate of being accountable to their constituents. But he also said that he’s worried the Senate’s failure to call witnesses will allow future presidents to avoid scrutiny.
“I think it’s the largest dereliction of responsibility from Congress to the president in American history. If this principle that a president can totally block access to information — and by the way, it’s not just impeachment, what about just plain old oversight?” he said.
The Senate is expected to take a vote on impeachment on Wednesday.