Tennessee Sen. Howard Baker vaulted to national prominence while serving on the Senate Watergate Committee when he provided the thesis sentence that brought the wide-ranging investigation into focus. “What did the president know and when did he know it?” provided the context and the superstructure on which was hung a myriad of crimes and misdemeanors committed by President Richard Nixon and his henchmen. Forty-eight people eventually went to jail and Nixon resigned to avoid impeachment.
Forty-six years later the U.S. House of Representatives seems poised to send the name of an impeached president to the U.S. Senate for trial and one of the jurors would be a man who was a Baker staffer and political protege. During Watergate, Lamar Alexander had gone home to Tennessee to run the campaign and get Winfield Dunn elected as the state’s first Republican governor in 50 years.
Baker and Dunn created the modern Republican Party in Tennessee and they were the political godfathers that shaped Alexander’s career: Bipartisan, middle of the road, get-things-done officeholders. A rare breed these days, but Alexander has been viewed in Washington as Baker’s inheritor.
So, what will Alexander do if articles of impeachment land on Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s desk with a resounding thud?
Sen. Lindsey Graham has gone all in for Trump with a resolution condemning the House Democrats’ process in investigating President Trump. Not all Republican senators have signed it and Alexander didn’t at first. But now he has. The resolution is symbolic and without force but it was designed to get a sense of the Senate. It signals that there are not enough Republican votes at present to convict. But there were not enough Republicans to convict Nixon – in the beginning.
But given the tribal nature of party politics these days is there anything that would prompt most Republican senators to vote to remove Trump from office? And if not, then why should any single senator (Alexander) make a futile gesture?
It could be that a senator honestly believes that it’s OK for a president to withhold material an ally needs to prevent a Russian invasion in order to get dirt on a political rival. Or believes that it does not rise to the level required for impeachment. But it’s hard to deny it happened if you listened to all the testimony. Alexander isn’t running for re-election and has no fear of political retribution. But Alexander should remember that Baker passed a lot of very important legislation but the thing for which he is remembered is his role in removing a corrupt administration.
As crazy as things have gotten of late it is impossible to predict what will happen. But through all the twists and turns in the case against Trump, Alexander might be considered a bellwether.
There may come a time when the question for Alexander will be, is he Howard Baker or Lindsey Graham?
It’s getting slushy: Some time back I pointed out that the $4 million slush fund discovered in the office of Economic Development, created by disgraced former Speaker Glen Casada, may be related to votes for Gov. Bill Lee’s school voucher program. The Tennessean has discovered emails applying for grants from legislators who allegedly didn’t know the slush fund existed. Some 60 projects were identified. Lee has suspended any disbursement from the fund until next year. Stay tuned.
Honesty best policy: If you watched the Vols play Missouri on Saturday night, weren’t you glad Vol coach Jeremy Pruitt reinstated Jauan Jennings to the football team? Jennings was dismissed by interim coach Brady Hoke and the since-ejected AD John Currie. They said it was for a profanity-laced tirade on Instagram that didn’t represent the reputation of the Vols. His crime was actually telling the truth. Jennings said the problem with the team was not the players but lousy coaching. He has since been proved right.
He had 115 receiving yards and took one of them for a touchdown against Missouri.
Frank Cagle is a former managing editor of the Knoxville News Sentinel.