Hannah Dugan ’21

Republican Senators Richard Burr and Thom Tillis of North Carolina voted to acquit President Trump on Wednesday on abuse of power and obstruction of Congress charges, siding with nearly all their Republican colleagues.

Throughout the impeachment process, the two senators consistently defended their support for the President. Both voted against the use of witnesses in the trial and indicated on multiple occasions their intention to acquit. 

On a January 21st radio show hosted by former North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory, U.S. Senator Richard Burr expressed his stance on impeachment in one sentence: “You blew it, House managers.” 

When confronted with the possibility that witnesses could provide essential evidence relating to President Trump’s request for foreign interference with the upcoming election, Burr stated that any witness would be “irrelevant, because even if the president said this, it does not raise to the level of removal from office, which is a sacred thing because, the American people have duly elected him.” 

Similarly, when confronted about his vote not to allow witnesses, Tillis said that there was an “endless number of people, including high-ranking Democrats or high-ranking State Department officials and diplomats, who said they never got a specific request from the president.” 

Burr, having served as a North Carolina representative in the House during the 1990s, has participated in impeachment proceedings before. He voted to impeach President Bill Clinton in 1998 but sees no value in the action now, stating that with impeachment “nobody wins…no party wins. The American people don’t win.” 

Maya Pillai ’21, President of the College Republicans, stated that the acquittal of Trump will “solidify his continuous claim that this is all ‘a witch hunt by the Democrats.’”

Tillis is adamant in his defense of Trump, saying, “House Democrats ran this blatantly partisan impeachment process like a kangaroo court, presuming the President was guilty and shamefully denying the President and the minority basic due process rights.” 

Tillis, according to Davidson Political Science Professor Dr. Susan Roberts, may be hesitant to break with his party. Tillis “got in hot water with the GOP over a February 2019 Washington Post op-ed column he wrote saying he supported Trump on [the] border wall, but he saw his use of emergency powers to be ‘executive overreach’” said Dr. Roberts. In efforts to minimize the intense critique that followed from within his own party, Tillis has supported Trump fiercely since then. 

This vote and the presumption of innocence have greatly angered Democrats, further fueling their desire to vote Tillis — who is running for re-election in 2020 —  out of office. Cutler Renard ’20, President of the College Democrats, acknowledges that “it’ll be a tough race” and Democrats will “have to work really hard for it.”

When asked about the political strategy behind the vote, Catawba College Professor Michael Bitzer, an expert on North Carolina politics, said that Tillis is making the bet “that the Republican base that is solidly behind the President will hopefully show up this fall and support not only Trump, but also his reelection.” 
Tillis, who won re-election in 2014 with a 1.7 point advantage as reported by the New York Times, will face a tough election in the fall, according to Bitzer, but not necessarily due to his stance on impeachment. Though impeachment will play a role in the election, Bitzer believes it will be minimal, because there are many other issues that come into play. Impeachment, in Bitzer’s eyes, will be “one of many things that both sides will be campaigning over.”