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On impeachment, Ohio's Portman once again sides with his party

As his career nears its end, Ohio's Rob Portman keeps being described as a GOP "moderate." He also keeps proving those who use the word wrong.
Image: Rob Portman
Rob Portman arrives as the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump in Washington, on Jan. 31, 2020.J. Scott Applewhite / AP file

Often in politics, retirement announcements lead to sudden bursts in courage. Elected officials, by the nature of their profession, have reason to worry about impressing various constituencies, but once those fears no longer apply, politicians feel free to do as they please.

And with this in mind, it probably wasn't a coincidence that two of the six Republican senators who voted to convict Donald Trump in his second impeachment trial -- Pennsylvania's Pat Toomey and North Carolina's Richard Burr -- will end their careers in public service next year.

Of course, Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) is also nearing the end of his lengthy political career, which seemingly gave him an opportunity to vote with what remains of his party's "moderate" wing. It was an opportunity he did not take.

In the statement released after the Senate voted 57-43 to convict Trump (a two-thirds majority, 67 Senators, were needed to convict), Portman called Trump's action on Jan. 6, the day when Trump supporters invaded the Capitol Building in Washington, "inexcusable." ... However, in explaining his vote to acquit Trump Saturday, Portman said the impeachment of a former president is unconstitutional.

While some GOP senators voted with Democrats on the propriety of the trial, Portman voted with his far-right colleagues. While some GOP senators voted with Democrats on possibly hearing from witnesses, Portman voted with his far-right colleagues. And while some GOP senators voted with Democrats on convicting Trump, Portman again voted with his far-right colleagues.

None of this was especially surprising. As we recently discussed, the Ohio Republican voted with the Trump White House nearly 90% of the time over the course of the last four years -- even more than steadfast partisans such as Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) -- after linking arms with his partisan allies against the Democratic White House's agenda throughout the Obama era.

How Portman cultivated a reputation as a thoughtful centrist has long been a point of bafflement for me. In 2013, when a bipartisan group of senators approved a comprehensive immigration reform package, it passed with 68 votes. Portman wasn't one of them: he voted with his far-right colleagues.

Two years later, when a group of Senate Republicans wrote an open letter to Iran during delicate nuclear negotiations, urging Iranian officials not to trust the United States, GOP moderates steered clear of the sabotage effort. Portman, however, nevertheless joined his far-right colleagues in signing his name to the letter.

In 2016, Portman joined the partisan blockade against a compromise Supreme Court nominee. In 2017, the Ohioan got to work voting with the Trump agenda nearly 90% of the time. In 2019, he conceded that Trump's extortion scheme toward Ukraine was "wrong," before voting to acquit him in the then-president's impeachment trial. Over the weekend, as his more moderate Republican colleagues voted to convict in Trump's impeachment trial, Portman again stuck with this party.

Portman is the kind of politician whose reputation rests almost entirely on tone. His brand of "moderation" is one in which the senator rarely actually does anything moderate.