"The whole thing is stupid," Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) told Politico last week, when asked about Donald Trump's second impeachment trial. "I know this: Nothing we do next week on that floor is going to help people get vaccines or more people keep their jobs. We should be focused on that instead."
Last night, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) offered a similar take when reflecting on the first day of the impeachment trial:
"Today was a preview of the rest of the week: Democrats are engaged in political theater and venting their hatred for Donald Trump instead of addressing real challenges like getting kids back to school and millions of Americans back to work."
This is clearly the new party line for Republicans, as evidenced by an RNC statement this morning that read in part, "Every day Democrats spend on their post-presidency impeachment is another day Americans go without the help they need."
At first blush, I suspect there are some Americans, even those who may not ordinarily agree with Republicans, who find rhetoric like this persuasive. For them, Trump is no longer in office; many of the insurrectionists are facing criminal charges; and the priority for elected officials should be addressing immediate and ongoing problems related to the pandemic and the economy.
But the reality isn't quite that simple. For one thing, in our system of government, holding those in power accountable for their misdeeds is absolutely necessary.
For another, the trial could've been over by now, but Rubio's and Cruz's Senate Republican leadership made a deliberate choice to delay the proceedings.
But just as importantly, the far-right GOP senators and the Republican National Committee present this as some kind of binary choice: elected officials can either focus on pressing national issues or they can focus on the former president's impeachment trial.
Whether Cruz and Rubio are prepared to acknowledge this or not, the fact remains that the proceedings in the Senate have not derailed the policymaking process. Rubio, for example, argued that officials should be focused on helping "get vaccines," which is work President Joe Biden and his team are doing every day. Cruz referenced "getting kids back to school," which is another substantive effort that's underway at the White House. Indeed, new CDC guidance on the issue is expected this week.
Both GOP senators mentioned the importance of the economy, and in the House, work is well underway on a new COVID relief package, which Democratic leaders believe is on track for passage by the end of the month.
Democrats should be "addressing real challenges," and not just impeachment? As it turns out, that's precisely what's happening.
Indeed, it's no small detail that Democrats appear to be doing far more work on these matters than Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz. As Jon Chait noted this week, 10 Senate Republicans met with the president in the hopes of negotiating a bill to speed vaccinations and restore jobs -- and neither Cruz nor Rubio were part of the 10.
What's more, both voted with their party last week against the budget resolution that will make passing a relief package possible.
In other words, there's an ongoing legislative effort to do exactly what Rubio and Cruz believe should be done, and they've left little doubt that they plan to vote against the plan.
The senators are arguing in effect, "Instead of impeachment, we should be focused on meaningful legislation, which we intend to oppose and play no part in shaping."