Orlando Sentinel: I vote to impeach, with reluctance, but resolve

*This op-ed was first published in the Orlando Sentinel*

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Washington, December 18, 2019 | comments
Like other immigrants and refugees to this country, I know how fortunate I am to call America home. When I was a baby, my family fled Vietnam because our lives were threatened by a communist government that exercised ruthless power unchecked by the rule of law. We were rescued at sea by the U.S. Navy after our boat ran out of fuel and then offered safe haven in the United States.

My parents instilled in me a deep love and appreciation for America. They taught me this is an exceptional country. It’s a country that elects and empowers its national leaders, while constraining those powers through a carefully designed constitutional framework.

The desire to chisel away at the debt of gratitude I owe America helps explain key choices I’ve made throughout my life.

After the 9/11 attacks, I left my job in the private sector and went to work for the Secretary of Defense under President George W. Bush. My colleagues and I rarely discussed our political views; we focused on the mission of keeping this country safe.

As a national security specialist, I helped develop and execute our strategy to use military assistance to build the capacity of partner nations in support of our shared goals. I saw firsthand how vital this “train, equip, and assist” effort is to defending our nation, protecting our friends, and deterring our enemies. I was proud to have been awarded a medal for exceptional civilian service for my work in this area.

About a decade after I left the Defense Department, I again heard the call to serve — prompted by a terrorist attack of a different sort. I was back working in the private sector when a U.S. citizen who pledged fealty to the Islamic State walked into the Pulse nightclub in Orlando and murdered 49 innocent people.

After that tragedy, I decided to run for elected office, motivated by the desire to protect the country I loved from threats, both foreign and domestic. Surprising even myself, I won the election — becoming the first Vietnamese-American woman elected to Congress.

It sounds like a cliché, but I consider myself a patriot, not a partisan. I put country over party because that’s what I’ve always done and because the nature of my district demands it. It’s evenly divided among Democrats, Republicans, and independents. Just like my former employers in the Pentagon expected the mission to come first, so do my current employers — my constituents.

Given my national security background, and the fact that Florida was a major target of Russia’s intervention in the 2016 election, I have made securing U.S. elections from foreign interference one of my priorities in Congress. Our elections should be contests between the ideas and values of fellow Americans, decided by our citizens in accordance with our laws. Americans of every political stripe should view attempts by a foreign power to manipulate our democratic process as an attack on our security and sovereignty.

I relate my personal history, professional background, and legislative priorities because they are critical to understanding my vote to impeach President Donald Trump for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

It’s a vote I will cast with great reluctance, but with even greater resolve. In a sense, the President has violated the principles that my own life has led me to hold most dear.

After Russia illegally annexed Crimea and invaded eastern Ukraine in 2014, there has been a bipartisan consensus in this country that it is in the national security interest of the United States to help Ukraine build its capacity to deter further Russian aggression.

Based on all the evidence, it is clear President Trump withheld taxpayer dollars that Congress appropriated for this purpose as leverage to pressure the government of Ukraine to investigate his potential rival in the 2020 election. By doing so, the president undermined our nation’s security, compromised the safety of an ally, and emboldened an adversary — all to advance his personal political agenda.

After all the work that I and other elected leaders from both parties have done to protect our democratic process from foreign interference, here was the president of the United States seeking to coerce a foreign leader into manufacturing allegations against a domestic political opponent for the President’s own benefit — and getting caught in the act.

This is a flagrant abuse of power, and it cannot stand. It’s the sort of conduct one would expect from a petty dictator, not from the leader of the free world.

The evidence President Trump obstructed Congress is equally compelling. When the House of Representatives learned of the President’s effort to solicit Ukraine’s interference in the 2020 election, it opened an impeachment inquiry into the President’s actions, as the House has the sole right to do under the Constitution and the responsibility to do given the gravity of the facts that had already come to light. In a step unprecedented in our history, the President directed executive branch officials not to comply with subpoenas for documents and testimony that House committees issued to obtain additional information.

This is more than just the president thumbing his nose at Congress; it’s the president thumbing his nose at the Constitution and the system of divided powers that our Framers crafted. It sets a dangerous precedent because it is this system that separates us from countries like the one my family fled. It is this system that makes America great — and it must be preserved and protected.

Before I take any hard vote, I ask myself three questions: Is this good for my country? Is this the right thing to do for my constituents, even though some of them will disagree with me? And is this consistent with my conscience? Because I can answer “yes” to all three of these questions, I will vote to impeach the President of the United States.

Congresswoman Stephanie Murphy, a Democrat, represents Florida’s 7th congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives.

This op-ed first appeared in the Orlando Sentinel

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