COMMENTARY: My constitutional oath

Walking the halls of Congress for the first time as intern in 1996, I never truly grasped the level of responsibility that comes with being a congressman. I answered mail for concerned constituents, prepared memos on legislation, answered phones and ran the occasional errand. The interactions I had with staff and the congressman were formative, and they always had one thing in mind in everything they did — the residents of South Texas.

When I ran for Congress in 2016, I knew I wanted to serve. I wanted to serve like my father did in the Korean War and give back to my community and country. I pledged to help lower the cost of prescription drugs, improve the quality of life for our seniors and those with special needs, fight for affordable education and ensure veterans, service members and their families receive the care and benefits they are owed. I made a promise to advocate for the people of the 15th District of Texas, and I took a solemn oath to uphold the Constitution.

I expected tough votes and formidable debate, but I never imagined I would have to vote on the impeachment of a president.

As a trial attorney, I represented individuals who were taken advantage of by powerful corporations. In each case, I expected the men and women in the jury to consider the facts and evidence and weigh the merits of the case against the law and Constitution before coming to a verdict.

I have done so in this case as well.

I have reviewed the evidence before me in the case of the impeachment of President Donald J. Trump. The facts are clear and convincing: President Trump abused his power and the office of the presidency. That, in my view, meets the constitutional standard of “high crimes and misdemeanors.”

I draw these conclusions from analyzing the hundreds of hours of testimony from fact witnesses, national security experts and constitutional scholars who came before Congress.

These are the facts as I see them: President Trump used the power and office of the presidency to condition congressionally authorized military aid for the promise of an investigation into a political rival for personal and political gain. At the direction of the president, Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney ordered the Office of Management and Budget to freeze military assistance for Ukraine. These funds were appropriated by Congress, and the law did not provide for the president to withhold the funds, but rather as the head of the executive branch, he was legally bound to distribute them through his agencies. In fact, Department of Defense and Department of State officials had previously provided formal notifications to Congress and announced to the public that Ukraine had met the requisite statutory requirements for funding to be distributed.

While this seems like a mundane, process issue, it’s not. This is at the heart of the president’s abuse of power.

The president acted well beyond his executive authority and attempted to strong-arm Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, whose country depends on U.S. assistance in its fight against Russia, into opening an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son. Furthermore, the president openly solicited foreign powers — Russia, China, Ukraine — to investigate his political opponents, again undermining the integrity of our electoral process.

When given the opportunity to explain the accusations and provide evidence to the contrary of these claims, President Trump not only hid from Congress, but obstructed a lawful congressional investigation by systematically ordering government agencies and employees to ignore legally binding subpoenas.

These events lead us to the present day, where we as members of Congress will vote on two articles of impeachment — abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

Each member of Congress swears an oath to the Constitution upon entering office to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same,” and today, like every other day, I will uphold that promise.

Our Founding Fathers feared that one day the power of the presidency would stretch its limits and thus enshrined in the Constitution a system of checks and balances. Alexander Hamilton eloquently argued in the Federalist Papers that impeachment was a mechanism to deal with “those offenses which proceed from the misconduct of public men… from the abuse or violation of some public trust.” More than 40 years ago, the conduct of this president would have been a moral outrage to the public and betrayal of the public trust. Impeachment would have been an afterthought.

If we do not impeach, we set a new, dangerous precedent for the executive branch to flaunt its power and further deteriorate the ethical standard to which we hold future presidents.

Now, more than ever, I understand the immense responsibility and duty that comes with holding office. I was entrusted to represent some 700,000 people to the best of my ability and cast votes for legislation that would impact every single one of them.

And that is why today I must vote to impeach the president to fulfill my oath to support, protect and defend the Constitution to keep in check the power of the presidency.

U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez represents Texas Congressional District 15, which extends from Hidalgo County to Bexar County.