On Friday, the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum announced that Romney is the recipient of their Profile In Courage Award for his 2020 vote to impeach President Trump and his “consistent and courageous defense of democracy.” In a statement, JFK’s daughter, Caroline, said, “Senator Romney’s commitment to our Constitution makes him a worthy successor to the Senators who inspired my father to write Profiles in Courage.”
The JFK Library provided a blurb outlining their justification for granting this award to Romney, noting that he is the first Senator to vote to convict a President of his own party and was alienated for his decision:
During a time of grave threat to U.S. democratic institutions, Mitt Romney has been a consistent but often solitary Republican voice in defense of democracy and the rule of law. In February 2020, after weighing evidence that then-President Donald Trump withheld Congressionally authorized military aid for political gain, Romney voted to convict Trump for abuse of power. As the first Senator to have ever voted to convict a President of his own party, Romney’s courageous stand was historic. He characterized his impeachment vote as “the most difficult decision I have ever faced,” and acknowledged that he would suffer significant political consequences. Nevertheless, Romney said he could not “disregard what I believe my oath and the Constitution demands of me for the sake of a partisan end.”
Despite facing unrelenting criticism and public antagonism following this vote, along with threats to his physical safety and demands that he be censured or expelled from the Republican party, Romney has continued to courageously defend the fundamental principles of democratic governance.
There’s no denying that Romney’s vote received the ire of his party, nor the history-making element of his decision. But perhaps Romney’s courage should be measured by the risks he takes when he casts a vote that actually tips the scales.
Romney voted for only one of two articles of impeachment, and, despite being a Republican Party pariah, his vote was ultimately inconsequential: There would never be enough votes to impeach, and Romney knew it. His single vote certainly made a statement, but it didn’t actually make a difference, which would be fine if fecklessness wasn’t his default.
There have been some votes cast by Senator Romney in the year since his impeachment vote, however, that have made some impact; negative ones. Most glaring was his vote to confirm right-wing anti-abortion darling, Judge Amy Coney Barrett. And while somewhat less consequential, let’s not forget his vote to ban abortion after 20 weeks at a time when access to legal abortions has become increasingly scant in some states, or his vote against the latest covid-19 relief bill.
Since 1990, the Profile in Courage Award has been granted to figures like civil rights icon John Lewis, the 9/11 first responders, Gabby Giffords, and Joseph Darby, the man who blew the whistle on torture and prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib. The award has also gone to people like... Presidents George H.W. Bush and Gerald Ford, so this Award doesn’t exactly have a pristine track record.
Still, maybe the bar should be a little higher if Romney finding his spine every now and then is worthy of lauding. Should we throw Senator Susan Collins a parade the next time she finds hers?