Op-Ed: What’s the move on impeachment?

Before I say a word about whether or not it is my belief that President Trump engaged in impeachable conduct, I want to define what it is that I mean by “impeachment,” which is a loaded term often conflated with removal from office. As the facts stand, however, none of the three presidents that were impeached—Andrew Johnson, Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton—were removed from office (Nixon resigned). The process of impeachment begins with an investigation that takes place in the House of Representatives, the legislative body charged with moving to initiate and carry out the proceedings. If the House votes affirmatively on articles of impeachment, confirming that, yes, the officer in question (in this case, the president) engaged in either treason, bribery or “high crimes and misdemeanors,” then the Senate takes over. It is the constitutional responsibility of the Senate to conduct a trial presided over by the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Eventually, the Senate must decide whether to acquit or remove the president. That all being said, when I say that there is a case for impeachment, I only mean that it is my belief that the president’s behavior relative to the alleged Ukrainian quid pro quo should be investigated by the House. 

Yes, there is absolutely a constitutional case for impeachment. The President of the United States solicited a foreign power to investigate a U.S. citizen for political leverage in the upcoming election. “High crimes and misdemeanors,” however loosely interpreted, certainly covers activities such as diplomatic arm-twisting. Using the armed forces of the United States and their associated funds for personal gain is concerning at best. Though the withheld military aid was eventually released to Ukraine, it only occurred after the whistleblower filed the report regarding President Trump’s conversation with President Zelensky, indicating to those in power that it was time to cease their poor behavior before it became public knowledge.

Constitutionally, Congress is called to investigate to the fullest extent this apparent breach in trust of the citizens of the United States. As Congressman Justin Amash put it in a May 18 tweet, “Impeachment, which is a special form of indictment, does not even require probable cause that a crime (e.g., obstruction of justice) has been committed; it simply requires a finding that an official has engaged in careless, abusive, corrupt, or otherwise dishonorable conduct.” Based on what we know, impeachment is not only permissible, but required in order to protect the institutions established under the Constitution. Though it should be used sparingly, impeachment is a mechanism that must be utilized in the presence of misconduct lest the executive set a precedent of carelessness for those who follow. The act of hinging U.S. military aid upon a foreign government’s complicitness with the President’s abuse of investigative powers is undoubtedly corrupt and cannot be allowed to fall by the wayside.

Some might argue that impeachment is an explicitly political or attitudinal approach to the situation at hand, and while I believe that absolutely is the case when it comes to many members of Congress, it can neither be said that Republicans are above the fray, nor that it is the best strategy going into an election year. It was said of the Clinton impeachment by U.S. News & World Report in December, 1998, “The House that voted to impeach President Clinton is more deeply divided than at any time since Reconstruction.” This seems to me an apparent parallel to present claims that the U.S. is so deeply divided on partisan lines that our nation is on the brink of a second Civil War. I strongly believe that this is not the case, and can point to pundits of every generation who sincerely thought that the political apocalypse was at hand because of the narrow margins by which a respective president was elected or the mean names someone called a political opponent. Partisans have never been afraid to take the low road, as evidenced in the Clinton impeachment, where it cannot truly be determined if the investigation relied upon a breach of Constitutional responsibilities or if the Republican controlled House perceived Clinton’s sexual indiscretions as an easy avenue by which to offer public condemnation and/or remove him from office. Based upon this precedent and the facts at hand, it cannot be said that the current inquiry is but a “witch hunt.”

Furthermore, to say that impeaching President Trump is a political strategy is to overlook the House seats in contentious districts—25 of which are too close to call and 17 of which only lean Democratic. If all of these seats were to go red in 2020, Democrats would lose control of the House. With only a scant majority of the American public in support of impeachment, it is nigh suicidal to call for such an investigation going into a widely contested election year. 

In sum, it is my opinion that while an impeachment inquiry is a necessary step, it is political suicide for those who would like to see Donald Trump removed from office. With a Republican controlled Senate and only about 47% of the public in support of impeachment (according to polling estimates by Five Thirty-Eight), it is unlikely that the President will be removed from office even if there were to be significant findings relative to the Ukrainian quid pro quo. Americans are largely tired of the media circus and have heard from day one that Trump should be impeached, thus this cry for accountability, however legitimate, falls very much on ears unwilling to hear. It was unwise of those who have been calling for impeachment to begin on the very night of Donald Trump’s election because three years of the same unfounded rhetoric undermines what are now legitimate claims of impeachable conduct. To indict without subsequent removal will only strengthen the President’s following and his ability to say that he committed no wrongdoing, and, by my best estimate, will essentially tie up the 2020 race in his favor. This is especially likely when one considers the deep divisions in the Democratic field. It is in this regard that Donald Trump likely welcomes a fight—all of the odds are in his favor despite clear evidence that he has acted in ways unbecoming of one holding executive office.

Those who wish to see Donald Trump out of American politics are unlikely to have their desires fulfilled through impeachment, but it is despite this fact that the inquiry must carry on. The public trust has been breached and the responsibility of the executive shirked. Our nation and our values are predicated on the rule of law, and so it must be applied to the fullest extent, even if doing so requires the surrender of a House majority or the re-election of an unpopular and arguably corrupt individual. If our democracy and our institutions are to stand the test of time, legislators must follow through with their constitutional prerogatives by holding other public officers to the standards our Constitution requires.

 



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