One of the most frustrating things to watch over the past several months has been the Democratic Party’s reluctance to go head-first into impeachment proceedings.
Democratic leadership in the House, as well as several members of the U.S. Senate, have been afraid to impeach the President because they fear how the politics of it may play out. That is absurd!
I did a Twitter thread on this topic a few months ago in response to data guru Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight claiming that trying to impeach a President when “60% of the public opposes removing him would be undemocratic.” It’s worth revisiting that topic now in light of what’s happened in the past several weeks.
What is Impeachment?
Let’s start with what impeachment actually is, since the media hasn’t been able to talk about it in a way that actually informs the public of what impeachment really does.
Impeachment is not, in itself, the mechanism for removing an government official from office. Impeachment is the first PART of the process for removing an officer from their post.
Under the U.S. Constitution in Article I Section 2 Clause 5, the House of Representatives “shall have the sole Power of Impeachment.”
The House launching an impeachment inquiry means that they can conduct hearings to investigate whether there was wrongdoing by a government official. Under Article 2 Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution, the “President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States” can be the subject of an impeachment proceeding.
An impeachment investigation can be done by the existing House Judiciary Committee, or a special committee created for the specific purpose of conducting such an investigation.
A ‘Special committee would be empowered to broaden the focus of the inquiry — or investigation.”
“If the speaker assigns the House Judiciary Committee to investigate, there is no time limit placed on their investigation and a likely public hearing would be scheduled at the discretion of the committee chair to vote on the articles of impeachment.”
If there’s enough evidence to suggest that the specific individual they are investigating committed ” Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors,” which is the standard for Impeachment under Article 2 Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution, the Committee conducting the impeachment inquiry can vote to approve an Articles of Impeachment. It would only take a basic majority in the committee for it to pass.
If Articles of Impeachment were approved by the committee conducting an impeachment inquiry, it would then be brought to the House floor for a vote. Only a simple majority of votes in the House is required for an Articles of Impeachment resolution to pass.
An Articles of Impeachment is essentially like a grand jury indictment. It is the formal document that is supposed to lay out the reasons for why a specific official should be removed for office.
Only after an Articles of Impeachment passes the House would the formal process of removal for that official begin. The Senate would then be tasked, under Article I Section 3 Clauses 6 and 7, with conducting a trial to determine whether that official should be removed from their post.
The purpose of the hearing is to determine whether that official shall be removed from their post for the reasons we stated earlier. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court would be the presiding judge over the hearings. Testimony would be taken. The official themselves could testify in that proceeding.
After that proceeding was concluded, the Senate would take a vote on whether to remove that official from office. Two/thirds of the Senate would be needed to remove that official from their post.
What we are debating right now in the House, then, is not whether we should be trying to remove the President from office. It’s deciding whether we should be investigating and condemning his activities in the first place.
The Alternatives Have Failed
Democrats have tried to hold hearings over the past several months to conduct investigations without starting the formal process of impeachment. President Trump, Attorney General Barr, and his entire administration have been, and continue to violate several laws by refusing to comply with the House’s lawful requests for documents and witnesses to testify.
By refusing to comply with the lawful power of Congress to conduct a legitimate investigation, they’re obstructing justice and abusing their power. These were BOTH listed as reasons to proceed with impeachment in the Articles of Impeachment brought against Richard Nixon in 1973.
Democrats in the House have struggled with whether to proceed with a formal impeachment inquiry for months while this obstruction was going on.
It appears that the House Judiciary Committee is now claiming that they are conducting an impeachment inquiry. Representative Jerry Nadler, the Chair of the committee, has said as much publicly for the past several weeks. However, things still appear to be messy as others in the Democratic leadership try to avoid the issue entirely.
The Politics of Impeachment Myth
The main reason coming from the Democrats who want to avoid impeachment is that the politics of it make such a proceeding politically dangerous. Let’s deconstruct what’s wrong with that argument.
First of all, if we take their point to its logical conclusion, what they’re saying is that no President should EVER be impeached IF a majority of the public opposes it. This is literally one of the ways in which a modern democracy can devolve into dictatorship.
In their book, “How Democracies Die,” Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt cite several examples of eventual dictators being quite popular during their power grab. For example, Hugo Chavez was very popular in the initial years where he took Venezuela towards authoritarianism.
What this allows for is a “tyranny of the majority” where the will of the majority enables an executive to completely dismantle a constitutional structure meant to work as a check on their power. That contradicts the design of our constitutional system.
It’s also literally one of the ways in which a democracy can die. The public allows their democracy to be actively dismantled, even if they don’t realize that it’s what is happening in real-time. This is extremely dangerous.
The second major flaw with their view, if we take their argument to its logical end-point, is that Congress would have never opened impeachment proceedings against Richard Nixon if they had been the ones in the position to make that decision at the time.
Only 19-30% of the public supported impeachment when Congress was considering, then eventually started the process of Impeachment against Richard Nixon in 1973.
After the public heard the evidence elicited from this process, however, their opinion radically changed. By the time Richard Nixon resigned, 57% of the public supported impeachment. The hearings worked to shift public opinion towards removal. The pressure generated from public opinion is a major part of what forced him to resign.
We are starting from a much more favorable point right now politically to do an impeachment inquiry than the House was in 1973.
Donald Trump’s average approval rating according to FiveThirtyEight’s tracker sits at just 41.8% at the moment. Richard Nixon’s approval rating, at the time that the House was considering impeachment in 1973, was over 60% according to Gallup’s tracking poll. He had also just won one of the largest landslide elections ever in his re-election bid the year prior (he carried every state except Massachusetts and the District of Columbia).
We’ve also seen the numbers move whenever new evidence has come out. For example, support for impeachment spiked 16% in June according to one national poll after Robert Mueller did his press conference detailing the conclusions he made in his report.
It’s also been clear in polling that much of the public is unaware of the actual details of Trump’s wrongdoing. There’s so many bad things happening so often, that it’s becoming extremely difficult for the public to keep track of it.
A well-run impeachment inquiry, that conducts several public hearings, and makes the clear case for why this President should be impeached, could shift public opinion even more. It’s the classic bad assumption on the part of many establishment Democrats that we aren’t capable of moving public opinion.
We have a Constitutional Duty to Hold Him Accountable
Here’s the final and, perhaps, most important point: We have ample evidence that the president needs to be impeached.
He has committed felonies in office. He obstructed justice in office during the Mueller investigation on several occasions. He was an unindicted co-conspirator in an criminal election law felony too.
Beyond that, his flagrant abuses of power have increased almost exponentially in recent weeks. It was reported just a few weeks ago that Trump dangled pardons to anyone who chose to break the law in order to build his border wall.
Last week, it was reported that Trump Administration officials toured a facility in California that they planned to use as, essentially, a concentration camp for homeless people who they planned on rounding up. When asked about it, an official said they weren’t planning on doing “yet.”
It was recently discovered that we were forced to withdraw a top spy we had in the Russian government because Trump was revealing details that could have put that person’s identity, and thus, their safety, at risk.
The House of Representatives found out that the U.S. military may have been making stops at a Trump resort and airport overseas in order to enrich the President.
We also found out that the President is withholding military aid for Ukraine until they give him “dirt” on Joe Biden. He’s had Rudy Giuliani in the country for weeks to try and get fabricated evidence of a crime from their government. He’s trying to get our government to come up with fake charges to undermine a political opponent, which is another hallmark of how modern authoritarian leaders consolidate their power.
That’s just a few things FROM THE PAST SEVERAL WEEKS! There’s countless other things I could have listed here too. (manipulating markets with his tweets, asking aids about detonating nuclear bombs in hurricanes to “break them up,” committing a potential crime by falsifying a weather forecast to cover for his own disinformation (and spending countless days harping about it to press and on social media), inviting the Taliban to Camp David on the eve of 9-11 only to cancel that at the last minute, turning refugees away who were seeking aid from our country after a high-end category five hurricane decimated their country, etc..).
We are living through a crisis right now. Our President, and many in his administration, have been flagrantly defying norms and laws. They’re disregarding the system of checks and balances that our Constitutional system depends on.
Their actions aren’t victim-less either. People are losing their lives in the concentration camps we are running at our borders because of his incompetence and cruelty. People are committing mass shootings who are inspired by his statements and actions. People are losing their jobs because of his reckless trade war. We may be heading towards a conflict with Iran too that could threaten the entire security of the region, and the world.
We can’t expect this President, or his administration, to oversee a free and fair election next fall either.
We have to take action. Democrats are failing to meet the needs of the moment.
Impeachment may not lead to the removal of this president. Republicans will stand by him no matter what. However, doing this would put those Republicans on record as standing by all of this wrongdoing. That could have devastating electoral consequences for them next fall, especially if we make the case for impeachment in a clear, concise, and public way.
It would also be more damaging to the long-term health of our system if we just shrugged our shoulders and moved on. We need to send the message that this behavior can’t be tolerated. We have to be sending the message, not just to this President, but to all others in the future, that there are consequences to abusing the powers of the office.
We must impeach Donald Trump.