This week, as we collectively digested Robert Mueller’s 400-page report, a debate broke out over whether or not Congress should begin impeachment hearings into President Trump.
The pro-impeach crowd led by Elizabeth Warren and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez argue that Congress must begin impeachment proceedings as a matter of principle. Not only because the evidence of 10 separate obstruction of justice events documented by Mueller warrants it, but also because the blanket command by the White House to ignore all Congressional subpoenas effectively wipes out Congress as a co-equal branch of government.
Civics Lesson: The Constitution and Impeachment
The Constitution, Article II, Section 4: The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.
The Constitution, Article I, Section 3:
The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments. When sitting for that Purpose, they shall be on Oath or Affirmation. When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside: And no Person shall be convicted without the Concurrence of two thirds of the Members present.
Judgment in Cases of Impeachments shall not extend further than to removal from Office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust, or Profit under the United States, but the Party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to Indictment, Trial, Judgment, and Punishmnet, according to Law.
As Lindsey Graham put it in 1998 during the Clinton impeachment hearings:
”The day Richard Nixon failed to answer that subpoena is the day he was subject to impeachment because he took the power from Congress over the impeachment process away from Congress, and he became the judge and jury.”
Martin Longman of the Washington Monthly put it even more forcefully, correctly identifying the blanket refusals of Congress as a Constitutional crisis:
“In truth, I am no more than modestly concerned about congressional prestige. They need to invoke their inherent contempt authority less for themselves than for the rest of us. This rogue presidency is dangerous and cannot be left unchecked. There is still one way to check them, and as crazy as it might sound, it’s perfectly legal and has a long history.”
That “one way” Longman documents is the Congressional authority to lock up non-complying witnesses who ignore subpoenas and he notes the authority had not been used since 1935. Since then, Congress favored making a criminal referral to the Department of Justice, which would send a contempt citation to the U.S. Attorney with jurisdiction. But given Attorney General Barr’s complete abdication to the whims and politics of President Trump, Congress is left only with its own incarceration power or a lengthy civil trial process.
Conservative opinion leader National Review even implied they were on the side of principled impeachment, arguing that Mueller’s many documented cases of insubordination by President Trump’s subordinates are a “deformation of the logic of our constitutional system”:
“The first sentence of Article II of the Constitution (“The executive power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America”), combined with the responsibility given to the president in Article II, Section 4, to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed,” and with the simple fact that only one person is elected by the voting public to exercise the power of the presidency mean that the president is responsible for the executive branch.”
The implication being that impeachment is necessary to ensure order is restored to an Executive Branch where the norm is that President Trump’s subordinates regularly ignore his commands.
On the anti-impeachment side, CNN commentator Fareed Zakaria and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi have weighed the political calculations as reason not to proceed to impeachment hearings in the House. As Zakaria writes:
“So what happens when their guy gets elected? These same elites pursue a series of maneuvers to try to overturn the results of the 2016 election. It would massively increase the class resentment that feeds support for the president. It would turn the topic away from his misdeeds and toward the Democrats’ overreach and obsessions. And ultimately, of course, it would fail — two-thirds of this Republican-controlled Senate would not vote to convict him — allowing Trump to brandish his “acquittal” as though it were a gold medal.”
Zakaria goes on to argue that it is precisely because impeachment is inherently a political proceeding and not a legal one that Democrats would be wise not to impeach but rather to conduct aggressive oversight via the regular committee process. Better to slow-walk the investigations and keep the report in the news for the next year without actually voting to remove him, opting instead to let the 2020 election take care of it.
What do you think: impeach? Or not impeach? Please let us know in the comments below.