To Impeach or Not To Impeach

Alan Zendell, April 28, 2019

Senator Elizabeth Warren said during a CNN Town Hall last week that the House of Representatives should immediately begin impeachment proceedings to remove Donald Trump from office. She wasn’t just making a political statement. She fervently believes it’s the right thing to do for the country.

Senator Kamala Harris seemed to support impeachment too, though she hedged a bit, saying only that Democrats should take steps toward impeachment. They both want Trump out of office, but there’s a huge difference in their approaches. Warren spoke like an impassioned law professor defending the Constitution, while Harris was pragmatic. She believes America’s soul is at stake in 2020, and while she supports impeachment, she won’t make it a central point of her primary campaign.

Whether or not you agree with her ideology, Senator Warren is a brilliant, highly principled woman. If she has a failing, politically, it’s that she never compromises her beliefs – pragmatism is not part of her repertoire. But to her great credit, she was the only prominent figure who was not afraid to take Donald Trump on directly in 2016. She minced no words warning us about who he was. And unlike Bernie Sanders, once Hillary Clinton won the nomination Warren supported her loudly and continuously right up to the election,.

Senator Warren got it right in 2016, putting her own personal agenda aside and focusing on trying to defeat Trump, and she’s right now that Trump deserves to be removed from office. But she’s wrong about what the Democrats’ current priority should be. Senator Harris hedged the impeachment question because she understands that if it’s a partisan fight, the Democrats will lose.

By now every American should understand the process, but I’ll review it anyway. The removal of a president by impeachment is initiated by a majority vote in the House, but the House vote is only step one, the political equivalent of an indictment. Step two is a trial by the Senate, where a conviction requires sixty-seven Senators to agree. Since  Republicans hold fifty-three Senate seats, that can only happen if Trump is shown to have committed acts so heinous, his own party has no choice but to convict him.

That’s what happened in 1974, when a delegation of Senators led by Barry Goldwater informed President Nixon that if he were impeached he would lose in the Senate. They urged him to resign the presidency to spare the country the ordeal of a trial. Donald Trump can only be removed from office by bipartisan agreement. If the Democrats focus on impeachment without Republican support they will fail. Worse, they will assure his re-election.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi understands this, and she is the only prominent politician who is not burdened by self-interest. She has already agreed to step down as speaker at the end of the current term, and as Speaker, she has achieved her life’s ambition. Like Senators Corker and Flake in the last Congress, she is now free to follow her conscience.

Pelosi does not support impeachment. Her only goal is to assure that Donald Trump is held accountable for his actions and that he is not re-elected in 2020. To those ends she will aggressively pursue House Committee hearings into Mueller report findings that imply the president may have attempted to obstruct his investigation. The hearings are essential because official Justice Department policy prevented Mueller from directly addressing possible crimes committed by a sitting president. Americans need the truth.

The president has declared that he will fight every subpoena issued to former White House staff, claiming his administration has been the most transparent in American history. Even his supporters know that’s laughable, and we need to hear the people involved in this administration testify under oath. Trump has threatened to invoke Executive Privilege, but lies told to the American people are not threats to national security. Will Trump’s Supreme Court see it that way?

We must be clear that seeking the truth from the people who were directly involved is completely different from beginning impeachment proceedings without having clear evidence of misconduct in hand. By conducting open hearings, Pelosi’s committee chairs will assure that the House executes its constitutionally required oversight obligation. Checks and balances on the Executive by a co-equal branch of government are fundamental to our political system. 

We don’t know what witnesses like former White House Attorney Don McGahn will say under oath. If Trump is shown to have committed high crimes and misdemeanors, ordinary Americans will decide his fate at the ballot box. Impeachment, and the turmoil it will cause is almost moot when there’s a much cleaner way to remove him from office.

Vote him out, and assure that nothing diverts us from that goal.

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