As the president shows more of his general unfitness for office on a daily basis, the calls to impeach him are steadily growing more frequent and more strident from those on the farther left. Their frustration is evident, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi continues to brush the matter aside, saying that in effect, they’ll do it when the time is right.
Pelosi is correct, of course. The time is not yet right to begin the proceedings. It’s not that we don’t yet have sufficient evidence; it’s that impeachment – though conducted as if it were a criminal proceeding – is a political process. And the situation isn’t politically ripe to even start holding hearings.
A quick review of the procedure is in order.
The House of Representatives drafts and votes on the Articles of Impeachment. When the final version is approved by a simple majority vote, they are sent up to the Senate where the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court presides over the “trial”. It requires a two-thirds majority of the Senate to vote in favor of impeachment in order to remove the president from office.
We’ve only tried this three times in our history. In a bitterly fought contest over multiple issues surrounding Reconstruction, Andrew Johnson was “acquitted” by one vote. Bill Clinton was “acquitted” when the adults in the Senate realized that kicking someone out for having extramarital affairs was taking things too far. Richard Nixon resigned before his Articles of Impeachment were even completed; it was pointed out to him that he had lost the support of his Republican colleagues in Congress and there was no way he was going to come out of the process and still be allowed to reside in the White House.
We’ve never actually had to remove a president through impeachment before.
Nixon’s situation is the most relevant. Speaker Pelosi could easily get the House to approve Articles of Impeachment by the end of next week. Chief Justice John Roberts could openly side with the pro-impeachment faction during the Senate trial. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer could get every single one of the forty-seven Democrats in the Senate to vote to impeach without a second thought.
But you still need twenty Republican senators to vote in favor of impeachment in order for it to happen. And you know Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell isn’t going to let even one Republican cross over….
It must also be kept in mind that, in addition to never having successfully impeached a president before (so we’re hoping to set precedents all over the place for future citizens to study and admire and use as an example), we cannot afford to fail. If you think the president is annoying now with all his cries of “No Collusion! Exonerated!”, what do you think he’ll be like when he’s acquitted in the Senate?
And we won’t get a second chance…..
Further comparisons with Nixon can be instructive.
In that case, things started small and built up and up as Nixon tried to interfere with the investigation, and it slowly and steadily became clear to the public that he was unfit for office. Now, we’re starting from the other end – we have a president clearly unfit for office. The investigations are all going to be about finding enough material to convince the president’s supporters of that. Given that they seem to be completely fine with everything that is already known, there’s a danger of the investigations actually turning into the “witch hunt” that they are already being called. If we start with a grand accusation, and have it devolve into hairsplitting over who said what to whom…..
The timing of the process is also important.
There’s a presidential election happening next year. If the president gets the boot too early, the Republican party will have enough time to recover, nominate someone who isn’t that easy to defeat in a general election, and campaign on a basic “revenge” platform. Then where will the Democrats be?
It’s important not just to remove the president, but to clearly repudiate everything he represents and soundly defeat his supporters as well.
I believe the ideal strategy would be to continue with the half dozen or so investigations that are already underway (and start new ones as necessary), bringing all the evidence of high crimes, misdemeanors, and general malfeasance in office out in front the public in a clear and coherent manner. Then, next spring, start the actual hearings in House on impeachment. Schedule them so the Articles can be voted on and approved just as the Republican National Convention opens. That would steal the president’s thunder from his renomination – and force all his supporters to head into the fall campaign season facing the question “Do you support impeachment?”
That would be so fitting and fun! Alas, by that time, the point will probably be moot. What’s the point in impeaching someone when there’s just a few months left in his term of office? Unless you think he’s going to get re-elected….. It’s probably best to keep going slowly and steadily, and be constantly aware of what Senate Republicans are doing. Then only when you know you can win, start drafting the Articles of Impeachment.