President facing impeachment
For the fourth time in American history, a president is on the cusp of impeachment.
By next week, the U.S. House of Representatives may impeach President Donald Trump. On Tuesday, House Democratic Party leaders unveiled two counts, accusing Trump of committing high crimes and misdemeanors by asking Ukraine to interfere in the 2020 election and then trying to cover it up.
Trump has assailed the long-simmering impeachment effort as partisan in nature. As is his way, he has attacked everyone, from congressional Democrats to the FBI, whom he called “scum” this week. Such is the level of political discourse in the Age of Trump.
Democrats say this is about protecting the nation from unconstitutional actions by Trump, but make no mistake, this is, like almost everything else in modern government, is a deeply partisan matter.
The votes will reveal that. The House is controlled by Democrats and almost all of them will vote to impeach Trump. The Senate is in Republican hands, however, and few if any are expected to vote to convict him.
The process can be confusing. The House can impeach a president or other government officers but the Senate serves as the jury. It has removed eight federal judges but 12 others, including two presidents, escaped the noose.
It seems likely that Trump will be impeached — which will be a black mark against him in the history books — but not convicted. The fact that House Democrats are trying to speed the process, and Democratic presidential candidates want it over with as soon as possible, shows that this has as much to do with politics as it does with violations of the Constitution.
Republicans are not interested in the details. Most already have said they have no intention of voting to remove Trump from office. That makes them poor jurors for a trial of this magnitude, but it is in keeping with this entire process.
As with previous impeachments, politics is as important as evidence.
President Andrew Johnson, a Democrat who had been chosen by President Abraham Lincoln, a Republican, to form a unity ticket in 1864, was impeached in 1868, three years after the assassination of Lincoln propelled him into the White House.
Johnson was not the equal of Lincoln — who was and is? — but his impeachment for dismissing a cabinet member, among other allegations, was unwarranted. He was saved from conviction and removal from office by a single vote. President Richard Nixon faced an almost sure impeachment and conviction before he resigned on Aug. 9, 1974.
The House Judiciary Committee approved three articles of impeachment for obstruction of justice, abuse of power and contempt of Congress. Once Nixon realized the House was sure to vote to impeach him, and the Watergate scandal had cost him Republican support in the Senate, he became the first, and so far only, president to resign.
President Bill Clinton was impeached almost exactly 21 years ago — Dec. 19, 1998 — on twin counts of perjury to a grand jury and obstruction of justice, based on his secret relationship with Monica Lewinsky, a young White House intern. In retrospect, it seems foolish Clinton’s personal indiscretions rose to this level, and the nation’s attention were so fixated on this scandal.
The Senate acquitted Clinton, with the impeachment resolutions drawing just 50 and 45 votes. The president emerged more popular than before, with most Americans feeling that his private life was not their concern.
Trump should be glad for that assumption, with his own sordid past. Three marriages, countless affairs, admissions of sexual assault, payoffs to mistresses, lawsuits, multimillion-dollar settlements — his pre-White House years were messy, to say the least. But his personal life will not be on trial. Instead, Congress will focus on his communications with Ukraine. Did Trump ask them to help smear potential 2020 political opponent Joe Biden, withholding American aid as leverage?
Did he and his staff attempt to cover up the proposed deal? Nixon was brought down as much by the cover-up as he was by the Watergate burglary and other political crimes. Still, few politicians have learned from that. The four impeachment efforts have been different in many ways, but also similar: They were political in nature.
That does not mean Johnson was not a bad president. He was. He failed to live up to Lincoln’s pledge to bind the nation’s wounds after the Civil War. It was a failure that resonates still.
It does not mean Nixon did not cause his own downfall, with his paranoid nature and fear of losing the 1972 election — which ironically, he won in a historic landslide — leading to his ruin.
It does not mean Clinton’s perverse behavior did not provide his enemies sufficient ammunition to try to end his presidency.
Trump has been a controversial candidate and president. He has ignored precedent and outraged his opponents while even causing many of his supporters to shrug their shoulders and roll their eyes at many of his comments and actions. But a large section of Americans, primarily Republicans, do not believe he has committed impeachable offenses. The senators and congressmen they elected know that, which is why they have little interest in learning more about Trump’s alleged high crimes and misdemeanors.
Democrats, still angry over the 2016 election, have wanted Trump out of office since he raised his hand on Jan. 20, 2017.
The odds are Trump will remain president after this process and Republicans and Democrats will disagree about the outcome.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.