Lately, President Trump has been speaking out about what he calls “the I-word.”
That’s shorthand for impeachment.
Could it happen to the 45th president of the United States?
His sharpest critics in Congress say there is plenty of reason to warrant impeachment proceedings. But at the moment, Democratic Party leaders in the House of Representatives (where the whole process originates) are urging caution.
That is in large part because impeachment is actually a two-step process. The House investigates alleged misdeeds and offers up an indictment. The Senate then conducts a trial — complete with the Chief Justice of the United States officiating.
The Democratic leadership knows that no matter what happens in the House, the Republican-dominated Senate is likely to back the President. That means that Trump — ever the showman — could then label the whole exercise as political theatre and use it to fire up his supporters just prior to the 2020 national election.
These top Democrats wonder — and rightly so — if Donald Trump is trying to goad them into action for his own political benefit.
And as they consider calls for action on impeachment, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her colleagues must also take into account the lessons of American history.
First of all, impeaching a US President is both difficult and rare. VERY rare. In the almost 250 years that this nation has been in existence, only two presidents — Andrew Johnson in the 1860s and Bill Clinton in the late 1990s — have been impeached by the House and both were acquitted by the Senate. A third — Richard Nixon — resigned in 1974 while under congressional investigation and before a vote to impeach could be taken.
Each man faced a different set of charges — Johnson was accused of abuse of power… Clinton of lying to investigators about an extramarital affair… and Nixon of trying to cover-up his role in the Watergate scandal.
And yet all these allegations of misdeeds fell under the guidelines set in the US Constitution which stipulates that to be impeached a government official must have committed “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”
Do Trump’s actions rise to that threshold? Some Democrats say the recently released report on Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election provides the outlines of an impeachment case. They point to the evidence laid out by Special Council Robert Mueller, who said he could not indict Donald Trump because existing Justice Department guidelines bar such action against a sitting president. But Mueller made clear he saw nothing wrong with Congress building on his work.
For now, Speaker Pelosi is doing everything in her power to stop the impeachment freight train and keep House Democrats focused on issues of major importance to voters — things like education, health care and employment.
Her message is resonating with members like Emmanuel Cleaver of Missouri who told the Washington Post he is worried that a divisive president could use impeachment proceedings to further split the nation. “I would like to be able to say that I stood for maintaining the unity of the country,” Cleaver said.
But there are also lawmakers who consider it their duty as members of Congress to call for impeachment. They acknowledge the Senate may acquit President Trump but maintain the Democratic majority in the House has a moral obligation to act. Among them is Kathleen Rice of New York who chose the President’s preferred method of communication — Twitter — to make her views known:
“For over two years the President has systematically dismantled our democracy and defied the rule of law. This cannot stand.
Congress has moral obligation to put our politics aside and take action. We need to start impeachment proceedings.
The President is not above the law.”
The bottom line seems to be, is there the political will in Congress to take on Donald Trump?
Right now only about 65 of the 235 Democrats in the House have come out in support of an impeachment inquiry. Most come from urban congressional districts where ultra-liberal politicians are the norm.
But with each jaw-dropping statement by the President, it seems their ranks grow just a bit.
The latest came just days ago when Trump was asked in a nationally broadcast interview what he might do if offered “dirt” on a political opponent by a foreign government. He indicated he might consider it and would not necessarily report the offer to federal law enforcement officials.
His response prompted the head of the Federal Election Commission to put out a statement emphasizing that “it is illegal to solicit, accept or receive anything of value from a foreign national in connection with a U.S. election.” Chair Ellen Weintraub went on to say all such offers must be reported to the FBI.
All this apparently had an impact on Congresswoman Katie Porter.
Last fall, Porter — a Democrat from southern California — narrowly won a congressional seat that had always been filled by Republicans. She faces a tough fight for reelection and knows impeachment is not popular with many of her constituents.
But in a video published on social media just days after the Trump interview, Porter said America faces a crisis. She said that while she did not run for office to remove Trump, “I cannot with a clean conscience ignore my duty to defend the Constitution.”
Similar words were spoken by Representative Justin Amash of Michigan who recently said: “I’m just a principled person who follows the Constitution and I’m doing what I believe.”
The interesting thing about Amash is he is a Republican — the only one in Congress who has spoken out in favor of impeaching President Trump.
Both Porter and Amash are taking a moral stand and in so doing, may be putting their political futures at risk.
The question is will enough members of both parties join them?