Eye on the Ball

Last March, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, speaking of impeachment of Donald Trump, concluded “he’s just not worth it.”  I have been thinking about that statement in the wake of two weeks of public testimony in front of the House Intelligence Committee as part of their impeachment “inquiry.”  I think she had it right.  Pelosi opposed impeachment then because of its divisive effect on the country.  The use of the Constitution’s impeachment remedy, she felt, should be avoided “unless there’s something so compelling and overwhelming and bipartisan.”  The tedious – but riveting – public hearings this month have proved the wisdom of Pelosi’s analysis.

Of course, much has happened in the meantime since last March.  From my point of view, paying attention to Trump’s shenanigans day by day, month by month, continues to be a source of stress and fatigue in my life.  The nation was divided then and it is divided today.  Indeed, any divisive effect of the “inquiry” is difficult to measure.

The hearings have given an airing to outrage for Democrats and Republicans alike.  Democrats are outraged by the behavior of Donald Trump and his minions.  The office of the Presidency has been sullied and the Constitution has been ravaged.  Likewise, Republicans are outraged by what they believe is a purely partisan, purely political, spectacle over “not impeachable” conduct.

Being of the Democratic persuasion, for me there is no question that an abuse of presidential power has occurred.  There is little room for doubt that Trump and his mouthpiece Rudy attempted to coerce the government of Ukraine by leaning hard on Ukraine’s President Zelensky – new to the office since May –  by placing a hold on security assistance that Ukraine desperately needed and still needs and by dangling – but not delivering – an Oval Office visit.  Trump, unsubtly, “asked” a favor.  He wanted Zelensky to announce publically that the Ukraine government would launch an investigation that would cast doubt on Russian interference in the US election in 2016 and that would also give Trump cover for various lies and aspersions against a political opponent, Joe Biden.

For Republicans, this obvious coercion is not “impeachable” – it is “nothin’.”  Trump himself calls the impeachment hearings a “witch hunt,” but at the same time he wants a trial in the Senate.  Taking their cues from the President, the House Republican chorus loudly laments that the impeachment inquiry has been unfair to him, illegitimate, a nefarious Star Chamber process perpetrated by Democrats, a coup that Democrats are pursuing to overturn the will of the people in the 2016 election. 

Trump has simply turned the impeachment debate to his political advantage.  He knows that there are enough votes in the House to impeach him, and he looks forward with relish to a trial in the Senate where loyal Republicans have the power to orchestrate the proceedings to his advantage, possibly to subpoena political rival Joe Biden or to “out” the whistle-blower.

If the House votes to impeach, it would take a vote of two-thirds of the senators to convict Trump and remove him from office – but the votes are not there and never have been.  The House impeachment hearings, if anything, have cemented Republican Party support for the President despite the evidence of his abuse of power.  Trump, true to his brand, has coined a derogatory nickname for any Republican who would dare to admit to any moral unease about Trump’s behavior: “Never-Trumper.”  There are no profiles in courage among Republican senators today.

The outcome in the Senate can reasonably be predicted, and one can almost hear already Trump’s gloating about his total exoneration.  It will be a vindication of his abuse of power and an approval of his personal-attorney foreign policy, sanctioning rather than censuring presidential conduct that puts a president’s personal benefit before the national interest.

House Democrats should not be goaded into voting for impeachment as a matter of righteous principle.  The Constitution gives the House the “sole Power of Impeachment” as a check on the executive, but it does not speak of a “duty” to impeach.  Nor must impeachment be seen as the only available remedy – the House could vote to censure the president for specified findings of abuse and obstruction.  And there is an election next November.

A prejudiced jury should not be allowed to decide the guilt or innocence of the accused.  The authors of the Constitution did not account for party loyalties tipping the scales against conviction for “Treason, Bribery or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”  The members of today’s House should exercise their impeachment power with clear-eyed regard for the ultimate outcome and with common sense.  If conviction in the Senate is seen as an impossibility it is pointless to impeach.

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