Fast-Track Impeachment

Fast-Track Impeachment September 30, 2019

It seems a foregone conclusion that the House of Representatives will vote to impeach President Trump.  It’s hard to see how a trial in the Republican-controlled Senate would find the two-thirds majority necessary to remove him from office.  But the Democratic-controlled House is fast-tracking the process.

The Democrats hope to complete the inquiry phase and vote on an impeachment resolution by the end of October.  If that goes forward, the plan is to complete the trial by the end of the year, with a target date of around Thanksgiving.

The inquiry process in the House will involve the six current investigations of President Trump, which will now operate “under that umbrella of impeachment inquiry.” But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wants to limit the inquiry and the impeachment resolution to the Ukraine incident rather than expand it to include all of the other complaints against the president.

She has asked for committee recommendation within weeks. The House Intelligence Committee, which is taking the lead on the alleged attempt to pressure the Ukraine to investigate Joe and Hunter Biden, is planning to work through the two-week Congressional recess that started Friday.

Once Pelosi gets a recommendation it will go before the House Judiciary Committee, which will draw up an impeachment resolution and vote on sending it to the full House.

After all this, if the House votes for impeachment–and already over half of the members of Congress say they support launching the process, which is a good indication of how they are thinking–the Senate conducts a trial.   Representatives of the House serve as prosecutors, with the accused being represented by his own legal team.  The Senators, in effect, serve as jurors.  Conviction and removal of office requires a two-thirds super-majority.

Republicans hope and Democrats fear that dragging the president through this process will spark a backlash of sympathy and support for President Trump from the general public, as it did for former president Bill Clinton, who survived his Senate trial and whose party won a big victory in the midterm election.  That could very well happen.  But it might not.  The impeachment process didn’t help Richard Nixon, who resigned from office after the House drew up the impeachment resolution but before it could be voted on.

Clinton was a very popular president.  Even many Americans who disagreed with his policies liked him personally.  It was the opposite with Nixon, with many Americans supporting his policies but disliking his off-putting personality.  Trump’s case may be more parallel with Nixon’s, who was likewise accused of illegally using his office against his political opponents.  Clinton was accused of lying about an adulterous relationship, with many Americans excusing his behavior as not affecting his office.  Trump is popular with his base, but not with the majority of the public, many of whom have a visceral hatred for him.  Right now, polls show Americans to be evenly split on whether or not they want impeachment proceedings against the president.

Some of Trump’s fellow Republicans are not too fond of him either and would be glad to see him out of office.  It still seems unlikely that the Republican Senate would remove him from office.  Some are speculating that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would delay the trial, though he has said that the Senate would have “no choice,” that “if the House were to act, the Senate immediately goes into a trial.”

If Trump were out of office–either from being removed by the Senate or, taking the Nixon route, resigning with a pardon from his successor–what would Republicans do for the 2020 election?  Vice-President Mike Pence would become president, which would please his fellow conservative Christians, and become the incumbent.  It’s hard to see what Democrats would gain, policy-wise, if they removed Trump only to elevate Pence, who would be similarly pro-life and would also appoint conservative judges. He would surely get the Republican nomination over Trump’s current primary rivals, the liberal Bill Weld, the philandering Mark Sanford, and the turncoat Joe Walsh.  (Who else would you suggest?)  Pence has been loyal to Trump, which should make him acceptable to his base, which would surely be infuriated and motivated should the president they elected be removed by Congress.  But would he get the Gerald Ford treatment from a nation eager to move on from its political traumas?

So no one knows what the result of this impeachment process will be.  What do you think will happen?


Illustration:  Impeachment Trial of President Andrew Johnson (1868) by Frank Leslie, Illustrated Newspaper [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons


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