Dems Learning the Hard Way Why Impeachments Are So Rare

By William Sullivan

Some political observers, like Carl Hulse at the New York Times, are wondering if highly politicized impeachments will become the “new normal.”  I don’t share that concern.  Impeachments have always been politicized, because the process is overtly political.  What they’ve never been, and will likely never be, is “normal.”

That is not because there is some high hurdle that needs to be cleared in order to impeach a president, mind you.  According to Article I, Section 2, Clause 5 of the Constitution, the “House of Representatives … shall have the sole Power of Impeachment,” and the House needs only a straight-majority vote to introduce articles of impeachment.

Having won a majority in the House of Representatives in the 2018 midterms, Democrats were emboldened, and beseeched by the more radical elements of their base, to impeach the president at all costs.  House Speaker Nancy Pelosi finally, and I’d argue reluctantly, caved to these elements.

But she’s always known that this won’t go anywhere beyond the impeachment grandstanding that we’ve witnessed recently.  In order to convict and remove the president from office, a two-thirds majority of the Senate is required by the Constitution.

The reason for the structure of this process is as simple as it is brilliantly designed.

Consider that legal cases are reasonably understood to first reach lower courts before reaching the Supreme Court.  Similarly, the House of Representatives is the “lower house” of the Legislature.  The Senate, and not the Judiciary, exists in this process as a firm check upon any straight-majority conclusion of the House.

This was actually a process largely adopted from English law.  “In Great Britain,” Alexander Hamilton writes in Federalist 65, “it is the province of the House of Commons to prefer the impeachment, and House of Lords to decide upon it.”

In arguing for the Constitution’s process for impeachments, Hamilton makes a strong case as to why the Judiciary should not prosecute impeached officials.  In short, he recognizes that impeachment and criminal prosecution are two different things, and having the Judiciary as the arbiters of both leads to a sort of “double prosecution” of a government official.

Hamilton, you see, understood that impeachment is not a criminal prosecution of an elected official, but a political one:

A well-constituted court for the trial of impeachments is an object not more to be desired than difficult to be obtained in a government wholly elective.  The subjects of its jurisdiction are those offenses which proceed from the misconduct of public men, or, in other words, from the abuse or violation of some public trust.  They are of a nature which may with peculiar propriety be denominated POLITICAL, as they relate chiefly to injuries done immediately to the society itself.  The prosecution of them, for this reason, will seldom fail to agitate the passions of the whole community, and to divide it into parties more or less friendly or inimical to the accused.  In many cases it will connect itself with the pre-existing factions, and will enlist all their animosities, partialities, influence, and interest on one side or on the other.

The current “animosity” of congressional Democrats can no better be personified than in Rashida Tlaib, just hours after being sworn into the House of Representatives, telling the nation that she had told her child, “We’re gonna impeach the m———–.”

There was no Trump-Zelensky call back then, where there was supposedly some “quid pro quo” offered to the Ukrainian president, which is ostensibly the reason for the necessity of impeachment today.  Hers was, as it has obviously been for many Democrats, just a quest to impeach Trump by any means necessary.

It is the Senate’s role in this process to check such partisan political aggression by a House majority.  According to Hamilton:

Where else than in the Senate could have been found a tribunal sufficiently dignified, or sufficiently independent? What other body would be likely to feel CONFIDENCE ENOUGH IN ITS OWN SITUATION, to preserve, unawed and uninfluenced, the necessary impartiality between an INDIVIDUAL accused, and the REPRESENTATIVES OF THE PEOPLE, HIS ACCUSERS?

It is generally understood and agreed upon that “the impeachment remedy was to be used only in the most extreme situations,” according to the Heritage Foundation’s Guide to the Constitution.  And despite the relative ease with which any House majority coming into conflict with the executive could theoretically do it, the impeachment of presidents has been exceedingly rare in practice.

There have only been two formally impeached presidents up to this point in American history — Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton.  (Richard Nixon is often included in discussion with these impeached presidents, but he resigned prior to a full House vote on impeachment.)  Neither men was convicted or removed by the Senate, and these examples, according to the Heritage Foundation, “stand for the principle that impeachment should not be perceived as a device simply to remove a political opponent.  In that regard, the caution of the Framers has been fulfilled.”

In the case of President Trump’s impeachment, the caution of the Framers will remain fulfilled, as there is absolutely no way that the Senate is going to convict him.

So this spectacle has been what we’ve known it to be all along: political grandstanding for the adoring media’s cameras and some red meat for the Democrats’ delusional and ignorant base, which imagines that Trump being impeached somehow means there’s a chance that he might be removed from office.

But despite the media doing everything possible to promote the Democrats’ kangaroo impeachment court, Trump’s approval numbers and independents’ opposition to impeachment have risen dramatically since this farce began.  Republicans have only become more galvanized as a result of these impeachment efforts, as the Democratic Party appears to be splintering into factionalism.

Trump is clearly winning with this impeachment charade, but that’s overshadowed by how badly Democrats are losing.  Democrats never had much to gain on impeachment, or even a strong hand to play in order to sell its necessity.  One might be inclined to say that what Democrats did in impeaching President Trump was a risky political gamble.  But that’s an incredible understatement.  This was more akin to Democrats brandishing a revolver with six loaded chambers and demanding that they pull the trigger first in a game of Russian Roulette against Donald Trump, Republicans, and the American voters.

It was derangement and recklessness that drove Democrats to impeach Trump.  And it looks as if the price they will pay for doing so may be high enough to keep the process exactly as the Founders intended — rare, and certainly not without its costs.


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