Friday, August 24, 2018

A Brief and Unresearched Guide to Impeachment for Canadians And Other Curious Folks

When I talk to Canadians about impeachment, they wonder why it has not happened yet, and when the media talks about it, it is very confusing.  Sure, I thought this would clarify things:

but it hasn't.

So, I want to just point out a couple of things that might clarify things for those who have not recently visited the Constitution Center in Philly (highly recommended) about the rules and the history.*
* I am not an expert, just the Impeachment Fairy, so read this if you are curious.

Rules: when we talk about impeachment, it is confusing because it is a two step process.  The House of Representatives votes on articles (akin to criminal counts, and, yes, only one count is necessary, just like Manafort is going to jail even if the majority of counts were undecided).  It requires a simple majority.  Then, the case goes to the Senate where the entire body acts as a jury, but at this point, it needs 2/3s of the Senators to vote for it.  So, when we say a President is being impeached, it is often unclear whether it refers to the first step or the second.  Which leads to the history.

History: No President has been impeached by his own partyAndrew Johnson and Bill Clinton were Democrats who were impeached when Republicans held more seats in the House and Senate (handy guides to which parties were a majority in the House and in the Senate which also show the evolution of parties over time).  And in these cases, we mean by impeached that the case received a majority in the House but not in the Senate.  So, we should not be surprised that impeachment hasn't happened yet and won't happen--parties don't do this to themselves ever, not even when an administration sets records for corruption and stupidity [Oh, and it is entirely political--it is not whether a felony has been committed but "high crimes and misdemeanors" which, according to some who have read the Federalist Papers, includes abusing the pardon power and to others it is a remedy for lying about having sex with an intern].

So, yes, much (all of American democracy?) hangs in the balance in November.  If the Democrats win a majority in the House, then they control the agenda, and can try to pass articles of impeachment.  If the Democrats can hold things together, always a question, then, yes, they can send the articles of impeachment to the Senate.  But, given that Mitch McConnell hasn't met a norm he hasn't trampled over and I am not a Constitutional scholar, my guess is that if the Republicans still held a majority of seats in the Senate, he would simply not allow the case to be heard.  Agenda control is a thing, a very big thing, and has long been a very big thing.

But let's say that the Democrats pull off a big victory in November (remember, only 9 GOP seats are up for re-election, with incumbents or retirements, vs 24 Democratic seats with many of the latter in states Trump won), and manage to swing the balance of the Senate to 52-48 or 53-47 or even 51-49, then woot, agenda control!!!  But, again, impeachment needs 67 votes in the Senate, so which are the 15 Republican Senators that will vote to impeach Trump?  This is where we insert this most appropriate gif:

McCain will be gone, and he never voted the way he talked. Flake will be done (his seat might be one of those that turns blue).  Corker will be gone.  I just don't see many Republicans voting to impeach.

Why? After all, when Nixon was threatened with impeachment, Barry Goldwater, one of the very most conservative Republicans, went to Nixon and told him to resign (or not).  Three things are different now (many things, but three stand out).  First, Goldwater would not be the far right wing of the party anymore, but a centrist or even, dare I say it, a moderate.  The GOP has shifted quite a bit.  Second, more importantly, Trump kind of owns the party for now.  Polls among Republicans favor him quite a lot, so any Republican threatening to oppose him will be risking alienation of their base.  Where will the white supremacists go if the party tosses Trump?  I don't think they love Pence.  Third, in 1974, there was a single media landscape.  Sure, the Wall Street Journal covered things differently than the NY Times and Washington Post, but there were only three TV networks in the US and no one network was essentially a mouthpiece controlled by a foreigner (see, I can get xenophobic, too) to support a single party and a narrow set of view points in that party (that would be Rupert Murdoch and Fox today).

So, until Fox changes its mind and/or the Republican base leaves Trump, you are not going to see 15 or 16 "brave" Republicans, even after a Blue Wave in November, vote for impeachment in the Senate.

Or in other words:


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