Impeachment — an involved process
A number of politicians, all Democrats, are now calling for the impeachment of the president. While the idea is appealing to many citizens who are disgusted with Trump’s conduct, most people know little about the impeachment process.
Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution of the United States clearly establishes that “the House of Representatives … shall have the sole Power of Impeachment.” However, Section 3 also specifies that “The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments.” And when the president of the United States is tried, the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court shall preside.
The penalty for judgment in impeachment shall be “removal from Office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States: but the Party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to Indictment, Trial, Judgment and Punishment, according to Law.”
Article 2, Section 4 states that the president, vice president and all civil officers of the United States, shall be removed from office on impeachment “for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”
It is important to note that in Section 3 of Article III the Constitution defines the elements of treason. It states that “Treason against the United States shall consist only in levying War against them [the United States], or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.” Since the country is technically not at war, the charges against Trump would not be treason but only “Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”
With the 53 Republican senators now in office continually supporting Trump it is unlikely that the 45 Democrats and 2 Independents could persuade enough Republican senators to defect in order to attain the winning two-thirds vote.
Nonetheless, the House of Representatives still has the responsibility to oversee the operation of the executive branch of government and inform the public about any improprieties. The way to do this is to review documents and procedures as well as conduct open hearings of government officials. However, Trump has stymied this process by refusing to provide the required documents and by preventing his staff from testifying at congressional hearings.
The impeachment of an elected president is such a severe measure that the citizenry has to believe the step is appropriate. When congressional hearings are curtailed it is questionable whether Congress can make the case. Trump, who is a master of manipulating public opinion, is aware of this. It is unlikely that he will ever comply with lawful demands for openness. Look how Attorney General William Barr lost his reputation in a senate hearing.
Democrats have no choice but to take decisive action against the Trump stonewalling. Democrats are beginning to look very weak. It is the delusion of strength and decisiveness that tallied votes for Trump in 2016. Unfortunately, while the U.S. Constitution grants Congress the authority to curtail presidential excess, there are few means of enforcement.
The ultimate device to remove a flawed president is the next election, but four years between elections can be a long time to wait. The Founding Fathers anticipated earlier removal, but impeachment is wisely not so simple that it can become a normal strategy for reversing an unfortunate election result.
Nonetheless, when the sacred principles of American democracy are at risk, it is time to move beyond consideration of political party and preserve the republic.