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Lessons from Impeachments Past – “Sunday Political Brunch” -- September 29, 2019

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CHARLESTON, W. Va. – I’m not here to advocate for, or, against impeachment. That’s for my readers and partisan politicians to decide. But we’ve been down this road only three other times in our history, and I was alive for two of them - and was deeply invested in both. I was in grade school and high school, riveted to President Nixon’s plight in the 70s. And then I was a White House reporter in Washington, D.C, during the Clinton years, so I have some perspective to share. Let’s “brunch” on that this week:

“Do the Math, (and Show Your Work!)” – Remember that impeachment is a political proceeding, not a legal one. Because of that partisanship is important, whether you like it or not. The House currently has 235 Democrats with 198 Republicans. There is one independent and one vacancy. Clearly Democrats have the numbers to file and pass articles of impeachment. I believe they will do so.

“Impeachment Two-Step” – Because it happens so infrequently, there is a common misperception that if you impeach a president, he is out. Not so. The House votes to impeach, but the Senate must hold a trial and then vote on removing from office. It’s not a simple majority decision as you need a two-thirds vote of the Senate to expel. The current Senate is 53 Republicans and 47 Democrats (two of whom are independents, who caucus with the minority). So, you’d need 20 Republicans to join with the 47 minority party members to remove Trump from office. That’s a tough road to hoe.

“The Bill Clinton Math” – In 1998, the House passed two articles of impeachment against President Clinton (even though the Judiciary Committee had approved four). Still, Republicans were the majority party in both chambers and the process moved to the Senate. The GOP held a 55 to 45 majority in the U.S. Senate, but with a two-thirds vote needed to remove Clinton from office, they’d need 12 Democrats to join them. The Democratic caucus did not waver. All 45 Democrats rejected removal from office on both counts, and on one charge five Republicans joined them. Clinton was easily saved, and for now Trump is on a similar glide path.

“Proceed at Your Own Peril” – The country was very divided in 1998 as the impeachment of Bill Clinton moved forward. While many Democrats joined with Republicans in condemning Clinton’s personal indiscretions, many in both parties felt removal from office (and undoing an election) were too extreme. Many voters felt the same way. In the November 1998 midterm elections, Republicans lost five seats in the House and the caucus made it clear it was overthrowing Newt Gingrich as House Speaker and he stepped down. While the GOP Senate majority stayed the same, the public message from voters was hard to ignore. People thought Congress had far more important business to attend to.

“The Nixon Dilemma” – We will never know for certain the fate of President Nixon, since he resigned before impeachment could move forward. But support for his impeachment was bipartisan. Seven Republicans joined with the majority party Democrats in voting to impeach Nixon. On August 7, 1974 Senators Barry Goldwater (R) Arizona and Minority Leader Hugh Scott (R) Iowa and House Minority Leader John Rhodes (R) Ohio went to the White House to tell Nixon his own party was turning on him and he would not prevail. The lesson here is watching the president’s own party. If it abandons him, the party’s over!

“Timing Matters” – The thing that the Nixon, Clinton, and Trump impeachment inquiries have in common is that they all hit their stride in an election year. In 1998 when I was a reporter in Washington, D.C., many Democrats who supported Clinton publicly told me privately, “I’ve got to defend this?” They were mad because they were painted into the corner of defending Clinton, even though many voters in their home districts were furious about Clinton’s behavior. While they were on the ballot in 1998, Clinton was not. The same was true for Nixon in 1974, when Republicans lost a ton of House seats. No matter your party, you don’t want the president’s anchor of scandal tied around your neck.

“Looking Forward” – Democrats hold such a large majority in the House of Representatives, they are unlikely to lose their grip on power. But Republicans would like to make some gains back from the 2018 midterm losses. In the Senate, Democrats have a shot at regaining the majority, because Republicans are defending almost twice as many seats. The big problem for Republicans is not the removal of Trump from office (for now unlikely), but rather losing their majority in the Senate and losing even more seats in the House. A lot of Republican lawmakers – fearing their own fate – could cut and run from Trump as many did for Nixon in 1974.

“The Bottom Line” – Don’t watch what the Democrats do in the impeachment process. They will hold their hearings and cast their votes against Trump in a very partisan fashion, and that’s their prerogative. But the real show will be to watch what the Republican rank and file do as a matter of conscience or political self-preservation.

Do you favor or support impeachment? And why? Just click the comment button!

Mark Curtis, Ed.D., is Chief Political Reporter for the five Nexstar Media TV stations serving West Virginia and its five neighboring states and most of the Washington, D.C. media market. He is a National Contributing Political Writer for “The White House Patch” at www.Patch.com.

© 2019 Mark Curtis Media, LLC

Photo courtesy: Getty Images

What's Next After Fallout from Debate Round #3? - "Sunday Political Brunch" - September 22, 2019

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CHARLESTON, W. Va. -- It’s turning out to be like a 15-round professional boxing match. We’ve had three rounds of debates on the Democratic Party so far. Is the tide turning, and what is next? Let’s “brunch” on that this week.

“No Bounce for You!” – The post-debate poll from NBC News/Wall Street Journal is beginning to show some separation in the pack. Former Vice President Joe Biden leads with 31 percent – a consistent number for him – but Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D) Massachusetts is next at 25 percent. Her support is growing, while Senator Bernie Sanders (I) Vermont at 14 percent, is trending downward, while Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D) South Bend, Indiana is trending up at 7 percent. The rest of the pack is fading into the weeds.

“So, What’s Going On?” – First this was Biden’s best debate. He was steadier, and stronger after a poor first debate, and a moderately stronger second debate. He still raises questions about his endurance for a marathon campaign. Warren has now shown in three rounds, that she is the steadiest, strongest and most consistent debater on the stage. Even if you disagree with her policies, she is firm and confident and clear in expressing her positions. In short, you know where her feet are planted. That builds confidence.

“Bye, Bye Bernie?” – Oh heavens no! Don’t write his political obit by any stretch. He’s still in the game. Sanders is still in this. Remember, this was a national poll from NBC, but we don’t have national primary. When you drill down to key first states like New Hampshire, it’s all bunched up. In the latest Real Clear Politics composite poll in the “first in the nation" primary state of New Hampshire Biden is at 23.7 percent, Sanders at 22.3 percent and Warren at 21.7 percent. It’s a toss-up at this point, but the reward for whomever wins is momentum for the long-haul in the nomination process.

“Military Matters”—Folks, sometimes a candidate’s issue just rockets to center stage. Given the attack on the Saudi Arabian oil fields, and the finger-pointing at Iran, the possibility of U.S. military action is heightened. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D) Hawaii was live in CBS’s streaming news service for her reaction and strategy. Why? Because she’s served in the military. So has Mayor Buttigieg. Suddenly, their unique experience may prove to be an asset. Both are polling better in recent days, although they remain far from the frontrunners.

“Who’s on First? And What’s Next?” The fourth Democratic presidential primary debate will take place on Tuesday October 15, with a possible second night of debate. All ten people who made the third debate will be there, and wealthy businessman Tom Steyer (who has been in no debates) is the eleventh candidate to qualify. Keep an eye on Steyer. He was a late entry but has a bottomless wallet and can self-fund as a long as he wishes. He’s trending up in the polls, so he may be in the race for a while.

“Perspective is Important!” – Look, it’s still early in the campaign. A lot can change and change quickly. In this same week in September 2007, the Associated Press poll had its 40 percent for Hillary Clinton, to 26 percent for Barrack Obama. Similar polls on the Republican side had former Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R) with a commanding lead in the 40-plus percentage range. We all know how that turned out as neither frontrunner was the nominee. So, keep watching, as this is all in flux.

“Farewell Cokie Roberts” – I was sad to see the passing of my colleague Cokie Roberts this week, a legend in political reporting circles. I first met Cokie in November 1992, when I won a Congressional Fellowship with the American Political Science Association. She was an advisor of our program, where reporters spend a year working in Congress to see what goes on behind the scenes. It was a life-changing and career-changing program for me. When I went back to reporting full-time, I’d see her on stories and on the campaign trail. I even interviewed her and her husband Steve Roberts on TV when they visited San Francisco. She was smart, and classy, and well-connected, with encyclopedic knowledge of American politics. I will miss her and her great work.

Did the debates change your mind about who you are supporting? Just click the comment button and let your voice be heard!

Mark Curtis, Ed.D., is Chief Political Reporter for the five Nexstar Media TV stations serving West Virginia, its five neighboring states and most of the Washington, D.C. media market. He is a National Contributing Writer for The White House Patch at www.Patch.com.

© 2019, Mark Curtis Media, LLC

Photo courtesy: Getty Images

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