The Long and Winding Road to Impeachment – Sunday Political Brunch June 2, 2019

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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – This week I am in the crucial “Sunshine State” which will play a critical role in who wins the White House in 2020. For months I have predicted that House Democrats would begin impeachment proceedings against President Trump whether there was merit or not. I think the momentum is now gaining in that direction and has lots of implications. Let’s “brunch” on that this week.

“Mueller Moves On” – This week Special Counsel Robert Mueller closed his office and resigned. But before departing he held a press conference in which he made statements but took no questions. Among the things he said: “As set forth in the report, after the investigation, if we had confidence that the president did not clearly commit a crime, we would have said so.” Conversely, he said the DOJ policy against indicting a sitting president means "charging the president with a crime was therefore not an option we could consider." Mueller added that the Constitution provides a "process other than the criminal justice system" to address wrongdoing by a president. That means impeachment is the option available to Congress.

“Good Cop – Bad Cop” – While many rank and file Democrats have called for impeachment of the president in recent weeks, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has not been a fan of that idea. She remembers full-well the impeachment of President Clinton which took an entire year (1998-99), and resulted in legislative gridlock in Washington. In the end, Clinton was impeached, but not removed from office. Pelosi envisions a similar result for Trump, so she may be trying to be the “good cop” here. But I predict if the majority of her caucus serves up the “bad cop” role, she’ll allow impeachment inquiries to move forward.

“The Math Doesn’t Add Up” – Right now Democrats control the U.S House with 235 seats, to 198 for Republicans with two vacancies. In 1998, Republicans held a similar majority while investigating President Clinton, and clearly had enough votes to impeach, and so they forged ahead and passed two articles of impeachment. If nothing else, this is “get even time” for Democrats. The real problem is the U.S. Senate, where Republicans hold a 53 to 47 seat majority. Removal from office requires a two-thirds vote of the Senate or 67 votes. Clearly, Democrats would have to convince 20 Republicans in joining them to remove Trump from office. They might get two or three but getting 20 looks insurmountable. Even in 1999, Republicans had a 55-45 majority in the Senate, but needed 12 Democrats to expel Clinton. They got zero Democrats to join them.

“Impeach me, Please!” – Speaker Pelosi has warned Democrats that she believes Trump actually wants his foes to launch an impeachment. Pelosi told her caucus that President Trump “wants to be impeached” so that he can be cleared by the Senate. I think she’s right on the money. I mean, just look how the Mueller investigation emboldened Trump supporters and made them even more passionate in their backing. Trump seems to be inviting his own “Trojan Horse” to the impeachment process. Fascinating!

“The Potential ‘Coattail’ Fallout” – I think there is an interesting dynamic to watch here that concerns the timing of everything. In January 1998, Republicans launched their investigation of President Clinton over his involvement with Paula Jones and Monica Lewinsky. It was also the beginning of the 1998 midterm Congressional election cycle. If the Trump impeachment process starts now and goes a year, we may have resolution well before the 2020 presidential election (and Congressional elections, too). In 1998, Democrats won a net gain of five seats in the House, plus Newt Gingrich was ousted as Speaker. It was a clear sign Republicans overplayed their hands on impeachment. But there was no change in the Senate’s 55-45 GOP majority.

“Home Party Rules” – Remember that impeachment is a political process, it’s not a legal process like the criminal courts. Party loyalty can play a huge factor in a political process. For example, in 1999 only five House Democrats voted to impeach President Clinton, but in the Senate no Democrats voted to remove him from office. On the other hand, go back to the 1974 impeachment proceedings against President Nixon. Seven Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee voted to file three articles of impeachment against Nixon. After that, a group of Republican lawmakers visited the White House and told Nixon he could not survive and would be removed from office if he did not resign. Two days later he quit. My point is, when your own party says it is time to close the curtain, then you are done. It really makes little difference what the opposing party says.

“Unity and Division” – The only other example we can study on impeachment is that of President Andrew Johnson, who succeeded President Lincoln after his assassination. Lincoln, a Republican, chose a Southern Democrat in Johnson of Tennessee, for what was dubbed a National Unity Ticket. When Johnson replaced Lincoln, many Republicans did not trust him or want him. As mentioned earlier, impeachment is a political process, not a legal proceeding. Johnson was impeached on three articles, and in all three cases he survived removal from office by only one vote in the Senate. Interestingly, after Johnson left the presidency, he ran for U.S. Senate and won!

“Why All This Matters” – When it comes to impeachment, Congress has to tread carefully. In Richard Nixon’s case, the evidence was overwhelming and enough people in both parties were ready to remove him from office. In Bill Clinton’s case, it was clear he committed perjury by lying under oath to a U.S. District Judge. Of course, the lie was about an extramarital affair, and as reprehensible as many in both parties found Clinton’s behavior, many just didn’t feel it warranted removal from office. In Andrew Johnson’s case, he may have violated laws Congress specifically passed to bait him. But again, it was more of a political offense. My guess is that until House Democrats find clear violations of the law or breeches of national security, the Trump impeachment is going nowhere.

Do you favor or oppose impeachment of President Trump? Please click the comment button to place your vote and explain your position!

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

© 2019, Mark Curtis Media, LLC

Photo courtesy: Mark Curtis Media, LLC

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