Musing about law, books, and politics

Impeachment: The Danger

If you’re frustrated by Nancy Pelosi’s Lukewarm attitude toward impeachment.

If you want impeachment right now.

If you say “but Trump committed crimes.”

It’s time for @JoshuaMatz8@tribelaw in:

Quotations and ideas from are from To End A Presidency.

“Acting responsibly” says the authors, means remembering that impeachment is a “very big deal.” In fact, the authors warn that: “There can be little doubt that a successful impeachment campaign would inflict enduring national trauma.” 

There are, however, times when impeachment is necessary.  Laurence Tribe recently wrote “Even a last resort may sometimes become the only resort.” 

I figure Nancy Pelosi either read TO END A PRESIDENCY or she’s channeling her inner Tribe & Matz.

Impeachment is a “fearsome power” that “must be handled with care” and even “carries the potential” to “destroy the constitutional system.” For one thing, the ordinary workings of government come to a halt, and the nation becomes more vulnerable to our enemies.

Impeachment can exacerbate political polarization. The president’s supporters can become [more] cynical & disenchanted with democracy. They may even seek to destroy the system they believe betrayed them. (I’ve written about the danger of cynicism here.)

I’ve heard people say, “We don’t have to worry about Trump’s supporters.” Yes, we do. If 40% of the population continues to support Trump and wants him to continue as president, impeachment will exacerbate the polarization.

Impeachment also puts “enormous pressure” on a president. In 1974, senior officials were so worried about Nixon’s mental state because of the pressure that they took drastic steps to prevent him from engaging in a desperate and dangerous act. Who around Trump would do that?

The impeachment process goes something like this:

  • Public hearings on presidential misconduct
  • Investigating the president
  • Publicly (or privately) using the “I” word
  • Designating a committee to consider removal Debating and voting on articles of impeachment
  • Then to the Senate for trial.

A drawn out process allows citizens time to process all the facts, and “allows the nation an opportunity to debate.”

Given the potential consequences, legislators must see and consider the full picture. A drawn out processes allows us to assess the possible consequences.

The House is now conducting several investigations, plus there are those NY investigations and the investigations sparked by the Mueller probe. In other words, the process has started.

If the process is hasty or incomplete, or appears partisan, Americans can lose faith in it.

Worse, if the process appears hasty and partisan, Americans can close their minds to new facts or information.

Another risk of moving too quickly is sacrificing a complete investigation and moving forward without all the facts. This is something I’ve also said (but not as eloquently as Tribe and Matz): “Impeachment is not a bullet that can be fired twice during a single presidency. If Congress shoots and misses, the president will be practically untouchable.”

If the Articles of Impeachment are submitted to the Senate for trial, and the Senate holds a trial and acquits, the House can’t keep submitting new articles when new evidence emerges. It will wear people out and make the House Dems look foolish.

 It will also embolden a tyrannical president, who will feel that nobody can now touch him. Since the process has started (cautiously and judiciously), let’s talk about the nuts and bolts of impeachment. 

Paul Sailer asks:

 There isn’t a precise standard or rule. But the cynical standard given by Gerald Ford, that “an impeachable offense is whatever a majority of the House of Representatives considers it to be at a given moment in history,” is true only in a “narrow sense.” (Tribe and Matz)

 As it turns out, Tribe and Matz devote a lengthy chapter to explaining what constitutes an impeachable offense.

This is already getting long, so I’ll continue this later. I should have something on Impeachable Offenses by tomorrow. (Or go check out the book)

Here’s a comment from Twitter that I thought was wise:

Good leaders understand the dangers of moving too far ahead of public opinion. A strange feature of the Trump presidency is that no matter what bombshell hits the news, Trump’s approval average remains at about 40%. I know not everyone is a fan of the 538 polling aggregate, but I find it more helpful than a single poll, which can be an outlier. Also the aggregate shows you what happened over time.

40% is obviously not a majority, but it’s a lot of people.

I thought this comment nicely summed up what the impeachment process looks like when done judiciously:

Don wrote:

Remember: Moving quickly on impeachment doesn’t mean the president is removed more quickly.

Removal requires 2/3 from the Senate. (Good luck with that.) The argument here is that moving judiciously increases the chances of removal, and decreases the possibility of permanent damage.

[View here as a Twitter thread]