A Hopefully Reasonable Argument for Impeachment
I'm well aware I'll be preaching to the choir with this one. If the 2016 Election taught me one thing, it's that both sides of the aisle are more than willing to exist in their own bubbles; only getting their resources from things that will reinforce what they already believe. So with this post, I want to do my best to reach across the aisle and discuss what it takes to impeach and remove a president from office, citing the 2 instances in US History where a president was impeached: Bill Clinton & Andrew Johnson. Nixon will get special mention too. I know there are plenty of other instances from other presidents I could discuss (i.e. Regan), but we'll be here all day.
First: the process of impeachment. Recently, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi discussed that when you impeach a president, it doesn't mean he's removed from office. She's right. I think that might be a common misunderstanding that if a president is impeached, he's done. In order to impeach a president, The House of Representatives must vote for it with a 51% majority. Once the president is impeached, the vote moves to the Senate where it is tried, and, if the president would be removed from office, it will take a 2/3 majority vote to do it.
Under Article 1, Section 2, Clause 5 of the United States Constitution:
"The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments. When sitting for that Purpose, they shall be on Oath or Affirmation. When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside: And no Person shall be convicted without the Concurrence of two thirds of the Members present. Judgment in Cases of Impeachment shall not extend further than to 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."
By the way, in the same Article, the Constitution also states that the Vice President and all civil officers, in addition to the President, can be removed from office for "treason, bribery, or high crimes and misdemeanors".
Treason and bribery seem pretty clear cut, but what really is a "high crime and misdemeanor". This is a quite the grey area since that term isn't clearly defined in the Constitution, so maybe perhaps I can offer up a reasonable definition. Those words were written by Chief Justice John Marshall with the intention that the term be "adapted to the various crises of human affairs" In my mind, that means if some kind of hard precedent was set for a high crime and misdemeanor, it may allow some presidents to essentially get away with serious offenses. It must be applied on a case by case basis.
In 1868, Andrew Johnson was impeached primarily because of violating the Tenure of Office Act, which he had tried to veto. The act states that a president cannot remove certain federal officials from office without the approval of the Senate. Johnson had removed Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton from office and replaced him with General Lorenzo Thomas. This did amount to ignoring checks and balances. However, once the vote was brought to the Senate, but for a single vote, Johnson was not removed from office.
Over 100 years later, Bill Clinton was impeached for lying under oath about his relationship to Monica Lewinsky. At the time, Clinton was also being investigated for potentially illegal real estate investments (specifically the development of vacation properties) both he and Hilary had made along the White River in Arkansas. Clinton also did not get the 2/3 majority to be removed.
I also wanted to make special mention of Richard Nixon and John Tyler. Congress attempted to impeach John Tyler in 1842 mainly because of the amount of times he had been vetoing bills Congress was trying to pass and therefore it was seen as an obstruction of Congress' authority. At the time, presidents actually rarely used their vetoing power.
In 1974, the impeachment process began against Richard Nixon, on the grounds of "high crimes and misdemeanors" primarily in relation to the Watergate scandal. 5 men snuck into the Democratic National Headquarters in the middle of night and the Nixon administration subsequently tried to cover it up. To this day, we still don't actually know why those men were there or what they were looking for, but a connection was made between money found on one of the burglars and a committee to reelect Nixon. In any event, the House Judiciary Committee began consideration whether enough evidence existed to launch impeachment proceedings against Nixon. The articles for impeachment that passed pertained to obstruction of justice, abuse of power and contempt of Congress. Long story short, it was clear Nixon, had he not decided to resign on August 8, 1974, not only would've impeached, but would've also been the first president to be removed from office. It was clear more Senators would've voted for removal than not, and only Nixon's resignation (later pardoning by Gerald Ford) prevented that.
So here we have examples of impeachment of a mixed nature. In the case of Tyler and Johnson, they are examples more political than strictly criminal, in that they tried to do what they wanted and ignored checks and balances. Clinton leans a little more toward illegality, with the committing perjury. Nixon, though ironically not impeached or removed, certainly committed the more egregious offenses in both the obstruction of justice and acting against the interests of Congress and the American People in order to protect himself.
After all this, what can we call a "high crime and/or misdemeanor"? In my mind, it can simply refer to conduct that is in direct opposition to the interests and will of the majority of American People. It doesn't have to be something that is strictly criminal, but when it becomes clear that a President or any government official has put their own interests over that of the people, they should and MUST be impeach if not removed from office altogether. At the point, there are subjective arguments back and forth that can be made about when a President has truly reached that point, but they are arguments that need to be made. The American People are simultaneously one of the most independently minded societies of people, and the most sheep-like. With the rise of technology, so many of us are more than willing to sacrifice our personal liberties for comfort, and with that comes the the vulnerable position of allowing demagogues and tyrants to to take over.
To re-iterate, when a President has so flagrantly flown in the face of the moral values that our still young country was founded on, acted in both behavior and policy to further aggravate our deepest fears and anxieties, and refused to be a quality representative for us on the world stage, it is our job as American citizens to act in OUR best interests to put a stop to it. I agree with Marianne Williamson hen she says almost no change in our country has taken place without massive movements by the people to exercise their will up the government that should be serving them, not the other way around. This is our chance to demonstrate to all the future presidents to come, that they cannot willfully act with impunity. We can show that we the people are greater than the sum of our parts. Most importantly, it will help set a stronger precedent that no national leader, Republican, Democratic or otherwise, is above the law.
I know it's hard. I know it's easier to try and ignore it and hope that the next election just works out, but the next generation is looking to us at this pivotal moment in time. They will want to know that we stepped up; that we set an example. I don't know how future schools will one day teach how we reached this point in American history, but I hope this chapter has some kind of a happy ending to tell to our children.
Don't Forget to Vote.