Many conservatives, even those who are critical of President Trump, would rather avoid the spectacle of impeaching President Trump with an election less than a year away. “Let the voters decide Trump’s fate,” is a rallying cry from many. There are five problems with this argument.
Former Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Yoo argued the Founders would have never wanted an impeachment within a year of a Presidential election. It’s an absurd assertion. It’s an anachronistic argument that Yoo should have known better than make. The argument is grounded in a two-year multi-billion dollar Presidential election process that the Founders didn’t create. The original system had state legislators electing electoral college electors. We didn’t even have the names of the Presidential candidates on people’s ballots until 1824. Modern Americans created this, not the Founders.
The Constitution doesn’t tell us a President can’t be impeached within a year of an election. Making the statement is an arbitrary opinion that goes against the wisdom of the Founders.
Ethics Investigations Proceed Against Members of Congress all the Time
The idea the President shouldn’t be subject to the ethics process laid out in the Constitution (aka Impeachment) is not only extra-constitutional, but it also reeks of an imperial presidency that places the President above members of other branches.
Take the legislative branch. The Ethics Committees of both the House and Senate investigate their members at all times. Conservatives have been crowing about the fact U.S. Rep. Rachel Tlaib, D-Mich., is under investigation by the Ethics Committee. To be consistent, rather than trumpeting the fact she’s under investigation, Republicans should insist, since it’s less than a year away from an election, that Tlaib shouldn’t be investigated since whole matter should be left to the voters.
The last member of the House to be expelled, Jim Traficant, D-Ohio, was expelled in July 2002, only four months before the mid-term Congressional election. I recall no massive outcry that the Congressman should be allowed to stay until the voters decided otherwise. While Senate expulsions are less likely to be near an election, there’s a precedent on that as well. In March of 1982, the Senate Ethics committee recommended expulsion of Senator Harrison Williams, D-N.J., eight months before his Senate seat was up for election. Williams resigned rather than face expulsion.
The idea that it’s okay to remove members of Congress whenever it becomes clear they’re corrupt, but presidents should get an arbitrary buffer within a year of an election is a grave injustice.
Passing the Buck on Impeachment is Unfair to Voters
The specifics of the twenty-first-century situation, if anything, require a vigorous Impeachment process.
Consider a state governor accused of borderline wrongdoing without sufficient evidence. As a general rule, such a governor would be required to face his own party’s voters in a primary or convention. If he got past that, an independent candidate could provide a challenge in the general election.
This is not the situation with the Presidency. On the Republican side, you have multiple states that have canceled their presidential nominating contests. Also, Minnesota is holding a Soviet-style primary where the President’s name is the only one on the ballot, and the Michigan GOP wants to follow suit. In the rest of the country, the President’s only primary challengers are two men whose only qualification is that they aren’t Donald Trump.
While I hope there is an Independent candidacy in the general election, the major parties have assured there are massive hurdles any such challenger must jump through. The process will be daunting and expensive.
As it stands, most voters will view this election as a binary selection between Trump and the Democrat. Trump’s approval numbers have been appalling. The President’s approval rating in the RealClearPolitics polling average peaked at 45.9% within two weeks of him taking office. The President’s only hope for re-election is if the Democrats nominate someone that enough Americans think is worse.
If the President faces Elizabeth Warren, for example, voters will have to decide whether they want to get rid of a corrupt president or not tank the economy. The key demographic that elected him in 2016 were those who viewed him as unfit for office but saw their choice as a binary between two bad options.
Given that, the argument of Jim Geraghty of National Review Online rings hollow:
Removing President Trump from office would say to the American people, “Don’t worry if you make a choice that turns out bad. We will save you from the consequences of your actions.” If you want the American people to exercise better judgment in future elections, you need to make them live with the consequences of their bad decisions.
His argument blames all voters for Trump. Only fourteen million people voted for Trump in the primary. The rest of America did the best they could with the candidates handed to them. Also, many who argued for Trump during the general election period promised that Congress, particularly Republicans, would hold Trump to account if he stepped out of line.
James Madison, the Father of the Constitution, argued for an Impeachment provision at the Constitutional Convention and explained sometimes waiting for the President to leave isn’t sufficient:
The limitation of the period of his service, was not a sufficient security. He might lose his capacity after his appointment. He might pervert his administration into a scheme of peculation or oppression. He might betray his trust to foreign powers…In the case of the Executive Magistracy which was to be administered by a single man, loss of capacity or corruption was more within the compass of probable events, and either of them might be fatal to the Republic.
In essence, Madison wanted the safeguard from a bad President that Geraghty decries as indulgent. Maybe, there would be a case for letting voters decide in a process where they could choose whoever they want or if there were a national recall similar to the one California used to recall Governor Gray Davis (D-CA) in 2003, but that’s not what we have. We have two dominant parties who have erected numerous barriers to challenging them, and we have nominating contests rigged in the President’s favor. With such power over the choices the American people will get, it’s not unreasonable to demand that a President standing for re-election is not guilty of a gross violation of his oath of office.
Impeachment Has Educational Value
The greatest educational value for the people responsible for Trump’s election is for the impeachment process to continue. Impeachment is a disruptive, divisive, painful, and embarrassing process. It was back in the 1990s when Bill Clinton was impeached, and it is now.
In both cases, it’s the cost of electing a President who lacks the basic decency and character to lead. If you believe the best possible, reasonable interpretation of the evidence against him, the President is in this position because he’s a petty, paranoid, old man who thinks his interests are the nation’s interests.
If you don’t want to see impeachments, don’t elect people who have horrible character. This isn’t primarily a lesson for the American voter but the leaders of both parties. As much as House and Senate members may grouse about this process, they brought it on themselves.
There’s a lesson to be learned here whether the Republicans want to or not. The Clinton impeachment gave us four presidential elections with nominees who were not nearly as corrupt as Clinton and Trump.
America Can’t Afford Months of a Guilty President.
If we conclude a president is genuinely guilty of treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors and we leave him or her in office when he or she is up for re-election, this puts the country in a dangerous position. Political leaders may be willing to wait, but those who want to test and harm America will not.
A terrorist attack or an act of aggression by a foreign power that threatens American interests could occur before the next general election. A corrupt major party could deceive enough voters into re-electing a traitor-in-chief and keeping us in that vulnerable position to protect their selfish interests for another four years. Either way, we couldn’t afford to keep a president who had disgraced his office and who no longer deserved the trust of the American people or the confidence of foreign powers in times of emergency.
In writing this, I don’t pretend I’ve responded to all arguments in the President’s defense. You can argue that the President’s conduct is not impeachable or that the case is not proven, but can we dispense with the assertion that, for an arbitrary extra-constitutional period of time before a general election, the President can’t be held to account under the impeachment process?