I don’t think the House of Representatives is actually going to impeach President Trump.
I could be wrong, but as we approach another election year, I suspect certain political realities are going to set in. Impeachment isn’t nearly as popular with the broader electorate as it is among Democrats even amid the revelations about Trump’s dealings with Ukraine. Besides, as David Brooks notes in the New York Times today, the spectacle of Democrats seeking to remove the president before voters get to exercise their own ability to do so is going to look exceedingly elitist in a very populist moment:
This is completely elitist. We’re in the middle of an election campaign. If Democrats proceed with the impeachment process, it will happen amid candidate debates, primaries and caucuses. Elections give millions and millions of Americans a voice in selecting the president. This process gives 100 mostly millionaire senators a voice in selecting the president.
As these two processes unfold simultaneously, the contrast will be obvious. People will conclude that Democrats are going ahead with impeachment in an election year because they don’t trust the democratic process to yield the right outcome. Democratic elites to voters: We don’t trust you. Too many of you are racists!
Impeachment is no longer a rare and grave crisis in American life; it’s becoming a device parties use when the House and the presidency are in the hands of different parties. Democratic House members have already introduced impeachment articles against Trump on at least four occasions. It’s just another partisan thing.
Pursuing impeachment against Trump during an election year is only handing the incumbent a powerful rhetorical cudgel. He won in 2016 by whacking at the establishment. That attack will resonate more when Trump can say, not inaccurately, the establishment is trying to deny voters the chance to give him another term in office.
It will be a handy thing for Trump to use to muddy the waters around the many, many things he’s done and said which do not commend him to another four years in the White House.
Impeachment is a fool’s errand. A waste of time, as Congressman Kelly Armstrong told me on today’s podcast. Even if the House impeaches, the Republican-controlled Senate isn’t going to convict, and the whole exercise may actually do more to promote Trump’s re-election than hurt it.
Democrats would be better served, I think, by stepping back from impeachment and focusing on governing and policy.
But if they’re serious about pursuing impeachment, they could do something to address the concerns about elitism Brooks brings up.
They could pursue Trump’s removal from office, but vow not to disqualify him from running for that office again, leaving him free to continue his 2020 campaign even in the unlikely scenario where the Senate convicts.
Here’s what Article I, Section 3, clauses 6 and 7 of the Constitution says about impeachment:
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.
The Constitution treats removal from office and disqualification as two separate and distinct outcomes. Congress can remove the President from office. They can also disqualify that person from holding any office again.
Congress could, in theory, remove Trump from office but not disqualify him from holding it again should he win another election.
Of course, this part of the law has never actually been used before. Presidents have been impeached by the House, and the Senate has taken up those impeachments in the past, but no President has ever been removed. So we are in uncharted waters here. Maybe interpretations will differ.
But by my reading, Congress doesn’t have to disqualify Trump if they remove him, and they shouldn’t. Not with an election looming.
Again, my stance is this is all folderol. I’d like Democrats and Republicans to get back to debating policy, not people. Still, if Democrats are going to pursue impeachment, they should do so in a manner that respects the voters.