The Huge Flaw in the Impeachment “Debate”

Everyone seems to be giving Republicans a pass on keeping their oath of office to the Constitution. Enough already.

Just so we’re grounded in reality, here’s the section of the U.S. Constitution on impeachment, which gives the power to impeach to the legislative branch (the House of Representatives impeaches and the Senate convicts):

Article II, Section 4: “The President, Vice President and all civil officers of the United States, shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”

You know what it does not say anywhere in the Constitution? “The President…shall be removed from office by the opposing political party.”

The two factions in this potential legal battle are not Republicans and Democrats; they are (a) the President/executive branch and (b) the legislative branch.

But you wouldn’t know that by looking at nearly 100% of the media coverage and social media discussions. Apparently it’s all on the Democrats.

Here was a remarkable exchange between CNN’s Anderson Cooper and presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren last night during a town hall (see the video here).

Anderson Cooper: You have called for impeachment proceedings to be initiated for President Trump. What do you say to Democrats who say this is not the time, it’s going to take away focus from winning in 2020?
Senator Warren: There is no political inconvenience exception to the United States Constitution. [She then goes on to talk about her logic for supporting impeachment proceedings.]
Cooper: “Doesn’t putting Democrats’ focus on impeaching the president, which is not going to pass in the Senate— it’s not really going to go anywhere in that sense — doesn’t that take away focus from the table-top issues that Democrats say they want to run on.”

Amazing. We’re just assuming here that the Senate, because it is majority controlled by the party of the president, will not do its job and uphold the Constitution…or that Republicans in the House will also be derelict.

Cooper is not alone. Headlines like this have been everywhere:

New York Times: “Democrats Draw Closer to a Dicey Question: Whether to Impeach Trump
CNN: “Democrats may be outsmarting themselves on impeachment
Washington Post opening sentence to an op-ed today: “Democrats have a decision to make in the wake of the Mueller report: whether to consider impeaching President Trump over it.”

I’m not naive. I understand the political implications of all of this. It could be a “bad” decision to impeach if the goal is primarily to unseat a corrupt president — that is, if a “failed” impeachment hearing gives Trump fodder to demonize the Democrats and launches him back into office for a second term, it’s a disaster that could effectively end our democracy.

But putting aside the political calculus, the way we talk about this matters. The fact is that everyone — the media mainly, but all of us in our kitchen-table conversations — is assuming that approximately zero GOPers in Congress will honestly assess the evidence on obstruction of justice and render fair judgment in a way that puts country first. As I wrote this, the New York Times’ Paul Krugman laid out a devastating critique of Republicans on this point.

It may be a political reality that one party is abdicating responsibility and effectively giving a pass to the president on nearly any behavior. But WE do not have to give a pass to those same politicians.

Senator Warren made the point beautifully last night.

“I took an oath to uphold the Constitution, and so did everybody else in the Senate and in the House. And I believe that every person in the Senate and the House ought to have to vote and to say either ‘ok, that’s ok with me…that’s what a president can do’…then they should have to take that vote and live with it for the rest of their lives.”

I’m not smart enough to know the perfect political play here. And ultimately a thriving democracy is the goal — which is necessary for building a thriving future that manages the giant challenges we face like climate change and inequality. Yes, the fight for our democracy is worth many sacrifices and compromises.

But if we stop expecting every representative to do his or her duty to strengthen that democracy, what exactly are we fighting to protect?