Why Trump Will Never be Impeached
“He’s toast,” said my father in our most recent conversation about Donald Trump. “He’s going to be impeached.” James Comey’s testimony to the Senate on Thursday June 8th, has left liberals salivating with hunger for impeachment. Ruth Marcus, in the Washington Post wrote that Comey’s testimony was “devastating” for Trump, and wrote that while criminal prosecution is unlikely, impeachment is the more likely and appropriate remedy. Mark Joseph Stern in Slate, argued that Trump “is in trouble” and his effort to spin Comey’s testimony is going to backfire. More and more commentators are arguing that impeachment is not only necessary but likely.
However, impeachment is not likely, it is unlikely, and probably never going to happen. If we look to American history, impeachment is incredibly rare, possible only if a major political party controls Congress, and even then, conviction is incredibly difficult. Democrats control neither house of Congress, and while that may change in 2018, they are unlikely to gain enough seats to successfully shepherd impeachment through the Hill.
Most Americans think of Richard Nixon when impeachment is mentioned. In 1974, Nixon became implicated in the Watergate Scandal when Senate Hearings revealed that taped recordings of conversations between Nixon and White House aids existed. Nixon refused to turn over those tapes, citing executive privilege. When Archibald Cox, the Watergate Special Prosecutor threatened to go to court, Nixon had him fired (but not before the Attorney General and Assistant Attorney General resigned in protest). Nixon’s firing of Cox was all but an admission of guilt in the court of public opinion. But Nixon was never formally impeached, he resigned before any impeachment proceedings began.
The most recent president to be impeached was Bill Clinton. In 1995, Clinton began an illicit relationship with a White House intern, Monica Lewinsky. Two years later, Lewinsky was working in the Department of Defense, and confided to coworker Linda Tripp about the relationship, who recorded the conversations and sent them to Ken Starr, then a special prosecutor. In 1998, the affair became public, and Clinton denied that an improper relationship had existed between him and Lewinsky. Eventually, however, Clinton admitted that he and Lewinsky had engaged in sexual activity while in the White House. On December 19, 1998, the House of Representatives voted for impeachment. The first charge of impeachment was perjury, and the House voted 228 to 206 in favor largely along party lines. The second charge was obstruction of justice, and the chamber voted 221 to 212. The trial took place in the Senate and fell short of the necessary two-thirds voted needed for conviction. Clinton’s approval ratings increased during the ordeal.
But the first president President to be impeached was Andrew Johnson. Johnson was a Tennessee native who was the only representative of the Volunteer State not to secede from the Union in 1861. He joined Lincoln’s 1864 campaign as Vice-President, to try and gain more southern votes. In April 1865 he became president after Lincoln’s unfortunate assassination. Johnson proceeded to block the post-war Congressional agenda, vetoing the re-authorization of the Freedman’s Bureau, and the passage of the Civil Rights Bill of 1866 (predecessor of the 14th amendment). Congress grew increasingly frustrated and decided to attempt to remove Johnson.
The 40th Congress of the United States met in the spring of 1867. Republicans had super-majorities in both houses of Congress, 45 seats in the Senate, 140 seats in the House. Most southerners were Democrats, and many southern states were in a state of political limbo, so many Democrats had not been seated in Congress. That year Congress set a trap for President Johnson, which because he was an idiot, he walked right into. Congress knew Johnson was increasingly not getting along with his cabinet (which he inherited from Lincoln) so they passed what became known as the Tenure of Office Act. This legislation required Congressional approval to remove a member of the cabinet. That year, Johnson fired Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, openly violating the Tenure of Office Act. The next year, Congress drew up articles of impeachment. The trial began in the Senate in March of 1868, with Chief Justice Salmon Chase presiding. There were then 54 members of the Senate, 36 would have to vote not guilty in order for Johnson to be removed from office. All 9 Democratic Senators acquitted Johnson, they were joined by 10 Republicans, who defied their party and voted to acquit as well. This left the final vote 35–19, one vote short of conviction and removal from office.
Today, Democrats are in the minority in both houses. Republicans will likely never be convinced to draw up articles of impeachment. While Trump is not the perfect leader for the GOP, he is ill tempered, chaotic, and a chronic liar, Republicans will suffer him if they can continue to push through their conservative agenda. Even this week, as the country feverishly watched the Comey hearings, Republicans are quietly working behind the scenes to create a new healthcare bill and repeal Dodd-Frank. Democrats have a chance to retake the House in 2018, but the Senate map does not look favorable; and even if they do, they will not have anything approaching super-majorities. Simply put, impeachment is never going to happen. Democrats are going to have to come to terms with suffering with Trump until at least 2020.