Impeachment’s indeterminate implications

Francisco Ruiz

The public received its first televised glimpse into the U.S. House’s impeachment inquiry on Nov. 13. Three WSU Political Science professors, Dr. Gary Johnson, Dr. Thomas Kuehls and Dr. Leah Murray hosted a panel discussion to briefly recap the first day of the televised impeachment proceedings and to present a history and explanation of the impeachment process. They also offered their predictions of what could happen in the indefinite time to come.

The inquiry began after the House of Representatives was alerted to a possible impeachable offense of bribery perpetrated by President Trump when he asked the Ukrainian president to investigate Joe and Hunter Biden in exchange for military aid and a visit to the White House.

IMG_0746.jpeg
WSU Political Science professors Leah Murray (left), Gary Johnson (center) and Thom Kuehls (right) discuss the history and process of impeachment.

The impeachment process was created by the founders of the U.S. in order to add checks and balances to the executive branch during the creation of the Constitution. The delegates present at the Constitutional Convention decided it would be up to Congress to remove a sitting president.

“One of the original standards was that Congress would remove the President for ‘malpractices or neglect of duty,’” Kuehls said.

Some delegates argued that an unimpeachable President would be open to using corrupt means to stay in power. Others argued voters would simply choose not to reelect a poor executive.

“It was George Mason from Virginia who said ‘No one should be above justice,’” Kuehls said.

Eventually, the delegates determined that a good president would have nothing to fear from impeachment. The delegates then changed the criteria for impeachment from “malpractices or neglect of duty” to “high crimes and misdemeanors.”

Dr. Murray highlighted the difficulty of comparing the current impeachment process with previous attempts due to the limited instances and varied reasons for impeachment in U.S. history.

The Senate has never convicted a sitting president and removed him from office. John Tyler, Andrew Johnson, and Bill Clinton were acquitted after being impeached in the House of Representatives. Nixon resigned during his impeachment inquiry.

“I would argue — it is hard to define what a high crime or misdemeanor is — the answer is, if the Congress does not want you there, they impeach you,” Murray said. “Impeachment has always been a political move, even back in the 1300s in England when Parliament would try to impeach the king’s friends.”

Dr. Johnson explained the procedural process of impeachment.

“The House of Representatives accuses,” Johnson said. “Then the Senate conducts something that resembles a trial. Currently, the Democrats control the House and Republicans control the Senate.”

Johnson explained that on numbers alone, the Democrats have the votes to impeach President Trump. Johnson believes the impeachment of President Trump is highly likely on a party-line vote. However, conviction in the Senate falls into the Republican’s hands.

The Senate will then be responsible for drafting its own rules for the trial. The Senate may also decide to ignore the House’s articles of impeachment entirely, as there is no constitutional requirement for the Senate to follow through.

The Senate Majority Leader, Republican Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has already indicated that if the House impeaches the President, the Senate will hold trial.

The Constitution requires a two-thirds majority Senate vote to convict and remove President Trump. Even if all the Senate Democrats vote to convict President Trump, they still need 20 Republicans to side with the President’s removal.

Johnson explained that to establish the trial’s rules in the Senate only requires a simple majority, just 51 votes, and the Vice-President would not be able to cast his vote in the case of a tie.

This gives Democrats a chance to persuade three Republicans to pursue secret balloting as part of the Senate rules. Secret balloting would allow Republican senators to vote in support of the President’s impeachment without having their votes revealed.

Johnson believes many more Republican senators would side against Trump in the case of secret balloting. He also believes that if the Trump Administration suspects the Senate may convict, the President may resign.

Ironically, Trump could run for office again, even if Congress removed him. Likewise, a theoretical President Pence could pardon Donald Trump from any type of conviction or even choose Trump as a running mate in a future election.