Opinion: The inevitability of an impeachment inquiry
To impeach President Donald Trump or to not impeach is the latest political guessing game.
Special Counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, appears to have laid out a roadmap for the Democratic House to begin an impeachment investigation.
Despite building momentum among House Democrats to have their Judiciary Committee launch an impeachment inquiry, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi fears it will fail.
Her fear is understandable. The political reality based on history is that even if the House voted to approve Articles of Impeachment, the Republican majority in the U.S. Senate would simply vote against convicting Trump, following the required Senate trial.
If this scenario plays out, for the third time in history an American president would avoid impeachment, because the U.S. Senate could not muster the two-thirds required votes to remove him.
That was the case in 1868 when President Andrew Johnson survived being kicked out of office by only one vote after the Senate failed to reach a two-thirds vote for conviction. Thirty-five senators voted to convict Johnson of “high crimes and misdemeanors”, while 19 senators voted to acquit.
In 1999, President Bill Clinton was acquitted on two impeachment charges as the Senate’s vote was far short of the needed two-thirds majority. After his acquittal, Clinton’s favorability increased among the American public.
Speaker Pelosi is very concerned that an impeachment effort without Senate Republican support would fail for the third time and propel Trump to a second term in 2020.
That is the political calculation being weighed by some Democrats in Washington. Other Democrats argue that politics should be ignored and the Congress should focus on its Constitutional responsibilities given evidence uncovered by Mueller that points to Trump having engaged in obstruction of justice.
This is reminiscent of the issues President Richard Nixon faced in 1973 and 1974 in his effort to cover-up Watergate break-in crimes.
Those in Congress today, reluctant to act, or simply refusing to entertain the impeachment question, should look back and reflect on a Nov. 7, 1973 speech delivered in the Senate by Senator George D. Aiken, R-Vt.
Aiken was reacting to cries for Nixon’s resignation. Others were urging members of Congress that there should be no impeachment or resignation.
Aiken said the Congress could not ignore the public controversy dominating the country by late 1973 over Nixon’s conduct.
“Congress’ tasks are to legislate and to hold the President and the executive branch accountable for administering laws. These are highly technical tasks, demanding above all else cool heads and strict adherence to established procedures. Submission to the politics of righteous indignation makes it impossible for Congress to do its job. It tends to make us look foolish and incompetent,” Aiken declared.
Aiken said it was his view that the judicial branch of government was looking to the Congress to do its job and to decide whether the President should be removed.
“It is the clear duty of the House, through whatever procedures it chooses to frame charges of impeachment, and to set itself a deadline for the task. If no agreement can be reached by that deadline, the leaders of the House should tell the American people that no charge could be found. If a charge is framed and voted, the Senate’s clear duty is to proceed to a trial with all deliberate speed,” Aiken said.
Aiken was not among those asking Nixon to resign in November, 1973. However, Aiken reversed himself by August, 1974, after the House Judiciary Committee voted three articles of impeachment, and the Watergate tapes, ordered made public by the Supreme Court, revealed that Nixon personally directed the cover-up.
Aiken’s basic message to his Congressional colleagues was to not let your emotions guide your actions, and to rely on your obligation of your oath of office to protect and defend the Constitution.
Aiken was urging them “to do your duty” and to begin an impeachment inquiry.
The old Vermonter’s call to action, delivered in the Senate in 1973, is a useful reminder today for Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi as well as Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.
The time is now to follow the Constitution to determine if this President is fit for office. It is now as urgent as it was in 1974 when President Nixon finally resigned from office in order to avoid impeachment.
Stephen C. Terry was Legislative Assistant for Senator George D. Aiken from 1969 to 1975. He is currently writing a book about Aiken that covers the issues of impeachment during the Nixon Administration and of the Vietnam War. He lives in Middlebury.
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