The Columbia Basin Badger Club will sponsor a debate Thursday, October 17, titled: “Resolved, President Donald J. Trump Should Be Impeached.”
We did not schedule this program lightly, knowing Americans are highly politically polarized. But for all of the talk about impeachment, most Americans know very little about its history or the process.
The process was adopted by the framers of our Constitution from British law, where the House of Commons can approve articles of impeachment against an official, similar to a grand jury indictment. The trial, however, takes place in the upper chamber of Parliament, the House of Lords. These are very different bodies. House of Commons members are democratically elected, while House of Lords members serve as a result of appointment or heredity.
Framers of the U.S. Constitution, including George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and Benjamin Franklin, spelled out the process in the 1787 U.S. Constitution. Article 1, section 2, states: The House of Representatives shall choose their speaker and other officers; and shall have the sole power of impeachment.”
Article 1, section 3, states: “The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments. . . 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.” Article II, section 4, states: “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.”
While conviction in the Senate requires a two-thirds vote, the House needs only a simple majority to pass an article of impeachment. Indeed, a single House member can introduce an impeachment resolution — Rep. Al Green of Texas has done so on three occasions against President Trump, but failed to attract a House majority.
Two presidents have actually been impeached. Andrew Johnson, a pro-war Democrat, was impeached by a radical Republican majority in the House in 1868 for trying to remove Edward Stanton from the cabinet, but Johnson had been conducting a bitter verbal battle with the Congress over implementation of Abraham Lincoln’s post-war reconciliation strategy for the South. Impeachment failed in the Senate by one vote.
In 1974, the House approved three articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon stemming from the Watergate scandal. He resigned before the charges could be considered by the Senate, where he probably would have been convicted.
In 1999, Bill Clinton was impeached for perjuring himself and obstructing justice in a deposition regarding the Paula Jones case, in which he lied about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky. The Senate declined to convict.
Five other presidents — Cleveland, Hoover, Truman, Reagan, and George H.W. Bush — have had articles of impeachment filed against them that failed to attract a House majority.
What does “treason, bribery, and other high crimes and misdemeanors” mean?
Can it include crimes committed before the president’s term of office? Does it have to pertain to just a president’s official duties or from outside activities as well?
If a president commits a felony in office, can he be impeached? If a president ignores the intent of Congress in how money is spent, can he be impeached?
If he violates a provision of the Constitution — for example, accepting gifts from a foreign nation, is he liable to be impeached? If not, how does it square with the argument that no one is above the law?
Impeachment ultimately is a political process. Each effort to impeach has been intensely partisan, with the president’s party showing more loyalty to party than concern about alleged misdeeds.
To argue the case, we have asked two local attorneys, each actively involved in his political party, to present the case for and against impeaching President Trump. Douglas McKinley is a Richland attorney and Democratic Party activist who ran for Congress against Dan Newhouse in 2016. Patrick McBurney is a Richland attorney and former chairman of the Benton County Republican Party.
C. Mark Smith is chairman of the Columbia Basin Badger Club Program Committee.
If you go
When: 11:30 a.m., Thursday, Oct. 17
Where: Shilo Inn, 50 Comstock St., Richland
Cost: $25 for Badger Club members, $30 for nonmembers, $35 day of the event. Registration is required.
RSVP: Call 628-6011 or go to www.columbiabasinbadgers.com