By Shivaji Sengupta
Donald Trump’s second impeachment in two years is a curious contradiction. It is in a sense ridiculous, yet absolutely necessary if we are to save our democracy from future attacks from people like Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley. Ridiculous, because whoever could imagine two impeachments in thirteen months when there were two in 237 years!
An impeachment is serious business. No president has been convicted after impeachment by the House of Representative. Andrew Johnson was saved by one vote. Bill Clinton and Donald J Trump, the first time around, didn’t come close.
This time it’s different. Yesterday, after ten Republicans voted against Trump (in 2019 no Republicans voted against in the first impeachment), the House impeached the 45th president for a historic second time by 232-197. The Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, hasn’t yet sent the Article of impeachment to the Senate. The Article states:
Resolved, the Donald John Trump, President of the United States, is impeached for high crimes and misdemeanors and that the following article of impeachment be exhibited to the United States Senate.
The reason for impeachment is straightforward:
Donald Trump engaged in High Crimes and Misdemeanors by inciting violence against the Government of the United States. Shortly before the traditional joint session in Congress, Donald Trump addressed an already excitable crowd that had come to protest the so-called ” stolen election” from Trump. Using provocative words like “we cannot save our democracy if we are weak,” he urged his supporters to “ …go to the Capitol and fight like hell.” Trump, incited the crowd to violence, thereby abdicating the responsibility he had undertaken when he swore on the Bible to defend to the best of his ability the United States from external and internal enemies. He did the opposite of that. Hence the impeachment.
In the debate, Republicans who voted against the impeachment said that impeachment is not the way to heal the country. The Democrats said that only through justice can we heal. Healing is not the objective of impeachment. Justice is. Healing can be a consequence of justice, not its replacement. Obviously, Republicans realize that Donald Trump has committed an indefensible crime.
What is disappointing is that still, after all this upheaval, very few Republican legislatures, from both houses, are willing to convict the president. Their thinking is that Donald Trump’s support among the people, runs deeps. Almost 75 million voted for him. 30 million are dye hard, many of whom were in the Capitol on January 6th.Not willing to alienate these voters, the Republicans are taking the safe way out.
The prosecutors in the Senate can try to convict Trump on three counts: 1) the fact that the president, against the lack of any evidence whatsoever, insisted and publicized all over the country that he was the rightful winner of the 2020 presidential elections and not Buren. 2) that despite the lack of evidence, the president tried to influence local state politicians to overturn the votes and declare Donald Trump the winner. A glaring example of this would be the phone call Trump made to the Secretary of State of Georgia, urging him to overturn the Georgia elections by “finding me 11,780 votes. 3) His incendiary speech on the morning of January 6, discussed above, in which he egged his already excitable supporters to go to the Capitol and “fight like hell.” 4) Trump’s insistence after the storming of the Capitol that he had nothing appropriate. To be sure, two days ago Trump gave a strong speech condemning the violence in the Capitol, but I suspect he did that fearing the Senate trial which seems far more against him than the House Republicans.
We expect the proportion of Republicans against Trump in the Senate to be more if only because the Senate has one hundred members as opposed to 436 in the House. Last time around, only Mitch Romney voted against Trump. This time there will be at least five. Since Mitch McConnel, the Senate leader, has said that the president’s crime is impeachable, and has not indicated how he will vote, there are hopes that quite a few in the Senate will vote against Trump. Today, “The Hill,” a Washington DC political news bulletin, speculated that thirteen to fifteen more may vote to convict the president after he has left office. While removing him from office will be moot, the conviction ban him from running again for public office. However, realistically, it is not expected that seventeen Republican senators will join all fifty Democrats to make the two-thirds needed to convict.
The threat of further insurrection exists. There are more soldiers in Washington, DC, than there are in Afghanistan. The January 6 riots may have been planned, according to the FBI. “Not a spontaneous act of vandalism by some protesters.” Comey, the erstwhile director of FBI, said those who come to protest don’t bring ladders and zip-ties, explosives. What about prosecuting Rudy Guiliani and Donald Trump Jr? Other members that some Congresspeople were giving recognizance to “tourists” who apparently came to “visit” the Capitol on January 6?
Even if conviction in the Senate is not possible for the lack of the two-thirds majority, section 3 of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution prohibits any person who has “engaged in insurrection or rebellion against” the United States from “hold[ing] and office … under the United States.’ In his conduct while President of the United States — and in violation of his constitutional oath faithfully to execute the office of President of the United States and, to the best of his ability, preserve, provide, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States and in violation of his constitutional duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, such a person may be legally prevented from running for public office, including that of the president.
Finally, even if ultimate conviction is possible we all have to be wary of whether such action – the first in American history – would weaken the American presidency. It is for this very reason legislators have been extremely hesitant removing a president from office. Donald Trump, in his own inimitable foolishness, has brought us to the verge of banishing him from presidency.
If we have to rush in where angels have feared to read, let us do so with extreme care.
By Shivaji Sengupta