April 7, 2020

Not Even Sancho Panza

By Stephen Tuttle | July 8, 2017

Some Democrats in Washington, always willing to engage in a little windmill tilting, are talking about impeaching President Donald Trump. Or, in lieu of that, invoking the 25th Amendment. 

This is quixotic, a hopeless waste of time and energy. It's easy to understand the Democrat's angst, but those now posturing are on a fool's errand. Their efforts would be better served elsewhere. 

The Constitution calls for the impeachment of the president, vice president, or other civil officers for “ ... Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” 

It's just an accusation. The House of Representatives investigates, starting with its judiciary committee. The full House debates the particulars and then votes, a majority being required for impeachment. That's only the first step.

An actual trial then takes place in the Senate, presided over by the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. A conviction requires a two-thirds vote by Senate.

So why would a president be impeached? Evidence of treason or bribery are the obvious offenses specified in the constitution; high crimes and misdemeanors is a little trickier.

During the impeachment hearings of Richard Nixon (he resigned before the House voted), then-Congressman Gerald Ford was asked what constituted a high crime. He was much criticized for his completely honest and accurate answer. It is, he said — and this is likely a paraphrase — whatever Congress says it is. 

Only two presidents, Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton, have ever been impeached. Neither was convicted by the Senate, though Johnson narrowly escaped the ignominy.

Johnson was accused of violating the Tenure of Office Act, which had been enacted specifically to prevent Johnson from removing Abraham Lincoln's appointees from office. When Johnson tried, twice, to remove Edwin Stanton as secretary of war, he was impeached. 

Clinton, of course, was impeached for allegedly lying under oath about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky. There was never any chance there would be sufficient Senate votes for a conviction, but we were told there was a principle at stake. 

President Trump, so far as we know, has neither committed treason nor accepted bribes. If he has, Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into all things Trump and Russia likely will expose it.   

But mean Tweets, incompetence, misogyny, and ignorance are not generally considered impeachable offenses. And Republicans in the House and Senate don't yet have any taste for an impeachment; the votes aren't there to even hear an impeachment bill in committee if it was introduced. 

That leaves the 25th Amendment as a backdoor approach for Democrats. It wasn't designed to rid us of a buffoon. 

Signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson in 1967, the 25th Amendment was created to fill a constitutional vacuum in the event the president became incapacitated and was unable to carry out his or her duties. The amendment answered a simple question: If the president is alive but unable to function, who's in charge? 

It can be implemented temporarily, as should have been the case when Ronald Reagan was shot and had to undergo surgery. But those events happened so quickly, the proper paperwork — there is a process involving letters to and response from Congress — was never filed. 

It also allows the president to declare that he or she is, or will be, unable to carry out duties. A president anticipating surgery with more than a brief recovery or enduring an illness with debilitating treatment could invoke the 25th Amendment. In such a circumstance the president could return to office once whatever impediment existed is no longer an issue.

What legislators did not anticipate in 1967 was the 25th Amendment being used to simply oust a president due to poor performance. But neither did they preclude it. Congress could, in fact, remove the president simply because it wants him removed.

The Democrat's problem is that Trump's boorishness has not yet stooped to a level justifying his ouster, at least via impeachment or the 25th Amendment.

Yes, his tweets are full of ugliness and often untrue. His outbursts directed at hosts of MSNBC's Morning Joe show, followed by a bizarre photo-shopped video of him at a wrestling event punching a person with a CNN logo superimposed on his head, are fine examples. 

They are typical of Trump's penchant for juvenile personal insults of the sort you caution your 8-year-old against. Surely there will be more from a president who now claims these ad hominem attacks are him being “modern day presidential.” 

The point is that even an offensive and unpopular Trump — his disapproval rating is 57 percent — is unlikely to be removed from office. The 2016 Democrat-election collapse cannot be so easily erased.  

The Democrat dreamers can continue tilting at windmills if they want. But, for now, even Sancho Panza isn't likely to join the fray.  


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