Reprinted with permission from Creators.
To everything there is a season, the Bible and Pete Seeger told us. The season to impeach Donald Trump may come, or it may not. Trying to do it now would be like harvesting sweet corn before it’s ripe, yielding something stunted and indigestible.
Plenty of critics don’t want to wait. “We’re fiddling while Rome is burning,” insists Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif. Rep. Al Green, D-Texas, agrees. “The mantra should be ITN — impeach Trump now,” he says.
The liberal activist group MoveOn.org insists that the president “must be impeached immediately.” J.B. Pritzker, a Democratic candidate for governor of Illinois, said, “We simply do not have the luxury of time to wait for months or years.”
Anyone infuriated and exhausted by the chaos of the Trump administration can be forgiven for wishing it would end as soon as possible. But as Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., noted the other day, a lot of Democrats “wanted the president gone on November the 10th of last year.” They don’t want to miss a chance to be rid of Trump.
Forcing a president from office is among the gravest tasks members of Congress can undertake, and they should refrain unless he gives them no choice. To attempt it with so many questions yet unanswered would look like partisan revenge — not just against Trump but against the people who voted for him.
Presidential impeachment is a club that has been taken out of the closet only three times — for Andrew Johnson, Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton. Johnson and Clinton fought in the Senate and survived. Nixon resigned in the face of certain impeachment and removal. It’s a last resort, and anyone who sees it as a first resort is not to be trusted.
Given that we have a president who campaigned as though he didn’t want to win and governs as though he doesn’t want to serve, the eagerness to evict is hardly surprising. No president has done so much so soon or so often to indicate he won’t carry out his duties in a responsible and honest way. Trump gives the impression he is hellbent on self-destruction and won’t rest until he achieves it.
But that’s no reason for Congress to rush. Too much is still unknown about his campaign’s connections with Russia and his conversations with James Comey concerning the FBI’s investigation of those ties.
The independent counsel named on Wednesday will need months to gather evidence, interview witnesses and draw conclusions. Only then will the House have enough information to decide whether to take such a momentous and weighty step.
The framers of the Constitution were careful to limit the applicability of this drastic remedy. In considering what sort of conduct to cover, they rejected the terms “malpractice” and “maladministration” in favor of the narrower “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” That formula was the work of James Madison, who didn’t want the president to serve at the “pleasure of the Senate.”
Impeachment is not a task for the impatient. More than two years passed after the Watergate break-in before the House Judiciary Committee voted against Nixon. The special prosecutor’s investigation of Clinton began in January 1994, and the Monica Lewinsky affair came to light in January 1998. Not until December of that year did the House approve articles of impeachment.
Madison and company didn’t want to make impeachment easy. They wanted to make it hard, and they succeeded.
Even if a majority could be assembled in the House to bring Trump to the bar of congressional justice, persuading 67 senators to convict would be a heavy lift, absent compelling proof of grave misconduct. After everything that came to light against Clinton, and with Republicans in control of the Senate, only 50 senators voted to find him guilty.
It’s crucial for impeachment to reflect more than a campaign against a president by the opposition party. Effectively overturning the result of a democratic election demands a national consensus that the president is guilty of serious offenses. Abusing his powers, behaving corruptly or violating his oath of office qualify. Ineptitude, folly and malignance don’t.
Under the best of circumstances, impeachment is a national trauma with lasting consequences, for good or ill. Trump made it to the White House because the nation was so divided. If he is removed, it should be because the nation is united.
Steve Chapman blogs at http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/chapman. Follow him on Twitter @SteveChapman13 or at https://www.facebook.com/stevechapman13. To find out more about Steve Chapman and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
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