Carolyn’s Rant, December 2019

Trump is impeached!

Today December 18, 2019, the House voted to impeach President Trump. So what happens now? Short answer: The House votes on impeachment; the Senate tries an impeached president to determine the penalty.

This marks only the fourth time in our nation’s history a president has been brought up on impeachment charges and only the third time for a House vote. Presidents Andrew Johnson in 1868, Richard Nixon in 1974, and Bill Clinton in 1998 were all subject to House investigations into impeachment. But although Presidents Johnson and Clinton were formally impeached by the House, neither was removed from office by the Senate.

The first in 1868, President Andrew Johnson clashed repeatedly with the Republican-controlled Congress over reconstruction of the defeated South after the Civil War. Johnson wanted full citizenship returned to the southerners immediately. The Radical Republicans in Congress did not. The last straw fell when Johnson removed Radical Edwin Stanton, Secretary of War, from the cabinet. The house brought charges, voted for impeachment, and sent the case to the Senate. The vote was only one person short of the two-thirds majority required for removal from office.

In July 1974, the House Judiciary Committee approved three articles of impeachment for President Richard Nixon’s involvement in the Watergate cover-up but he resigned before the House could proceed with a formal vote. Nixon recognized he had lost all his allies and that disgrace was imminent. He was not impeached. He resigned.

In 1998, President William Jefferson Clinton was specifically charged with lying under oath and obstruction of justice. During the administration of Bill Clinton, the U.S. enjoyed more peace and economic well being than at any time in its history and the public was captivated by the trial. It was proven true Clinton had engaged in an affair with a young White House intern and he was charged with sexual misconduct by at least three credible women. While Clinton’s lies about his affair with Monica Lewinsky might be the most memorable part of the impeachment, that was not where it all started. That was the suspicious Whitewater land deal he and his wife Hilary conducted long before he took office. Fifteen people, in total, were convicted of various charges resulting from that project.  However, Clinton survived a Senate trial. No Democrats supported removing him from office and some Republicans even broke with their party. He expressed remorse publicly and completed his term of office.

So, in 2020, President Donald Trump faces impeachment for using the powers of his office to damage a political rival, Joe Biden and his son Hunter. At this time, Senate leader Mitch McConnell said the Senate cannot move ahead with a vote on the resolution until House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sends the articles over from the House. Pelosi says she is withholding the articles to try to pressure McConnell to agree to the request for witnesses. It is a standoff.

Impeachment in the House and a trial in the Senate are all laid out in the Constitution (Article 1, Sections 2 and 3). However, the process and precedent for impeachment are relatively vague, particularly when it comes to impeachment and removal proceedings for presidents. Impeachment does not in itself remove the official definitively from office.

All impeachments are sad moments for our nation, but our Founders laid out a process to investigate wrongdoing for members of the Executive and Judicial Branches.

Impeachment is extremely rare in our nation’s history, but this is the first time the House of Representatives has not filed articles of impeachment over a specific federal crime. Instead the House charged the President with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

This is actually the second time the House of Representatives has attempted to impeach the President this year. In July the House voted to open up impeachment proceedings, well before there was any conversation about Ukraine, but that vote failed. Many members of the House also wanted to impeach the President for election conspiracy with Russia, until the Special Counsel investigation found that the President and his team did not conspire with Russia in the 2016 election.

Eventually in January 2020 the Senate will move into the trial phase of impeachment proceedings. That will be the first time the President and the House will be given equal time to present their side of the story.

To read more about the impeachment of Andrew Johnson in 1868, read my book THE FIRST HUNDRED YEARS IN AMERICA.