Impeachment of President Obama? Not So Fast
The drumbeat gets louder nearly every day. Cries for impeachment of our current president seem to echo off the walls of strongholds of the political right and are even heard deep in the recesses of left’s fortresses. Sarah Palin is perhaps the loudest voice yet crying for impeachment and she lays out an interesting case supporting it here. She is supported in her efforts by such right wing stalwarts as Mark Levin, Allen West, Tom Coburn, and apparently the entire South Dakota Republican Party.
Nonetheless, such a move is perilous and is not likely to succeed. And if it is not successful, which is to say that it fails to remove Barack Obama from the office of the President of the United States, then it is quite likely to be incredibly damaging and embarrassing to the Republican Party and the conservative movement. It would all but drive a stake through the heart of the Tea Party. Allow me to explain.
Only twice in the history of our nation has a president been impeached. The first was in 1868. Then-president Andrew Johnson, a Republican, had removed Secretary of War Edwin Stanton in what was widely viewed as a violation of the Tenure of Office Act. Stanton had been appointed by Abraham Lincoln, upon whose death Johnson had ascended to the presidency. The Articles of Impeachment were drawn up against him by the House of Representatives with a majority of 1216 to 47 votes in favor, and then Johnson was tried in the Senate. While only a simple majority is necessary to approve articles of impeachment, a conviction on those articles requires a two thirds majority in the Senate. President Johnson was tried, with Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase presiding, and was acquitted by a vote of 35-19, just one single vote shy of the 36 necessary. It must be noted that the push for impeachment of Johnson was led by the extreme right wing of the Republican party at that time, known as the Radical Republicans during the period of the Reconstruction.
The second impeachment of a president occurred in 1998. President William Clinton was impeached by the House of Representatives on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice in the wake of the scandal following his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky and another lawsuit brought by Paula Jones. During the trial in the Senate in January, 1999, presided by Chief Justice William Rehnquist, a two thirds majority of 67 votes was need to secure a conviction. The votes on the perjury charge were 45 for conviction and 55 against, while the votes on the obstruction charge went 50-50. The Senate at the time was comprised of 45 Republicans and 55 Democrats. Those numbers mirrored exactly the votes on the perjury charge.
Articles of impeachment were prepared against Richard Nixon in 1974, but he resigned before they could be formally adopted. By resigning, Nixon avoided being impeached and what was widely viewed as a sure conviction in the Senate.
After his trial, Clinton emerged stronger politically if not bruised and battered personally. Americans generally thought he was doing a good job as president while they viewed him as severely lacking in moral character and honesty.
Now let’s consider the case for impeachment of the current chief executive. There are indications to believe that he has, using language from the Constitution, committed “high crimes and misdemeanors” and abused presidential power (Fast and Furious, the IRS scandal, alleged knowledge of the problems at the VA and subsequent cover-up, for example). Nonetheless, the political argument must be considered most carefully and most realistically. As Pat Buchanan stated in this opinion piece there simply is not yet enough verifiable evidence to build a truly winnable case. Securing enough votes for a simple majority in the House is easy enough. Presenting the case in a full trial by the Senate and securing 67 votes to convict, however, is quite a few orders of magnitude more difficult. Currently the Senate is comprised of 54 Democrats, 45 Republicans and 1 Independent (Bernie Sanders from Vermont, who most often votes with the Democrats). Those in favor of impeachment simply have to do the undesirable math. There is no realistic chance that a trial could secure all the Republican and enough of the Democrat votes to win conviction. The political fallout against any Democrats who vote in favor of conviction would be too high a price for them to pay within their constituencies. There is no chance of even a Pyrrhic victory in such a spectacle, even assuming such would be an acceptable outcome.
There are ways of defeating Obama that do not involve impeachment. We must remember that the true power of the government lies within Congress and control of the purse strings. It is there that fight must be fought and won, and it is a winnable fight. The process of impeachment in modern federal government is a tool of political expediency, not one of justice. Impeachment of this president right now is not a bad idea. It’s a terrible one.