Back in June I wrote about impeachment, saying I believed President Donald Trump was guilty of multiple impeachable offenses but nevertheless shouldn’t be impeached.
I argued impeachment was deliberately fashioned as a political process by the Framers, that congressmen and senators should base their votes on whether retaining a president until the next election or the ordeal of an impeachment and trial would be the greater risk to civil rest.
I argued the public hadn’t reached the point they wanted Trump impeached. If the Democratic-controlled House voted to impeach, the Republican-controlled Senate would not vote to convict him. After this past week’s revelations about the whistleblower’s complaint and the “rough” phone transcript between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, however, we may have crossed the Rubicon in the House.
Trump has been reckless and dismissive of the political institutions upon which this country was founded and upon which it still rests. I hope he hasn’t sewn too much distrust among the public about “stealing” votes, the media, or that he hasn’t permanently undercut American credibility with ally and enemy alike.
As dangerous and subversive of our Constitution and democratic institutions as all these things seem, most people either aren’t bothered by them or think Trump should be dealt with in the next election. I’d previously thought it best to leave it in the public’s hands and wait until next year’s elections, although it was pretty clear to me that Trump is guilty of multiple impeachable offenses. And impeachment likely will damage the already fragile fabric of today’s divided political world. Nor would the impeachment process likely be complete by next year’s election.
But the national security official’s whistleblower complaint and the transcript of the phone call between Trump and Zelensky added onto the damage Trump’s done with our allies, the way he has undercut American credibility with allies and foes alike; his actions with Russian President Vladimir Putin. It’s precisely what the Framers feared when they inserted the impeachment clause.
By Thursday morning, a couple of Republicans (Senators Mitt Romney of Utah and Ben Sasse of Nebraska) were even calling the phone transcript disturbing. Not a peep, of course, from Kentucky’s Republican representatives or senators. But it’s rumored several Republicans in Congress privately feel the same way but most fear a Trump-backed primary opponent if they break ranks with the president.
On the Democratic side, two-thirds of the House is in favor of beginning an impeachment inquiry, among whom presumably is Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who up until now opposed starting impeachment hearings, fearing they would make life harder in next year’s presidential election year. The letter apparently was too much for her. And remarkably (as of Thursday) at least 31 of those House Democrats calling for impeachment hearings are freshmen from traditionally Republican districts which voted for Trump in 2016. That’s about as vulnerable a category as there is for a politician.
The Framers wrestled mightily how to construct the executive branch, fearing the evolution of the position into a monarchy. It’s one of the chief reasons they tried to erect so many checks and balances between the branches and placed the legislature in Article I and the executive in Article II.
Trump treats the office as a monarchy, making his minions flatter him or eventually be forced out. He dismisses laws with a wave of a hand, such as the one which says the executive branch SHALL turn over whistleblower charges to Congress; he orders even former aides not to testify before congressional committees.
Where are those Republican senators and congresswomen who believe country comes before party; who cherish the legislative branch and its constitutional powers, so easily given to the executive branch — something which actually began long before Trump?
I guess if Trump as president frightens you, you’ll have to depend on the House Democrats and next year’s voters. I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for Republican senators.
— Ronnie Ellis is the former statehouse reporter for CNHI Kentucky and writes a weekly column. Follow him on Twitter @cnhifrankfort.