Susannah Colt: It is time to address deficiencies in the impeachment process

For the Monitor
Published: 2/19/2021 6:00:36 AM

I can’t believe I watched the whole impeachment trial. Talk about déjà vu. The only good thing about the impeachment of Donald Trump is that it is over. With any luck, we will never have to go through another Trump impeachment. I say luck, because the acquittal means he can run for president again, and we could all be going through déjà vu in less than four years.

I applaud the seven “patriotic” Republicans who voted with the 50 Democrats to convict Trump. It was the most bipartisan impeachment vote in the history of America. Granted two of them, Richard Burr of North Carolina and Patrick Toomey of Pennsylvania, have decided not to seek re-election. Three of the senators (Susan Collins of Maine, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, and Ben Sasse of Nebraska) won their re-election bids in 2020, so by 2026 all will be forgotten or forgiven. Mitt Romney will be up for re-election in 2024, so he’s pretty safe. The only one up for re-election in 2022 is Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and she is one of the only brave Republican senators who votes her conscience and cares not a whit for the consequences.

As for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, his behavior was the most bizarre.

Before the trial resumed on Saturday morning, before the senators had voted on whether to allow witnesses, before all the evidence was presented, McConnell announced that he was going to vote to acquit. He signaled to his fellow Republicans to follow his lead at the same time he told them to vote their conscience.

This is a man who declared, “There’s no question – none – that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day” and is guilty of a “disgraceful dereliction of duty.”

The person truly guilty of dereliction of duty is McConnell. How can someone who agrees with the Democratic managers that Trump provoked, i.e. incited, the events of the day, and not vote to convict? Because he is afraid of Trump and is a coward.

His decision to acquit stems from a technicality that he fell back on. He decided since the president was a private citizen at the time of the trial he could not be tried and convicted. That was his excuse.

The problem is he cannot hide from the fact that it was his fault that Trump was not tried while he was in office. The impeachment vote took place on Jan. 13. The House was ready to transfer the Article of Impeachment to the Senate. Because the Senate was not going to be in session until Jan. 19 and McConnell, who was still majority leader, declined to agree to call it into session, time ran out.

It is completely disingenuous to block a trial and then claim Trump should have been tried before he left office.

Throughout history impeachment has been a politically partisan tool to bludgeon the opposing party’s president. When Andrew Johnson was impeached both houses of Congress held huge Republican majorities. In the Senate there were 45 Republicans and only nine Democrats. So why did Johnson, a Democrat, escape conviction by only one vote? Pure politics and nothing else. Ten Republicans voted to acquit because they did not like who would step into the presidency.

When Bill Clinton was impeached, Republicans were in the majority of both the House (228-205) and the Senate (55-45). The Republicans pushed the impeachment through the House, with a handful of Republicans voting against impeachment of the Democratic president. The Senate would have needed only 12 Democrats to convict Clinton.

The first article regarding perjury failed on a party line vote, 55-45. But the obstruction of justice article failed 50-50, with five Republicans abandoning their party to acquit Clinton. The will was definitely not there to throw Clinton out of office for lying.

In both of Trump’s impeachments, the Democrats held a majority in the House, so passing articles of impeachment was never at issue. Because the Republicans held a small majority in the first impeachment (53-45), there was no chance at all that Trump was going to be convicted. The evenly divided Senate for the second impeachment only served to slightly increase the odds of obtaining a conviction. In both cases, it was a fait accompli.

Why do we bang our heads against the wall with this impeachment business? Because that is the only tool in the Constitution where the Congress can hold a president accountable for “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”

Unfortunately, there are still several ambiguities when it comes to the interpretation of that section of the Constitution. That is why it is so easy for the opposing party to fall back on technicalities.

Perhaps it is time to amend the Constitution to address the deficiencies and ambiguities that have become so grossly apparent over the course of history. This would not be an unprecedented step. The Constitution has been amended 27 times.

Take the 25th Amendment as a precedent. The clause regarding the removal or death of a president called into question whether the vice president became the president or merely assumed the “powers and duties” of the presidency. The 25th Amendment addressed those deficiencies in 1967 after several problems arose over the course of history.

There should not only be a 9/11 style commission to investigate the Capitol invasion, but also a separate bipartisan committee to study the history of impeachment and come up with language to amend the Constitution so the procedure and practice of impeachment is clarified and the deficiencies addressed.

It is my hope that I never have to sit through another impeachment trial when the outcome is known before it is started.

(Susannah Colt lives in Whitefield. She can be reached at susannahbcolt@gmail.com.)




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