Let’s Talk Impeachment …

Impeachment: a word that is on everybody’s minds these days, both Republican and Democrat.

“Whispers about impeachment, the most familiar constitutional procedure for removing a president, began to circulate even before Trump had taken the oath of office. But two months into Trump’s presidency, those whispers – and the search for any other possible emergency exit – have grown into an open conversation …” – The Guardian, 22 March 2017

Dan Rather on the Trump-Russian connections: “We may look back and see, in the end, that it is at least as big as Watergate. It may become the measure by which all future scandals are judged. It has all the necessary ingredients, and that is chilling.”

nixon-resignsOn August 9, 1974, President Richard M. Nixon became the only U.S. president to resign from office, in the wake of the Watergate scandal.  After two years of investigations and scandal, it was time.  Nixon said, “By taking this action, I hope that I will have hastened the start of the process of healing which is so desperately needed in America.”  Nixon was guilty of a number of things, however I thought then, and I still think today, that he made a tough decision, the right decision, in the best interest of the nation.  Okay, granted, he had lost the support he needed in Congress, had lost the confidence of the nation, and would have likely been removed from office within a year, but still, I respect that he had the dignity to resign when he did. Had he not resigned, impeachment would have been the next step … a step that would have been costly and would have further divided the nation.  The House Judiciary Committee had already charged him with “high crimes and misdemeanors” in its bill of impeachment in July. There is no doubt that Nixon would have been impeached, but he might have, like Andrew Johnson before him and William Jefferson Clinton after, remained in office.

Nixon denied any wrongdoing, despite mounting evidence, until the bitter end.  Based on what we have seen thus far, I would expect no less from Trump when the investigations into his ties to the Russian government are eventually laid bare.  I suspect, however, that unlike Nixon, Trump will not have the grace to resign, but rather will force a full impeachment process, further dividing a nation that is already about as far divided as a nation can be without engaging in armed combat.

Article II, Section IV of the U.S. Constitution states, “The President, Vice President, and all civil Officers of the United States shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other High Crimes and Misdemeanors.” The last of these, ‘high crimes and misdemeanors, is subjective and much would depend on how the 115th Congress decided to define it.  The process for impeachment is fairly simple, but by no means speedy:

  • Impeachment proceedings begin in the House of Representatives, once the Justice Department or an independent council investigates charges & presents them to the House Judiciary Committee.
  • The House Judiciary Committee then reviews the evidence, drafts the Articles of Impeachment, and debates the Articles, deciding whether to pass them to the full House.
  • The full House debates the Articles, then votes on whether to impeach. Only a simple majority (51%) is required for impeachment.  If 51% vote to impeach, the president is considered impeached, but is not yet out of office.
  • The Senate holds a trial to decide whether the president should remain in office. The House Judiciary Committee presents the evidence, acting as prosecutor, and the accused will have attorneys present to present his defense. The Chief Justice of Supreme Court acts as Judge and rules on admissibility of evidence, and the full Senate is the jury.
  • The Senate votes, and a two-thirds majority is required to remove the president from office.

Simple, right?  Well … yes … and no.  Think about the current composition of the 115th Congress and what, by their actions, they have indicated thus far.  We have 100 Senators, 52 of whom are Republicans, and 430 Representatives (there are currently 5 vacant seats), 237 of whom are Republicans.  Thus far, all bills have been voted on along almost strict party lines, with the Republicans throwing all their support to Trump.  What this means is that the Justice Department will need to have solid evidence of criminal acts committed by Trump in order to get the House to consider impeachment.  And the Justice Department is currently under the leadership of one Jefferson Beauregard “Jeff” Sessions III, a blatant racist who should never have been even considered, but who was hand-picked by Trump and then confirmed by the Republican-led Senate. See the conundrum?

The evidence is mounting that there will be, after the FBI finishes its investigation, and an independent commission (hopefully) conducts an investigation, incontrovertible grounds for impeachment.  If it turns out, as I believe, that Trump had direct connections to the Russian government and was aware of their efforts to alter the results of the 2016 election, or if certain of Trump’s campaign staff had connections and Trump was aware of those connections, that would be grounds for impeachment on the grounds of treason.  Another, though less likely possibility is that charges may stem from Trump  allegedly violating constitutional bans on receiving certain gifts – a problem rooted in his failure to divest from his real estate, hotel and branding businesses.

I think that whether or not the Department of Justice is willing to bring charges and then whether the House of Representatives and later the Senate are willing to follow through with the impeachment process is a matter of timing.  There are signs that some Republicans in Congress are already tiring of Trump’s shenanigans, such as his baseless claim that Obama had wiretapped his phones during the presidential campaign, his bald-faced lies, his tirades, and the blame game he is so fond of playing.  While there are undoubtedly some who will ride his coattails regardless of his actions, I firmly believe there are men and women of good conscience in the Republican party in Congress, and when push comes to shove, I believe they will opt to do the right thing.  But as of today, they are still supporting Trump, no matter what.  So, maybe in a month, maybe in two months, impeachment charges would move forward, but if they were handed down today, I am skeptical. It is rather a matter of giving him enough rope, enough time to figure out how to tie the knot in the rope, to hang himself.

The other option is that, under the 25th Amendment, Trump could be declared ‘unfit to serve’, but in my opinion, that is even more of a long-shot than impeachment. In order for this option to be enacted, the Vice-President and a majority of the top 15 members of the cabinet must find the president “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office”.  Those people all owe their jobs to Trump, and I find it highly unlikely they would go against him, especially if there were a possibility they would lose the battle and then have to live with the consequences.

In the long run, it boils down to We The People.  We must make our voices heard … our Senators and Representatives must be made to hear our voices and realize that we are the ones who have the power to decide whether they return to Congress after the next round of elections in 2018.  We need to remember that they work for us, not the other way around. While having the president impeached and removed from office may be divisive and disruptive, it is rather like having a cancerous growth removed … it is painful, but life-saving.  I believe having Trump removed will be painful for some in the short-term, but life-saving for our democratic principles in the long-term.

Busy, Busy, Busy Little Beavers …

It has been a busy week in Washington.  Let’s see …

  • The House voted 235 to 180 to allow people who are mentally incapable of managing their own affairs to own guns. The rule affects an estimated 75,000 social security disability beneficiaries who could not work because of the severity of their mental disorder and needed a representative to manage their benefits. They cannot get a driver’s license.  They cannot manage their own bank accounts.  But if the measure is also passed by the senate, which is almost a rubber stamp, they can carry a gun and shoot people. “There are people who need help and seek help, but that is not a criteria for taking away one’s constitutional right to own a gun,” said Representative Pete Sessions. The NRA applauded.  We The People lost.
  • The House also voted 228 to 194 to allow coal mining companies to dump mining debris into streams. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan said, “The stream protection rule is really just a thinly veiled attempt to wipe out coal mining jobs.”  Huh?  Excuse me, but this does not compute.  There are two options … you shove the debris into a stream, or you pay a trucking company to haul it off to an authorized waste sight.  Shoving it into the stream saves the coal company money, but does not create jobs.  This is all about higher profits for big businesses at the cost of our environment, our water resources! The coal industry applauded.  We The People lost.
  • The House also voted 235 to 187 to rescind an anti-corruption law requiring companies to disclose payments made to foreign governments relating to mining and drilling. The rule, which grew out of the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial oversight law, was intended to promote transparency so citizens in some of the world’s most impoverished countries can hold their governments accountable for the wealth generated through mining and drilling. Republicans said the regulation placed an unfair burden on U.S. companies by requiring them to hand over key details of how they bid and compete. The American Petroleum Institute applauded. We The People lost.
  • “I will get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment and allow our representatives of faith to speak freely and without fear of retribution.” That was the prez speaking, and this one requires some explanation. The Johnson Amendment prohibits non-profit 501(c)(3) companies from endorsing or donating to political candidates. If they violate the Johnson Amendment, they stand to lose the right to operate as a non-profit and become liable to pay federal income taxes.  Now wait, before your eyes glaze over, your mind wanders away and you say “so what?”  Just think about this one.  What group of people is one of Trump’s biggest supporters?  Right … white evangelical Christians.  Under the Johnson Amendment, those churches cannot contribute financially, nor can they endorse him publicly or privately.  But … if this rule is abolished, how much more support might he and his minions in Congress have? Because the amendment is part of the tax code, technically, the only way to get rid of it would be through the legislative process. But as president, Trump could tell the IRS not to enforce it if he really wanted to. Does anybody in this administration remember ‘separation of church and state’? White Christian churches applaud.  We The People lose.

But wait … that’s not all …

  • Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has scheduled a vote at 6:30 a.m. Friday*, an unusually early time, to advance Betsy DeVos’s nomination to serve as secretary of Education. The tally currently stands at 50-50. If confirmed, she will be the most unqualified Secretary of Education in the history of the United States.  Our public schools will be left with little funding and We The People will lose.
  • In response to a threat, an almost certainty, that Democratic senators will filibuster the confirmation hearings of Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, Trump told Mitch McConnell to invoke what is known on the hill as the ‘nuclear option’. This would prevent a democratic filibuster and eliminate the requirement for a 60% majority, thus a simple 51% would result in confirmation.  We The People stand to lose.

So, it has been a busy week for the administration and Congress, and it isn’t even over yet. Congress has done more in one week than they did all year last year!  It’s too bad that none of it is designed to help the people who put them in office, or to “make America great again.”  I hear that Trump is planning to take a vacation to his estate in Florida this weekend … probably a good thing … we need time to catch our collective breath!

* Since I wrote this last night, today’s news is that the vote was 52-48 in favour of limiting debate and therefore putting her nomination before the full senate next week.  More about this in a later post.

Obama UP … Trump and Congress DOWN

The news of the day is that President Obama is more popular among the people now!  I know, I know … the haters are shaking their heads right about now saying “That cannot be right.  He is the worst president ever. He should be impeached”, and all the other babble-phrases of which they are so enamoured.  But it is a fact, one that is confirmed by several of the more accurate polls, that President Obama’s approval rating averages 49%.  Obama’s approval ratings are actually very close to those of Ronald Reagan in March 1988, his final year in office. There are likely a number of reasons and the republicans may be interested (appalled?) to note that they are a large part of the reason!  It is also interesting to note that Donald Trump’s approval rating is in decline, as is Congress’.  I believe these three are connected.

Donald Trump’s decline to an average of 30.4% in the polls is not surprising at all. The only thing surprising is that it took this long for his decline to begin.  It would seem that a couple of things may be coming into play.  First, I think that his rhetoric is getting old and stale, his supporters are getting tired of hearing the same old buzzwords and phrases, and are looking for him to step up to the plate with some details about exactly how he plans to “make America great again”.  In the beginning, there was excitement at the novelty of his approach, his bull-in-a-china-shop bluster, but the shine is wearing thin and the tarnish beneath starting to show through. At the end of the day, people want a president who acts … well, presidential. Second, as his delegate count began to rise, and it looked for a brief time as if he could possibly receive the necessary 1,237 delegates to clinch the nomination, people began to take his candidacy, if not the man himself, seriously and I think it became a real stretch for most to actually picture him sitting in the Oval Office.  Third, there is only one group in the nation who he has failed to insult, white males.  While it is true that he does still have a following among some women, those numbers have begun to shrink also.  Presumably women are awakening to the fact that he views them as objects and as second-class citizens, much as he views minorities and immigrants. Recent television interviews have only given Trump a venue to reiterate his arrogance and immaturity — see his interview with Anderson Cooper  on 29 March, when Cooper said to Trump: “But, sir, with all due respect, that’s the argument of 5-year-old.” (Is not this just what I have been saying all along?)

Congress’ decline in approval rating, which currently stands at an average of only 14.3%, also needs little explanation.  It can be summarized with the refusal of most republicans in the senate to even consider holding confirmation hearings for President Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court, Merrick Garland.  Mitch McConnell has single-handedly (well, alright, he has had some help from other republican senators, but he is the driving force on this one) doomed Congress’ approval ratings, since 52% of voters support confirmation hearings at this time, and only 29% are opposed.  The other 19% were bored and fell asleep, I presume.

Polls are fickle, unreliable things, but some are more accurate than others.  According to FiveThirtyEight   (538), a group that monitors and analyzes economic and political polls, among the most reliable are Selzer, ABC/Washington Post, CNN/Research Corp., and NBC/Wall Street Journal.  Surprisingly, Gallup, the most well-known, only gets a C+ rating from 538.  In addition to looking at a number of the more reliable polls, it is important to notice trends.  In the early days of Trump’s campaign, he began every speech, every interview, citing his poll numbers as of that morning.  The numbers for a given day may or may not have meaning, as it is the trend that counts.

Every poll I looked at from Gallup to ABC News to Selzer follows the same pattern … Obama is gaining ground, Trump and Congress are losing ground.  What does it mean?  Nothing, really, at least in terms of President Obama’s ratings, beyond the fact that it would be nice if he left office next January with a higher approval rating.  As for Trump?  My opinion is that it only confirms what many of us already knew … he will not be the next president of the U.S.  The most important of the three, is likely the approval rating of Congress.  As I have mentioned before, there are 24 republican senators up for re-election in November, and if the overall approval rating of congress continues to decline, those 24 will have a much more difficult time seeing another term. Again, all polls, even those considered the most reliable, are flawed, but when all polls report the same trend, the old saying “where there is smoke, there is fire” comes to mind.