Posts Tagged ‘Senate’

Impeachment

February 17, 2020

Now that the Donald Trump impeachment saga has come to an ignominious end, I thought it might be interesting and informative to take a look at the previous presidential impeachments and compare them to the present effort. So far, there have been three presidents impeached by the House of Representatives, Andrew Johnson in 1868, Bill Clinton in 1998, and Donald Trump in 2020. While the precise circumstances of each case have been dissimilar, with various specific accusations being made against each president in diverse historical and political contexts, there have been similarities in the three presidential impeachments, as we shall see. In no case, so far, has the president actually been convicted and removed from office. In each case, the charges made against the president, the conduct of the trial in the Senate and the ultimate outcome has been a matter of politics rather than the law. Impeachment, then, is more of a political matter than a strictly legal one.

The constitution mentions impeachment in several clauses. Article I Section 2 Clause 5 states:

The House of Representatives shall chuse their Speaker and other Officers; and shall have the sole Power of Impeachment.

The House of Representatives impeaches a government official, including the president. Impeachment is simply bringing charges of misconduct against the officeholder, rather like a prosecutor bringing charges against a person accused of committing a crime. Contrary to what many of Donald Trump’s critics seem to believe, impeaching an official does not mean that that official is actually guilty of any crime, nor is he automatically removed from office. The Senate tries impeachments, acting as a sort of jury, as stated in Article I Section 3 Clauses 6 and 7 of the constitution.

6: The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments. When sitting for that Purpose, they shall be on Oath or Affirmation. When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside: And no Person shall be convicted without the Concurrence of two thirds of the Members present.

7: Judgment in Cases of impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from Office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States: but the Party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to Indictment, Trial, Judgment and Punishment, according to Law.

According to Article II Section 4 of the constitution:

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.

Andrew Johnson was impeached in 1868, as a result of the conflict between Johnson and Congress over Reconstruction. It is not necessary to get into the details of that conflict here.

Andrew Johnson

Simply put, President Johnson favored a more lenient treatment of the defeated south than the Republicans who controlled Congress. Johnson was a Southern Democrat who had been added to Lincoln’s ticket in the election of 1864 as a gesture of national unity. After Lincoln’s assassination, Johnson found himself opposed by both Congress and his own Cabinet, particularly his Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton. To prevent Johnson from replacing Lincoln’s cabinet with his own men, Congress enacted the Tenure of Office Act of 1867 which prevented the president from dismissing cabinet officials without the consent of the Senate. Johnson demanded Stanton’s resignation anyway, Stanton barricaded himself in his office, and Congress proceeded to impeach President Johnson.

Edwin Stanton in his office.

On February 24, 1868, the House of Representatives voted 126 to 47 to impeach the president. The following week, the House presented eleven articles of impeachment, accusing President Johnson of violating the Tenure of Office Act by firing Edwin Stanton and appointing a new Secretary of War without the consent of the Senate, challenging the authority of Congress to legislate reconstruction, and using  “with a loud voice, certain intemperate, inflammatory, and scandalous harangues, and did therein utter loud threats and bitter menaces … against Congress [and] the laws of the United States duly enacted thereby, amid the cries, jeers, and laughter of the multitudes then assembled and within bearing”.

The case then went to the Senate on March 4. The trial began on March 23 and the voting took place on May 16 and 26. This was not really the case of a somber Senate carefully considering each article. There were reports of political pressure and even outright bribery to persuade the Senators to vote to acquit or convict. In each case, the Senate voted 35 to 19 for conviction, just one vote short of the two-thirds necessary to convict.

President Johnson remained in office but was a lame duck for the rest of his term and did not run for reelection. He was, however, vindicated in the end. The Tenure of Office Act was repealed in 1887 and the Supreme Court declared a similar act unconstitutional in 1920, noting that the Tenure of Office Act of 1867 was also likely to be unconstitutional. Andrew Johnson was not a very good president, but he should not have been impeached. His impeachment was little more than a partisan attempt to remove a president that the Republicans saw as standing in the way of Reconstruction and divided a country that needed to be united in the wake of the most destructive war in its history.

I think that it is fair to say that the Republicans hated President Bill Clinton more than they had any previous Democratic president. Part of this hatred was personal, a sort of moral outrage against a president seen to be immoral. As his nickname, Slick Willie might suggest, Bill Clinton had a reputation for sleaze and corruption, and for escaping the consequences for his actions. Part of the dislike stemmed from thwarted political hopes. When the Republicans took control of Congress for the first time in forty years, after the 1994 midterms, the Republican congressional leaders, particularly Newt Gingrich, believed that they would be setting the national agenda, with President Clinton reduced to irrelevance. Clinton was more politically adroit than the Republicans expected, however, and was able to portray the Republicans as obstructionist extremists, by triangulating to the center, infuriating the Republicans, and easily winning reelection against the uninspiring Bob Dole.

Slick Willie

The Republicans spent most of Clinton’s term investigating Clinton’s various scandals, without making much headway with the public. The country was prosperous and at peace and Clinton was slick, so the people did not much care about his misdeeds. By 1998, however, the Republicans believed they had their chance with Paula Jones’s sexual harassment lawsuit against Clinton. I would rather not get into the sordid details about Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky as well as the exhaustive report by Ken Starr on Clinton’s numerous transgressions. It is sufficient to point out that Clinton made false statements to a grand jury and in a deposition in the Paula Jones lawsuit.

He did not have sex with that woman.

On December 19.1998, the House of Representatives voted, largely along party lines to send two articles of impeachment, perjury to a grand jury and obstruction of justice, to the Senate. The Senate trial lasted from January 7. 1999 to February 9. The Senate then considered the charges in a closed session until February 12 when they emerged ready to vote on the verdict. On the first charge, perjury, the Senate voted not guilty 45 to 55 and on the second charge, obstruction of justice, they voted not guilty 50 to 50, well short of the 67 guilty votes needed to convict. In each case, the 45 Democratic Senators voted not guilty with five Republicans defecting on the second charge.

Should the Republicans have impeached Bill Clinton? From a legal viewpoint, yes. Clinton was unquestionably guilty of the charges made against him, and more. He was a sleazy, corrupt man who was guilty of serial sexual assault. From a political viewpoint, no. Impeaching the president was a foolish act, considering that the Republicans did not have the sixty-seven votes needed to convict and there was no chance of convincing ten Democratic Senators to break ranks with their party. The impeachment of Bill Clinton was not popular with the American people. Neither were the investigations leading up to Clinton’s impeachment. This public dislike of Ken Starr’s investigations was certainly a factor in the Republican loss of five Congressional seats in the election of 1998 when the opposition party usually gains seats in midterm elections. Clinton’s impeachment may well have a cause for the closeness of the 2000 presidential election. Normally, it is not easy for one party to hold onto the White House and Al Gore wasn’t a particularly appealing candidate. If the Republicans had not impeached Clinton, George W. Bush might have won the election by a decent margin. A great deal of subsequent partisan acrimony would likely have been avoided.

Karl Marx once wrote, “History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.” I do not know how that statement might apply generally, but it certainly applies to the history of impeachment in the United States. The impeachment of Andrew Johnson was a high tragedy, based on fundamental constitutional questions on the relationship between the executive and legislative branches. The impeachment of Bill Clinton was tragi-comic, based as it was in the titillating details of Clinton’s sexual exploits and deceptions. The impeachment of Donald Trump has been simply a farce.

The Democrats have hated Donald Trump, probably even more than the Republicans hated Bill Clinton. Part of this is undoubtedly Trump’s brash and uncouth personality. Part of this might be due to dashed hopes. Most observers, including myself, expected Hilary Clinton to win the 2016 election, and the Democrats were looking forward to sweeping Congress and forming a permanent Democratic majority. Donald Trump’s unexpected victory enraged the Democrats.

Donald Trump

Whatever the reason, the Democrats began seeking causes for impeaching Trump even before he took office, but it was only after they gained control of the House of Representatives in the 2018 midterm elections that they had any chance of impeaching him. A July 2019 telephone call between President Trump and Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky gave the democrats their pretext. In this conversation, Trump asked Zelensky to investigate corruption charges against Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, allegedly threatening to withhold military aid to Ukraine if Zelensky did not comply. The Democrats seized on this story to begin an impeachment inquiry in October.

Donald Trump talking to Zelensky?

On December 17. 2019 the House of Representatives voted, along partisan lines, to send two articles of impeachment to the Senate, Abuse of Power and Obstruction of Congress. Speaker Nancy Pelosi delayed actually presenting the articles of impeachment until January 15, 2020, and the Senate trial began on January 22 and on February 5, the Senate voted to acquit Trump 48 to 52 on the first charge and 47 to 53 on the second charge, along partisan lines with Senator Mitt Romney the only Republican voting guilty on the first charge.

The impeachment of Donald Trump was a supreme act of folly by the Democrats. Not only did the Democrats not have the sixty-seven votes needed to convict President Trump, but they also did not even have a majority in the Senate, so they had no control over how the Senate trial was to be arranged. Under the circumstances, Trump’s acquittal was a foregone conclusion, and the whole impeachment was a waste of time and money. The Democrats in the House of Representatives were so eager to appease their base by impeaching Trump that they didn’t bother to make much of a case against him. The impeachment investigation was hasty and partisan, without much of an attempt to include Republicans in the process. The Senate trial was a joke since the Republicans didn’t take the charges seriously. The whole affair was a trivialization of the impeachment process. I expect that the Republicans will take revenge by impeaching the next Democratic president over similarly trivial charges until impeachment becomes a regular part of politics and presidents are being impeached for jaywalking or tearing the tags off mattresses.

Midterms 2018: The Results

November 11, 2018

Well, it might have been worse, but it might have been a good deal better. The Democrats gained a majority in the House of Representatives, as expected, but the Republicans managed to not only maintain their majority in the Senate and even gain a few seats. It seems that neither party really won this contest. Both sides gained a little and lost a little. It could have been worse for the Republicans.

The Democrats gained 34 Congressional seats for certain making the new partisan balance in the House 227 seats held by the Democrats against 200 seats held by the Republicans. there are several elections too close to call just yet, but will probably go to the Democrats just as soon as they “discover” enough uncounted ballot boxes. In the Senate, the Republicans perhaps gained three seat, expanding their majority from 51-47 to 54-44, although their are three elections too close to call and subject to the recounts which somehow always favor the Democratic candidates. It seems that they hardly even bothering to hide their election fraud anymore.

What does this divided government mean for the next two years? I would guess that not very much is going to get done legislatively. Anything passed by one House is likely to be rejected by the other and in this polarized political environment, there is no sign that the Democrats in the House of Representatives are going to be willing to work with the Republicans in the Senate and and like likely to be even less cooperative with President Trump. We are likely to see one investigation after another Trump’s alleged collusion with the Russians and anything else the Democrats can think of to paralyse the government and to delegitimize Trump. I don’t think the Democrats will try to impeach Trump. They might have if they had won the Senate but there is no chance a Republican controlled Senate would convict Trump. Their lunatic base will expect impeachment and it will be interesting to see how the Democratic leadership will explain the absence of any impeachment attempt.

Given that the Senate is going to forestall any attempt by the Democrats in the House to advance some of their more extreme left-wing policies, we can expect more complaints about the undemocratic nature of the Senate, how unfair it is that Rhode Island or Wyoming has exactly as many Senators as California. Every time they lose, the left wants to change the rules. Somehow they are never concerned about how undemocratic the system is when an unelected judge makes rulings that have the effect of laws or overturns the results of a referendum.

Congressional elections weren’t the only elections this year. There were also 36 gubernatorial elections. The Democrats picked up from 7-9 new governorships this year, depending on how two undecided elections are resolved, changing the balance from 33 Republican governors and 16 Democrats to 27-25 Republicans and 23-25 Democrats. The Republicans had more governorships to defend this year.

Of the 99 state legislatures (Nebraska has a unicameral legislature.) the Republicans held a total of 67 chambers to the Democrats 32 chambers going into the midterms. The Democrats gained control of just seven chambers making the new balance 62-37. The Democrats still have not recovered from the disastrous Obama years in which they were devastated at the state level. Control of the state is more important than most people think. Even in this age of an overactive federal government, a good many of the laws we live under are created at the state level. Also, in many cases, the state legislatures are responsible for determining Congressional districts, or, gerrymandering. The party that controls the state legislatures has a better chance of controlling the House of Representatives.The state legislatures are also where the parties recruit candidates for higher offices. The Democratic losses over the last decade haven’t helped their chances in gaining those higher offices.

So, all in all, the results of the 2018 midterm elections were mixed. The Democrats made some gains, but not as many as they ought to have. They probably would have done better if not for their turn towards left-wing extremism and tolerance of uncivil and even violent behavior. I hope they will learn their lesson and try to behave more responsibly, but they probably won’t.

The Great Tsunami of 2014

November 5, 2014

I expected the Republicans to make some gains yesterday, the opposing party usually does in midterm elections. In my more optimistic moments, I even considered the possibility that there would be a Republican wave. This didn’t seem too unlikely considering the unpopularity of President Obama at the moment. My optimism was tempered by the knowledge that the GOP has an uncanny knack for screwing up elections at the last moment. Still, a wave seemed possible. I never expected what actually happened, a complete rout of the Democrats. This was not just a wave but a tsunami.

Here are some numbers. The Republicans gained at least seven seats in the Senate gaining the majority. Previously, the Democrats held 55 seats to the Republican’s 45 but now the ratio is 52 Republicans and  45 Democrats. The race in Alaska has not been called yet and there will have to be a runoff in Louisiana. Also, in Virginia Democratic Senator Mark Warner has apparently won reelection in a close race but his opponent Ed Gillespie has not conceded and there may be a recount. There is then the possibility of the Republicans picking up three more seats in the Senate.  In the House of Representatives the Republicans  gained 12 seats expanding their majority from 233 Republicans to 199 Democrats to 244 Republicans to 180 Democrats. This is the largest majority the Republicans have had in the House of Representatives since 1946.

 

On the state level, the Republicans have increased the number of Republican governors by two. Previously there were 29 Republican governors and 21 Democrats. Now there will be 31 Republicans and 17 Democrats. The Republicans made impressive gains in state legislatures. Of the 98 chambers, two per state (except for Nebraska which has a non-partisan and unicameral legislature), the Republicans controlled 59. Now they will control 67 chambers and in no fewer than 24 states the Republicans will control both the state legislature and the Governor’s mansion. This is the best they have done since the 1920s.Winning control of  state governments is even more significant than the federal government since most of the real “action” in law making still takes place at the state level. The national media, based in New York and Washington tends to over emphasise the importance of Washington D C and does a real disservice by tending to neglect the actions of state governments.

Mere numbers don’t tell the whole story. The Republicans made serious inroads into what should have been safe Democratic territory. There are new Republican governors in Illinois, Massachusetts and Maryland. All of Arkansas’s seats in the House of Representatives are held by  Republicans for the first time in 141 years. There seem to be more Black Republicans this year. Mia Love from Utah was the first Black Republican woman in the House and Tim Scott was the first Black  from South Carolina to be elected to the Senate since the Reconstruction era. Also from South Carolina, the Indian Republican Nicki Haley was reelected. Republicans also made gains with the Hispanic vote. Perhaps the idea that the Republican Party is doomed to irrelevance because of demographics should be reexamined.Need I remind the reader that Alan West, Ben Carson and Ted Cruz are all Republican heroes despite not being White?

Well it was an amazing election, perhaps even a historical one, but I hope the Republicans don’t blow it over the next two years. They should keep in mind that 2016 could be just as bad for them as 2014 was good. In the meantime, while gloating is unseemly and I certainly shouldn’t do it, I hope I can be forgiven for enjoying what is best in life, just a little.

 

There was a lot of lamentation of Democratic women, and men, last night.

Stealing Kerry’s Seat

June 17, 2013

There is a special election coming up next week in Massachusetts for the Senate seat vacated by John Kerry when he became Secretary of State. The Democrats seem to be a bit worried since the polls are showing that the race is likely to be a close one.

BREAKING: With Markey (D) 45, Gomez (R) 44 in GOP poll, Tea Party launches $700,000 ad storm. FIGHT BACK >>

Friend — Karl Rove must think that he can steal John Kerry’s Senate seat at the last second:
With EIGHT DAYS until the election and a terrifying GOP poll showing the race neck-and-neck — Markey (D) 45, Gomez (R) 44 — a Rove-linked Tea Party Super PAC has made a game-changing $700,000 ad buy in Massachusetts.

We can’t let Rove do this to President Obama. If we lose seats like this one, Mitch McConnell will be one huge step closer to completely obstructing every sensible gun law, repealing Obamacare, and ruining Medicare.

It will take $150,000 in the next 24 hours to protect the President’s agenda and stop Karl Rove from stealing this seat and others like it. The President needs you — can you help?

I was not aware that the seat belonged to Kerry or the Democrats. I was under the impression that Senators were elected by the people of their state. In any event the Democrats have little to worry about. as far as anyone can tell, the two men have exactly the same position on issues.

The Imperial Senate Has Been Dissolved

June 15, 2012
Official photographic portrait of US President...

The Emperor

We just received word from our Emperor Barack I

Well, not just yet, but apparently Barak Obama has decided that the Executive Branch doesn’t just enforce the laws, but can make laws too. Since that is the case, we don’t really need Congress anymore. Obviously, I am talking about his decision to unilaterally cease enforcing immigration laws. Here are some details from the AP.

President Barack Obama suddenly eased enforcement of the nation’s immigration laws Friday, an extraordinary step offering a chance for hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants to stay in the country and work. Embraced by Hispanics, his action touched off an election-year confrontation with many Republicans.

Mitt Romney, Obama’s GOP election foe, criticized the step but did not say he would try to overturn it if elected.

Obama said the change would become effective immediately to “lift the shadow of deportation from these young people.”

“Let’s be clear, this is not amnesty, this is not immunity, this is not a path to citizenship, this is not a permanent fix,” Obama said from the White House Rose Garden. “This is the right thing to do.”

The administration said the change will affect as many as 800,000 immigrants who have lived in fear of deportation. It bypasses Congress and partially achieves the goals of the “DREAM Act,” legislation that would have provided a pathway to citizenship for young illegal immigrants who went to college or served in the military.

Under the administration plan, illegal immigrants will be able to avoid deportation if they can prove they were brought to the United States before they turned 16 and are younger than 30, have been in the country for at least five continuous years, have no criminal history, graduated from a U.S. high school or earned a GED or served in the military. They also can apply for a work permit that will be good for two years with no limits on how many times it can be renewed.

Maybe it is the right thing to do. I am sure that Barack Obama can make a good argument for allowing these immigrants to remain in the United States. Nevertheless, this is the wrong way to go about it. We do not live in a country ruled by an autocrat who makes laws by decree. We live, or are supposing to be living, in a constitutional republic in which the laws are made by the representatives of the people and even the President lives under the rule of law. Obama should have introduced legislation into Congress to make whatever necessary changes in immigration law he felt was necessary and then lobbied hard for that legislation. Maybe he could have gotten it passed, maybe not.

I am not arguing for or against the merits of Obama’s decision. I think it might well be the right thing to do. And, if someone, whatever his legal status, has served in our military, he surely deserves citizenship as a reward.  I do object to the manner in which this has been done. I am afraid that this is part of our nation’s descent into outright despotism. It may be not too long in the future that the Republic will fall.

Mourdock for Senate

April 19, 2012
Official photo of Senator Dick Lugar (R-IN).

Official photo of Senator Dick Lugar (R-IN). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The editors of the National Review Online have decide to endorse Richard Mourdock in his campaign for Senate against Richard Lugar in the Indiana Republican primary.

One need not support formal term limits to recognize the existence of informal ones, and the tightening polls in the Indiana Senate Republican primary suggest voters there may be starting to think Senator Richard Lugar has been in Washington long enough.

The conventional wisdom has been that the six-term incumbent Lugar is a safer general-election bet than his opponent, state treasurer Richard Mourdock. But the primary has heretofore shown Lugar to be out of touch with Hoosiers, an institutionalized Capitol Hiller who for a spell was ruled ineligible to vote in his own primary after a local board determined he hadn’t owned a home in Indiana in three decades. Though a subsequent ruling allowed Lugar to claim a family farm as a residence, the die is cast. Lugar has become a carpetbagger in his own state.

By contrast, the low-key Mourdock’s mantra has been “capable, competent, and conservative,” a line he used last week after a fine performance in his sole debate with Lugar, and one that could describe our impression of the man after he met with National Review editors recently. Mourdock is popular in Indiana, having won reelection as state treasurer with 63 percent of the vote, and has impressed the grassroots, securing endorsements from a number of Tea Party groups and delivering a strong speech at CPAC. Like so many who have seen the light, Mourdock became a conservative in the age of Reagan; he is a successful oil geologist whose growing interest in thinkers such as Milton Friedman led him to run for Congress and eventually win county and statewide office. As treasurer, Mourdock has shown himself to be both fiscally prudent and possessed of a certain fighting spirit, most prominently when he (unsuccessfully) sued to recover $6 million the state’s pension funds had lost when the Obama administration’s auto bailouts arbitrarily rewrote a century of bankruptcy law.

 

The debate between Mourdock and Lugar showed that latter still has the reflexes for the kind of homer politics that goes under the name “constituent services”; he assured the audience, for instance, that he is “thinking about corn and soybean prices every day.” But after 36 years in the Senate, Mr. Lugar evinces a political philosophy so subtle that in unfavorable light it scarcely seems to exist at all. Whether it is his limp defense of ethanol subsidies (which Mourdock opposes), his cold praise of the “scholarly” Ryan plan, or his seeming unfamiliarity with his own voting record on Social Security, Lugar cut the figure of a man grown more accustomed to the backslapping of the cloakroom than to the candid back and forth of the town hall. Even on foreign policy, where he is often praised as a statesman, Lugar lacks his opponent’s clarity on the United States’ role in the world. His opposition to the surge in Iraq was poorly thought out and, ultimately, wrong, and he was a champion of the New START treaty, which was a gift to Russia.

Lugar is a decent man who has in the past been more reliable than not on a number of important conservative issues. Arlen Specter he is not. But we can do better. Mr. Mourdock strikes us, for instance, as a man who would not cast votes, as Lugar did, to confirm Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. Nor would he co-sponsor the DREAM Act, support the auto bailouts, or oppose the Vitter amendment to limit taxpayer-funded abortion, as Lugar did and does.

For these reasons we support Mr. Mourdock in the Indiana Republican primary. We think he will make a strong candidate and a good United States senator. After Lugar’s long career in Washington, Hoosiers deserve new blood and Lugar deserves a happy retirement and a gold watch. We’d be happy to spring for one.

I am glad to see this. Richard Lugar is a good man and an able public servant and no hint of scandal has ever been associated with him. Indiana should be proud to have had him as our Senator. Still, he is eighty years old and has been in the Senate for thirty-six years. No one can stay in Washington for that long without becoming out of tough with the people back home. It is a continual source of frustration for Conservatives that the people we elect to serve us become steadily more acclimated to the Washington culture and drift leftwards. Lugar is not as bad as many, but I think it is time for him to step down.

 

SOPA Shelved, for Now

January 15, 2012

Here is a bit of good news from The Hill.

House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said early Saturday morning that Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) promised him the House will not vote on the controversial Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) unless there is consensus on the bill.

“While I remain concerned about Senate action on the Protect IP Act, I am confident that flawed legislation will not be taken up by this House,” Issa said in a statement.  “Majority Leader Cantor has assured me that we will continue to work to address outstanding concerns and work to build consensus prior to any anti-piracy legislation coming before the House for a vote.”

The announcement comes just hours after Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas), SOPA’s sponsor, made a major concession to the bill’s critics by agreeing to drop a controversial provision that would have required Internet service providers to block infringing websites.

This isn’t the end. They are probably planning to push through similar legislation in a year or so, when the public’s attention is diverted elsewhere. So, everyone who wants the Internet to remain free of censorship will have to stay vigilant.

Here is some more information on just what SOPA and related bills are designed to do.

 

 


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