Sunday, December 22, 2019

For "Partisan" Impeachment, Republicans to Blame

       From start to the likely end, the present-day Republicans in Congress have flatly refused to take as serious the impeachment of President Donald Trump for "high crimes and misdemeanors." Instead, to a man and woman, every Republican in Congress is treating this true constitutional crisis as another political wrestling match, with nothing more at stake than one more year of Trump's presidency or the next election.
      Republicans simply deny Trump's proven guilt: his abuse of office by inviting a foreign government's interference in the 2020 election and his obstruction of Congress by refusing to provide information and instructing his aides to refuse to testify.
       To be sure, the three previous presidential impeachments — Andrew Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Bill Clinton — were each partisan in their origins and partisan in the political stakes for both parties. Yet the Nixon impeachment, left incomplete with his resignation, and Clinton's, with its eventual acquittal, both included faint traces of bipartisanship as seen in party line-crossing votes by a handful of House Republicans in 1974 and a few House Democrats in 1998.
      In the Nixon case, newly uncovered information shows that House Republican leaders were seriously considering the possible need to force Nixon from office as early as January 1974. In an article for The Atlantic, presidential historian Tim Naftali details information newly released from diaries of a key House Republican of the Nixon era, New York's Barber Conable.
      Naftali recalls that in the wake of Nixon's "Saturday Night Massacre" in October 1973, House Republicans joined with the Democratic majority in supporting an impeachment inquiry and, in contrast to the Trump-era Republicans, made no effort to thwart or stymie the inquiry. The vote to open the inquiry on February 6, 1974, was not merely bipartisan but, at 410-4, just short of unanimous.
      Conable's diary entries include his description of an overture from the House Republican leader, Arizona's John Rhodes, asking whether Conable,  then the fourth-ranking House GOP leader, would be open to demanding Nixon's resignation if the evidence warranted such a drastic step. Conable recalled in his diary that he agreed to Rhodes' request. “I said to him,” Conable wrote in the diary,  “that if he was asking me if I would be willing to stand up and be counted among those who would go to the President and demand such a resignation, that he could count on me.”
       When the House Judiciary Committee eventually drafted articles of impeachment against Nixon, several House Republicans in fact put constitutional law-and-order ahead of partisanship. Six Republicans voted on July 27, 1974, in favor of Article I (obstruction of justice), seven in favor of Article II two days later, (abuse of power), and two in favor of Article III on July 30 (contempt of Congress).
       Even earlier, the Senate's Republican leader, Pennsylvania's Hugh Scott, had turned on Nixon after realizing that Nixon had duped him by sharing a heavily edited transcript of Nixon's damning conversation with his principal accuser, the former White House counsel John Dean. Today, no Republican in Congress has been heard to object to Trump's analogous effort to protect himself by squirreling away the full transcript of his July 25 telephone call with the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky.
       With the full extent of Nixon's criminality finally disclosed, Scott, Rhodes, and Arizona's Barry Goldwater went to the White House to tell Nixon directly that he faced certain impeachment in the House and certain conviction in an eventual Senate trial. Nixon, in an act of self-sacrifice unimaginable from Trump, decided on the night of Aug. 8 to resign and spare the country further turmoil. He even expressed a measure of contrition — a step also unimaginable from Trump.
       With the House under GOP control a quarter century later, congressional Democrats took Clinton's conduct seriously enough for 31 Democratic representatives to join in the House's 258-176 vote on Oct. 8, 1998, to initiate an impeachment inquiry. In the House Judiciary Committee two months later, five Democrats voted for three of the four articles of impeachment against Clinton. In the present-day impeachment, however, no Republican voted in favor of initiating the impeachment inquiry against Trump or in favor of impeachment in the Judiciary Committee or on the House floor.
      T he Senate's two party leaders at the time of the Clinton impeachment, Mississippi's Trent Lott for the Republicans and South Dakota's Tom Daschle for the Democrats, worked collegially and cooperatively to develop agreed-to rules for the Senate trials. By contrast, the present-day Senate Republican leader, Kentucky's Mitch McConnell, is spurning any and all suggestions from his Democratic counterpart, New York's Chuck Schumer.
       McConnell goes even further in raw partisanship by disclaiming any pretense of impartiality even though the oath he must take in an eventual Senate trial requires a promise to "do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws, so help me God." By week's end, the course of future events was uncertain as the Democrats' speaker of the House, California's Nancy Pelosi, was delaying the formal submission of the articles of impeachment to the Senate while pressuring McConnell, with no luck so far, to call witnesses for the Senate trial, as was done in the Clinton impeachment.
       A lone voice for constitutional principle over partisanship emerged by week's end, however, in the form of an op-ed by Arizona's former Republican senator, Jeff Flake, urging his former colleagues to stop echoing the House Republicans in wrongly claiming that Trump has done nothing wrong. "If there ever was a time to put country over party, it is now," Flake wrote in the  article, published in The Washington Post [Dec. 20]. As Trump is wont to say, "We'll see what happens."

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