President Trump is the third president in American history to be impeached by the House of Representatives, the others being Andrew Johnson (1868) and Bill Clinton. (Nixon would have been impeached, but he resigned first.) Given the relative rarity of such a situation, it surely qualifies as “historic.”
Some may be surprised that the Senate trial that began on Jan. 21, presided over by Chief Justice John Roberts, appears to moving towards an expeditious acquittal – possibly by Friday (Jan. 31). That’s the current outlook, however, and in our opinion rightly so. Discussion follows. Impeachment gambit – latest debate – path forward.
A. Impeachment gambit -There never was any reason to expect that the pending impeachment proceedings on Capitol Hill would result in the president’s removal from office. Evidence of extraordinary presidential misconduct was unconvincing, opinions about the matter were essentially aligned with party affiliation, and there was reason to suspect misconduct on the part of some key players on the other side.
While House Democrats had the votes to pass articles of impeachment, a 2/3 majority vote to remove the president from office seemed unlikely in the Senate. And reducing the constitutional remedy of impeachment to a routine political weapon didn’t bode well for the health of the US political system, which basically depends on political adversaries being willing to accept the results of elections versus waging endless political wars. Who’s the biggest liar in the land? 11/16/19.
Message for House Democrats: This impeachment effort should never have been started, and it should be ended now.
SAFE’s comments notwithstanding, House Democrats rushed to pass two articles of impeachment (abuse of power; obstruction of Congress) in December based primarily on the testimony of witnesses who lacked first-hand knowledge of the president’s role in the temporary delay of military aid funds for Ukraine. It was asserted that the need for action was too urgent to rely on the issuance of subpoenas and judicial enforcement thereof (following consideration of executive privilege claims).
After several weeks of stalling, the articles of impeachment were delivered to the Senate and trial began on Jan. 21. The House impeachment managers (all Democrats) have now presented their case – subject to consideration of their currently tabled demands for witnesses and documents that weren’t obtained during the House proceedings – in the course of 24 hours spread over three days.
These sessions were lengthy and tedious. Rehash of House evidence in greater detail than anyone really wanted to hear – no alternation in statements, i.e., the House Democrats presented their entire case and now the other will have equal time to do likewise – no real surprises, no cell phones allowed in the Senate chamber to afford senators some relief from listening to the evidence and arguments being presented (with a considerable amount of repetition). Impeachment diary day 3: Make it stop, Mark Davis, townhall.com, 1/24/20.
Who crafted these rules? Who thought it was a good idea to let the House managers just go and go and go and then hand it to the President’s defense team to do the same? [The person primarily responsible, of course, is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.]
This is not how formal debate works. This is not how courtrooms work. Even diehard Democrats and political junkies are feeling a tranquilizer dart to the neck as we slog through three days of Orange Man Bad.
The president’s legal team gave an opening statement on Jan. 25, which ran about two hours, and everyone got the rest of the weekend off. Supporters of the president liked what the team members had to say, and all concerned probably appreciated their brevity. Relieved Republicans welcome Trump defense, Byron York, Washington Examiner, 1/26/20.
On Saturday, the Trump defense team seemed to find the right balance. "The tone was right, the demeanor was right, the delivery was right," said one Republican senator. "They deconstructed the Democrats' arguments in a respectful way, very appropriate for the Senate chamber. It wasn't like Jerry Nadler standing there calling all of us liars."
The defense will resume today, and probably wrap up by Tuesday afternoon. After that, there will be two days for Senate member questions on the evidence that has been presented, an opportunity to revisit requests for additional evidence, and potentially a vote to convict the president (and remove him from office) or acquit him by Jan. 31. All voting is by a simple majority except that a supermajority (2/3) vote of the Senate would be required for conviction.
Senators serving as “jurors” are a captive audience, but Americans can tune in or not as they see fit. Viewership on the first day was respectable. Trump’s impeachment trial draws 11 million viewers on Day One, Mark Joyella, forbes.com, 1/22/20.
It would probably be a safe bet, however, that viewership fell off sharply after Day One. So much for the notion that Americans are raptly following the proceedings and may change their minds, one way or the other, based on what they observe.
If the Senate trial was expanded to consider additional documents and witnesses, the effects would be unpredictable. A major player like former Director of National Security John Bolton could offer a clearer understanding of how the Ukraine situation unfolded than witnesses who had never even met the president let alone discussed this matter with him. And who knows what revelations might come to light if thousands of pages of additional documents were turned over?
One of the standard Democratic talking points is that the Senate should conduct a “fair trial,” meaning that their party’s demands for more evidence should be granted. Many people agree. Poll: Let them speak: Most Americans want witnesses, Chris Kahn, Reuters, 1/22/20. But do they have a clear understanding of the situation, or are they simply giving what they take to be the politically correct answer?
If more witness were to be allowed for Democrats, why not allow more witnesses for the president as well? Thus, a John Bolton for Hunter Biden trade has been suggested, which might liven things up a bit. However, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and others assert that Hunter Biden’s testimony would be irrelevant (no matter that it might undercut the argument that the president had no legitimate concern about corruption in Ukraine).
More importantly, opening the floodgates to more witnesses and documents would greatly expand the scope and complexity of the Senate trial, effectively giving House Democrats a pass for their slipshod handling of the investigation. If Americans are tired of the Senate trial after just a week, think how they’ll feel if it’s still going in April.
The president and his administration has been under investigation ever since he won the 2016 election. How much longer should this be allowed to continue? And can respectable grounds for acquittal be established at that point? Our suggested answers would be “one week” and “yes.”
No need to take SAFE’s word for it either, consider a 14-page letter from the attorney generals of 21 states (admittedly all Republicans, but this issue has been so thoroughly polarized that one can’t expect it to be resolved on a bipartisan basis) to the members of the US Senate. 21 attorney generals send letter to Senate blasting “ruinous” impeachment, Carmine Sabia, westernjournal.com, 1/22/20.
The Democrat-controlled House passing of these constitutionally-deficient articles of impeachment amounts, at bottom, to a partisan political effort that undermines the democratic process itself.
Even an unsuccessful effort to impeach the President undermines the integrity of the 2020 presidential election because it weaponizes a process that should only be initiated in exceedingly rare circumstances and should never be used for partisan purposes.
B. Latest debate – With a presidential election plus congressional elections coming up in November, a bevy of candidates are vying for the Democratic nomination. There have already been seven Democratic primary debates, the most recent of which was at Drake University (Des Moines, IA) on Jan. 14. Transcript, Des Moines Register, 1/15/20.
Six candidates made the cut (based on polling plus campaign contributions) for Debate 7: Tom Steyer – Pete Buttigieg – Elizabeth Warren – Joe Biden – Bernie Sanders – Amy Klobuchar. Another candidate who was not on stage, billionaire and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, is considered a serious contender.
As in prior debates, most of the Democratic challengers trashed the current president and supported the pending impeachment proceedings. They also expressed dire views of the nation’s future, which could only be improved – it seems – by electing one of them as president.
“Donald Trump is taking us pell-mell toward another war” (Biden) – in the richest country in the history of the world, half of the population is living paycheck to paycheck (Sanders) – I’ve got a plan to ensure that 36 million Americans don’t have to choose between buying the medicine they need and buying groceries, and it won’t cost middle class taxpayers “one thin dime” (Warren) – on day one, I would declare a national emergency on climate change (Steyer) - when Donald Trump starts talking tough about the military, he'll have to “explain how [his] pretended bone spurs made him ineligible to serve” (Buttigieg) – a plant in Crawfordville, IA had been shut down (one worker left) due to “Donald Trump’s trade policies” and “giving secret waivers to oil companies and ruining the renewable fuel standard” (Klobuchar).
Such policy proposals as have been offered typically involve expanding government programs (other than defense) and covering the added cost by raising taxes (primarily on billionaires & big corporations) or borrowing.
SAFE has repeatedly maintained that balancing the budget should be the top issue of the 2020 elections, and to that end we suggested a line of questioning on fiscal responsibility for the debate. E-mail to Jarad Bernstein, Drake University Director of Communications, 1/13/20.
•Do you agree that trillion dollar deficits and soaring debt are unsustainable?
•If so, would you support a plan to balance the budget if you were elected president?
•What steps would be involved, whose support would be required, and how long would it take?
The moderators didn’t ask our questions in the debate, but there were several references to covering the cost of government aimed primarily at Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Page 24: ABBY PHILLIP (CNN): Vice President Biden, does Sen. Sanders owe voters a price tag on his healthcare plan?
BIDEN: I think we need to be candid with voters. I think we have to tell them what we're going to do and what it's going to cost. And a 4 percent tax on income over $24,000 doesn't even come close to paying for between $30 trillion, and some estimates as high as $40 trillion over 10 years. That's doubling the entire federal budget per year. *** [My healthcare plan – Obamacare with a public option] costs $740 billion over 10 years. I lay out how I'd pay for that.
Page 27: ABBY PHILLIP (CNN): Sen. Sanders, your campaign proposals would double federal spending over the next decade, an unprecedented level of spending not seen since War II. How would you keep your plans from bankrupting the country?
SANDERS: No, our plan wouldn't bankrupt the country. And, in fact, it would much improve the well-being of working-class families and the middle class. Let us be clear what Medicare for all does. It ends all premiums. It ends all copayments. It ends the absurdity of deductibles. It ends out-of-pocket expenses. It takes on the pharmaceutical industry, which in some cases charges us 10 times more for the same prescription drugs sold abroad as sold here.
What we will do through a Medicare for all single-payer program is substantially lower the cost of health care for employers and workers, because we end the $100 billion a year that the health care industry makes and the $500 billion a year we spend in administrative — the administrative nightmare of dealing with thousands of separate insurance plans.
Page 28: KLOBUCHAR: And, yes, I think you should show how you're going to pay for things, Bernie. I do. This president is treating people out there like poker chips in one of his bankrupt casinos the way he is adding to our debt.
I am the one person up here who has on her website in her plan a plan to actually start taking on the deficit, by taking part of that money from [repealing?] that corporate tax cut that they put in there and putting it in a fund to pay back [reduce?] the deficit.
Page 29: PETE BUTTIGIEG: . . . my [healthcare] plan is paid for. Look, our party should no longer hesitate to talk about the issue of the debt and the deficit. Now, we've got a dramatically better track record on it than Republicans do. In my lifetime, it's almost invariably Republican presidents [what about Obama?] who have added to the deficit, a trillion dollars under this president. And it's why everything I've put forward — from Medicare for all who want it to the historic investments we're going to make in infrastructure to dealing with climate change — is fully paid for.
Page 37: WARREN: If he [Pete Buttigieg] wants to send his kid to public university, then I'm OK with that, because what we really need to talk about is the bigger economic picture here. We need to be willing to put a wealth tax in place, to ask those giant corporations that are not paying to pay, because that's how we build an economy and, for those who want to talk about it [!], bring down [repay?] the national debt.
C. Democratic Primary – The oldest candidate in the presidential race (Bernie Sanders) has been gaining ground of late. Recent polls show the self-identified Democratic Socialist leading by 9 points in New Hampshire and 7 points in Iowa (caucuses). David Sherfinski, Washington Times, 1/26/20.
Some party leaders are reportedly concerned about the prospect of Sanders as the Democratic nominee, including former President Barack Obama, and it’s possible that their opposition will be expressed publicly at some point. Obama may rebuke Sanders publicly, Charles Gasparino & Lydia Moynihan, foxnews.com, 1/23/20.
Joe Biden is still at the top of the national polls, however, and he has stepped up his Iowa campaigning in hopes of outperforming expectations. Also, Obama has never seemed particularly interested in endorsing Biden’s candidacy. And if Biden did falter, Michael Bloomberg with his limitless supply of campaign funds might prove a stronger candidate than either Sanders or Elizabeth Warren.
It certainly wouldn’t enhance Biden’s chances in the presidential race to have his previous activities in Ukraine (withholding defense funding while serving as US vice president in 2016 unless a Ukraine prosecutor was fired) become an issue in the Senate impeachment trial. This may help explain why support for more witnesses in the Senate impeachment trial seems to be waning; denial of this request would help our political leaders to defuse the current standoff and get back to a normal political campaign.