Monday, January 16, 2017

Impeachment? Probably Not!

I’ve written before about the possibility that Trump might resign after inauguration, perhaps out of frustration with the impossibility of ruling by fiat or of silencing his critics. My own opinion is that impeachment is another real possibility, but probably not very likely.

If impeachment were to happen, it would come from the Republican party, since Democrats just don’t have enough votes in the House or Senate. The first question, then, is whether or not the GOP would take such a step against a president who is, even if only theoretically, their own. The clear answer to this question is a resounding “yes.” The party accepted Trump’s candidacy because it had no one else who could win, and faced big losses in the House and Senate if no presidential coattails could be provided upon which other candidates could ride. But the unmanageable Trump is hardly a tried and true Republican. The moment he is inaugurated, he becomes more of a liability than an asset to the party, which would be far better off with the more predictable and controllable Mike Pence in the Oval Office.

Could the GOP find grounds for impeachment? That seems inevitable. As was demonstrated by the impeachment of Bill Clinton, the charges don’t have to be especially serious or even germane to the duties of the presidency. They just have to be marketable to the public. With Trump, it seems almost certain some such conflicts will occur, and quite early in his administration. Between large and complex business dealings, a stated intent to overstep the powers of the office, and an affection for foreign influence, it will be hard for him to avoid breaking the rules in important ways.

If it seems likely that the Republican party would want to remove Trump and would have the necessary charges, what could get in the way? It seems to me there are two major stumbling blocks, and the first of these is the simple fact that Trump would likely play hardball. Admittedly, he’s out of his element when it comes to Washington politics, but he is nothing if not a street brawler, and it is easy to imagine him deciding to take as many Republican officials down with him as he can. This, too, was demonstrated during the impeachment of Bill Clinton, so there is real cause for caution here. The party might have to be willing to sacrifice a few of its own players to get rid of Trump, meaning that they’ll have to perceive the net gain as worth those losses.

The second and more serious stumbling block is that Republicans would have to cooperate with Democrats to remove Trump from office, complicating the matter greatly. Republicans have a majority in the House, so impeachment (bringing charges) would be easy. But conviction and removal requires a two-thirds majority in the Senate, and with 52 seats out of 100, Republicans just can’t do it alone. Assuming all Republican Senators would vote to convict, they’d still need 14 Democratic votes to make the minimum of 66. Alternatively, Republicans could try to persuade a sufficient number of Democratic senators to be absent when the vote is taken, so that their 52 Republican votes, or whatever number they actually had, added up to the necessary two-thirds (the two-thirds is calculated from the number of senators present for the vote, not the total number of 100).

This places Democratic senators in a difficult position. On the one hand, why would a Democratic senator NOT vote to convict Trump, if Republicans provided the opportunity to do so? But Republicans impeaching a Republican president might be a mess worth staying out of. Removing Trump will do nothing to change Republican control of the House and Senate, and would make Mike Pence president. Democrats realize no real gain by cooperating with Republicans on this.

A fully theatrical impeachment such as the that of Bill Clinton is feasible when one party goes after the other party’s President with no real intent to convict. Republicans prosecuting a Republican President would be a far more serious matter. They’d have to be very certain they can get the votes to convict before even calling for votes to impeach. The future is not predictable, but I suspect the difficulties described here will make it far less likely that an impeachment of Trump will be attempted.

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