Yesterday, I discussed the possible impeachment of President Bush. The comments that provoked convinced me that a lot of people — especially “ed” — hadn’t the slightest clue about the impeachment process.
Impeachment is an important part of the United States Constitution. It is a key element of the system of checks and balances, and represents Congress’ way of reining in the other two branches. As such, it is an exclusive power of Congress — it may not be interfered with by any other body. No president can veto it, no court can overrule it. (Sorry, ed.)
But commensurate with the power comes its own restrictions. It is not an easy process, by any stretch of the imagination.
The first step is to persuade a majority of the House of Representatives (218) to pass articles of impeachment. (In Clinton’s case, he was impeached on two counts, by votes of 228-206 and 221-212. Two other counts failed.) The Constitution specifies that impeachment can be for “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” Legal scholars pretty much agree that the language is so vague and the power so unfettered that they can impeach for any grounds they see fit — the check on the power is the fact that the entire House and 1/3 of the Senate has to face re-election every two years. Once that hurdle has been passed, then the president is impeached.
But “impeach” is legally analogous to “indicted.” That simply means that there will be a trial, at which guilt or innocence will be determined.
The trial is held by the Senate as a whole. The House appoints “managers” who serve as prosecutors, and the President provides his own defense. The 100 Senators are in effect the “jury,” and the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court presides. But this is like no other trial in the world. The jury establishes all the ground rules of the trial, and at any time can overrule the judge with a simple majority vote. The judge has no authority to dismiss the case, direct a verdict, or do anything without the approval of the Senate as a whole — either tacitly or explicitly. And in the Seanate, it takes a two-thirds majority to convict.
Now, let’s presume the president is convicted. The sole penalty available to be inflicted is removal from office. There can be no fines, no incarceration, no prohibition from seeking public office. A convicted President is simply rendered an ordinary citizen on the spot.
OK, let’s game this out. Suppose John Conyers decides to modfy his motion to censure President Bush and make it a move to impeach. First, he would need to find a co-sponsor — something his censure resolution has failed to do. Then he must persuade 217 other Representatives to side with him. Speaking purely on a political basis, this could be a challenge — The Republicans hold 231 seats, while the Democrats 202 (Vermont’s Bernie Sanders, a socialist, is officially an “independent,” but can usually be counted on to side with the Democrats, and one seat is currently vacant.) He would need to swing at least 15 Republicans to turn against their party’s leader to impeach Bush.
Then, it’s on to the Senate, where it’s even more lopsided. The Republicans there hold 55 seats to the Democrats’ 44 (once again, Vermont has an independent in Jim Jeffords). There the Democrats would have to swing at least 23 Republicans to win a conviction.
Some might say that the fact that the current Chief Justice, John Roberts, was appointed by Bush could help him. As I pointed out above, the role of the Chief Justice in impeachment is extremely curtailed. If there is enough support in the Senate to convict the President, there is nothing the Chief Justice can do.
OK, let’s say that this all happens and President Bush is convicted by the Senate. What happens then?
He goes home to Crawford, Texas and mauls more brush. Or maybe he hits the lecture circuit, or campaigns for his supporters. About the only thing he can’t do is run for president again — and that’s not because of the impeachment but the 22nd Amendment, which says he cannot be elected more than twice.
Back in Washington, though, say hello to President Dick Cheney.
But Dick is just as bad as Dubya, to many of their foes. So let’s impeach him, too. Let’s go all the way back to the beginning and go through the whole rigamarole and remove him from office, too.
Presuming that Cheney doesn’t have time to appoint a new Vice-President (which requires Senate approval), upon his conviction he retires to Wyoming or Texas and is limited to only menacing geriatric lawyers.
Meet President Dennis Hastert, the current Speaker of the House.
OK, so get rid of HIM. That opens the door for Senate President Pro Tempore Ted Stevens to move up. And if you get past Ted, you start running through Cabinet secretaries, starting with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Of the 15 Cabinet officers, 2 are ineligible due to being foreign-born, the Secretary of the Interior will soon be vacant, and the Director of Homeland Security hasn’t had their ranking fixed as yet. The liberals’ only hope is down at slot 14, Transportation Secretary Norm Mineta.
So, my challenge to the Looney Left on impeachment: Bring. It. On. Not only is the attempt doomed to failure, but you will due tremendous damage to your own credibility, standing, and power. Most of the Democrats in Congress know this — look how they’re running from Conyers’ grandstand play on censure. Most responsible adults in this country realize that impeachment is the “really big gun,” a true “nuclear option,” politically, and to whip it out on such spurious, frivolous, and ridiculous grounds is to dilute its power and weaken it for the times it is truly needed. (For the record, I thought Clinton should have been convicted — he truly did lie under oath and obstruct justice for personal benefit. He raised his hand and swore to “tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth,” under penalty of perjury, and then lied knowingly and willingly. Regardless of the context, he lied under oath and was caught, and walked.)
And I can always use some cheap entertainment.