“What would it take for the you to support the impeachment of this president?”
“As a U.S. senator,” Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, replied, “what I would do is follow the Constitution and if there was an articles of impeachment that originated in the House that came to U.S. Senate … I would obviously take that very very seriously.”
That wasn’t Senator Sullivan speaking. It was Candidate Sullivan, replying to candidate Joe Miller who argued President Barack Obama should be impeached during a debate in August 2104.
I was reminded of that exchange last week when Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson posed a similar question. “If the impeachment clause of the Constitution wasn’t written for a president like Trump, then why is it there?” he asked the day after Special Counsel Robert Mueller restated that he had not exonerated Trump on the question of obstruction of justice.
Miller wasn’t out on a lonely ledge five years ago. Two years before that, a Republican in the House introduced a resolution that referred to Obama’s drone attacks Afghanistan and Pakistan as impeachable offenses.
That attempt to remove a president from office didn’t go any further than the 35 articles of impeachment submitted by two Democratic congressmen in 2008. Among their charges against President George W. Bush was his justification and decision to invade Iraq and secretly authorizing the torture of enemy combatants.
According to CNN/ORC International polling, both of those calls for impeachment had the support of about a third of the American public. And almost half believed both Obama and Bush had gone too far in expanding the power of the presidency.
With those figures as a baseline, Trump really isn’t doing much worse. But what they really suggest is that in our divisive times, a third of the Americans will continue to believe impeaching the president will fix what’s wrong with our country.
The Founders would be dismayed that there’s been such a constant chatter about such a serious matter. Of course, they couldn’t have anticipated the modern communications systems which make that possible.
But what they didn’t foresee that would trouble them much more is how Congress has willfully acquiesced power to the presidency.
Last week I wrote about how they’ve failed to uphold their war powers responsibilities. To that I can add trade, presidential signing statements and appropriations.
The Constitution delegates to Congress the sole authority “to regulate commerce with foreign nations.” But about 85 years ago, they began passing legislation transferring some of the trade responsibility to the president. Hence, Trump was free to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from Canada other allies as well as on billions of dollars of Chinese imports.
Congress has mostly ignored hundreds of presidential signing statements that express disagreement with their legislative direction. Trump has already signed more than Obama. But few have been as egregious as the 95 Bush signed implying that he wouldn’t execute selected sections of laws passed by Congress because they didn’t conform to his interpretation of the president’s constitutional power.
And now Congress is even sacrificing its cherished “power of the purse” to partisan gaming.
In 2014, while Democrats looked the other way, House Republicans sued Obama for spending $175 billion on Obamacare without congressional approval. And this year, after most Republicans allowed Trump to get away with redirecting appropriated funds so he could build the wall on the southern border, House Democrats took him to court.
Although in this case, stating that “Congress has several political arrows in its quiver to counter perceived threats to its sphere of power,” the judge denied the House had standing to sue the president.
Regardless, it’s hypocritical for Congress to complain about presidential power grabs after they’ve given so much of it away. And what’s even worse when either party deems it’s acceptable only when the occupant in the White House is one of theirs.
That’s part of the barrier to impeaching Trump. It’ll be seen as a partisan attack just like it was when President Bill Clinton was actually impeached. And when articles were drawn up against Bush and Obama.
But the other problem is Congress itself. America’s government isn’t functioning as intended because they broke it. And without significant bipartisan support, they’ll fail again at impeaching the president.
• Rich Moniak is a Juneau resident and retired civil engineer with more than 25 years of experience working in the public sector. He contributes a weekly “My Turn” to the Juneau Empire.