The Constitution allows impeachment of the chief executive as a protection against major misconduct. No constitutional expert believes that impeachment was intended to be a partisan weapon.
And yet impeachment is now becoming a partisan weapon. Perhaps we should find an openly political alternative, preserving impeachment for rare but grave situations.
A small group of Republicans in the House of Representatives has been obsessed with impeaching President Joe Biden practically from the beginning of his administration. They have been trying frantically to find something to charge him with, but have so far come up short.
Under pressure from this group, and without getting a House vote to support this move, Speaker Kevin McCarthy has now authorized an "impeachment inquiry."
Former president Donald Trump openly considers such a move to be political revenge for the two times he was impeached by the House. "Either IMPEACH the BUM, or fade into OBLIVION," he posted on his social media site. "THEY DID IT TO US!"
At least when the House looked into impeaching Donald Trump plenty of possible charges against him were already on the table, and at the second Senate trial a majority of the senators, including seven members of his own party, voted to convict. However, the vote fell short of the 67 votes required to convict.
Trump argued that conviction on his impeachment would overturn the results of the 2016 election, but he seems to have no inclination to apply this "principle" to absolve Joe Biden for whatever misdeeds House Republicans can scrape up.
As we have seen all too often, in politics people often invoke principles in an unprincipled way. As Groucho Marx sarcastically said, "These are my principles. If you don't like them, well, I have others."
In any event, if Trump had been convicted it would not have overturned the results of the 2016 election, since Mike Pence, his running mate in that election, would have become president.
The Founding Fathers were perfectly aware that if a president were to be convicted on an impeachment it would remove someone who had been duly elected. A major purpose of impeachment was to avoid having to wait until the next election to get rid of a serious problem.
It would be extremely difficult to amend the Constitution to prevent partisan exploitation of the impeachment clause. But it might be possible to establish a norm that presidential impeachments must be initiated by the president's own party and must be bipartisan.
The closest we have come to observing this norm came during Watergate. Richard Nixon resigned when it became clear that the House was going to impeach him and he was assured by senators from his own party that he would be convicted. Such a conviction would have required many Republican senators to vote for it, and a number of them were prepared to do this.
Constitutional amendments are politically impossible without bipartisan support. One that might have a chance of passing would allow recalling a president. This rarely used procedure is already available for ousting governors in 20 states.
Recall would allow removal of a president before his or her term is up and, unlike impeachment, would not require allegations of criminal or immoral behavior.
Of course if we could recall presidents this option too might be abused and overused. But at least, unlike impeachment, it would not tie up congressional attention. So maybe Congress could focus on its own business — legislating, enacting budgets, etc.
Recall is done by a special election, called when a certain percentage of the electorate signs recall petitions. Since it is itself an election, it would avoid arguments like the "don't reverse an election" claims.
Availability of recall might head off attempts to exploit impeachment for partisan purposes, allowing impeachment to remain as an extreme, rare, and bipartisan remedy when nothing else will do.
Paul F. deLespinasse is Professor Emeritus of Political Science and Computer Science at Adrian College. He received his Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University in 1966, and has been a National Merit Scholar, an NDEA Fellow, a Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and a Fellow in Law and Political Science at the Harvard Law School. His college textbook, "Thinking About Politics: American Government in Associational Perspective," was published in 1981. His most recent book is "The Case of the Racist Choir Conductor: Struggling With America's Original Sin." His columns have appeared in newspapers in Michigan, Oregon, and other states. Read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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