The Corner

Politics & Policy

Impeaching A (Not The) President

Since impeachment talk is in the air this week, I’ll state for the record that I don’t think we are anywhere near the point where it would make sense. But I don’t think it’s crazy to think about under what conditions impeachment ought to be pursued. (I didn’t think it was crazy when Andy McCarthy wrote about it during the Obama presidency, either.) It’s especially important to think about the Constitution’s checks on executive power in our long era of presidential aggrandizement.

My first thought on this is a tentative one: My memory of the last impeachment debate, over Bill Clinton, is that there was no consensus on what constitutes a “high crime and misdemeanor” that justifies the removal of a president. It may be that the meaning of the phrase is something that just has to “be liquidated and ascertained by a series of particular discussions and adjudications,” and that the key question is what a majority of the House and a two-thirds majority of the Senate believe is tolerable in a president. Surely the key protection against a frivolous use of the impeachment power is not the phrase “high crimes and misdemeanors” but rather that procedural bar to its effective use.

My second thought, more firmly held, is that some of the worries Keith Whittington expresses about impeachment in this Lawfare post are exaggerated.

An impeachment without a removal is itself damaging. Congress would be tied up for an extended period of time in the impeachment proceedings. If the president escapes conviction, he would nonetheless be rendered an ineffective lame duck. His domestic agenda would undoubtedly ground to a halt, and his standing in the arena of foreign affairs would be significantly diminished. The political recriminations from pursuing impeachment charges when a conviction could not be obtained would be severe.

Republicans pursued impeachment charges against President Clinton and failed to convince enough senators to remove him from office. Was Clinton really so crippled in 1999 and 2000? He signed some important legislation, such as a financial-deregulation bill and a religious-liberty law. If the Lewinsky scandal had never happened, perhaps he would have achieved more: a deal on Social Security, perhaps. But that was killed by the controversy itself, which both made Clinton dependent on the support of the left wing of his party and made Republicans more averse to big deals with him. There wasn’t going to be any such deal after January 1998, when the story broke; the possibility was long dead by that fall, when the House took up articles of impeachment. Clinton wasn’t especially diminished in foreign policy, either. The NATO bombing campaign in Kosovo started after the Senate vote on his removal, and as far as I know there was nothing more he wanted to do that his scandal-diminished political standing kept him from doing. And the recriminations over an impeachment that failed to result in acquittal did not, in fact, dominate the 2000 election.

Were 1999 and 2000 terrible years in American history? I don’t think that’s how most Americans remember them. Impeachment isn’t something for Congress to take lightly. Again, I’m not arguing for impeaching President Trump. I’m arguing against underestimating our country’s resilience.

 

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

Most Popular

Elections

The Democrats’ Disastrous CNN LGBT Town Hall

A few days after Donald Trump committed the worst foreign-policy blunder of his presidency by betraying America’s Kurdish allies in northern Syria, former vice president Joe Biden, the elder statesman and co-frontrunner in the Democratic presidential primary, was on a national stage talking to CNN’s primetime ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Fox News Anchor Shepard Smith Resigns

Fox News Channel's chief anchor, Shepard Smith, announced on air Friday that he would be resigning from his post after 23 years with the network. “This is my last newscast here,” said Smith. “Recently, I asked the company to allow me to leave Fox News. After requesting that I stay, they obliged.” He ... Read More
White House

What Is Impeachment For?

W hat is impeachment for? Seems like a simple question. Constitutionally speaking, it also appears to have a simple answer: to cite and remove from power a president guilty of wrongdoing. Aye, there’s the rub. What sort of wrongdoing warrants removal from power? I’d wager that the flames of ... Read More
Elections

Beto Proposes to Oppress Church with State

Beto O’Rourke’s presidential campaign is within the margin of error of non-existence, but in his failure he has found a purpose: expressing the Democratic id. His latest bid for left-wing love came at a CNN forum on gay rights, where he said that churches that oppose same-sex marriage should have to pay ... Read More
NR Webathon

Don’t Let Michael Mann Succeed

I  enjoyed the running joke of Jarndyce v. Jarndyce in the great Dickens novel Bleak House, back when I first read it. Little did I know that one day I and the magazine that I love would effectively be caught up in a version of that interminable case, courtesy of a litigious climate scientist with zero regard ... Read More