Wednesday, October 09, 2019


     Apparently, some people slept though Civics/U.S. Government class.  Apparently, some people missed out on the impeachment of President William J. Clinton and the attempted impeachments of Presidents Richard M. Nixon, George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

     So let's take it by the numbers:

     0. An impeachment is not a conviction.
     An "impeachment" is precisely analogous to an "indictment."  Neither indicates guilt, only that sufficient evidence has been presented to justify a trial.  President Andrew Johnson was straight-up impeached, missed being found guilty by one (1) vote, and served the remainder of his term.

     1. What constitutes an impeachable offense?
     The U. S. Constitution says "high crimes and misdemeanors."  A "high crime" is one that you are only enabled to commit by being an office holder -- a Federal judge who takes a bribe to throw a case has committed an impeachable offense, but if you slip a bum a five dollar bill to commit perjury for you, that's just a regular crime.  A "misdemeanor?"  It really is what it sounds like, a petty crime, though presumably also modified by "high."  Yes, one might attempt to impeach a President for jaywalking, especially if he had the Secret Service stop traffic.  The nature of possible offenses is broad and as a practical matter, an impeachable offense is anything the House of Representatives says it is.  Don't like it?  Take it up with the men who wrote the Constitution.

     2. Yes, the impeachment process can (and normally does) start in a House committee.
     They're not going to tie up the whole House until they think they've got something they can get the House to vote for -- besides, Representatives get better screen time in committee.

     3. Yes, Congress has subpoena powers.
     Even over trivial nonsense, House, Senate and committees thereof can haul you in and have you answer questions under oath.  It turns out that "Contempt of Congress" is an actual crime, unlike holding Congresspersons in contempt.  There are all sorts of interesting complications where this intersects Executive Privilege and National Security matters, which will no doubt make for fascinating scholarly papers, but the basic principle isn't in any doubt.

     4. If a President is impeached, there is a trial.
     The trial is held in the Senate, with the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court presiding.  Verdict is determined by vote and it takes a two-thirds majority to convict.  Conviction results in removal from office, period.  Nobody goes directly from the White House to the Big House.  (For Federal officials other than the President, the President of the Senate presides.  You may know him as the Vice-President of the United States; presumably, a Vice-President who'd been impeached would recuse himself and let the President Pro Tem preside.)

     5. Succession is clear.
     Remove the President, the Vice-President steps up.  That's how it works.  There's no ambiguity to it; Congress doesn't get a "twofer" and a Vice-President who succeeds a President gets to name his own Vice-President.

     So, Republicans who are fuming that the present hearings are a "coup," Democrats salivating over how they'll shove out the Chief Executive in a trice?  Yeah, no.  To both groups.  This is a thing that will take its due course.  It's something the Federal government does pretty regularly these days.  It will play out and you can either watch and learn, or spend all your time spun into a web of fantasy.


fillyjonk said...

We did something similar like 20 years ago, you'd think people would remember the details of how it worked. (I remember sitting a hotel room, waiting to get my hair done to be a bridesmaid in my brother's wedding, and watching some of the hearings back then)

But hyperbole is the order of the day.

(I teach a college class that is in some ways civics-adjacent and I admit I've added in a lot more "basic" stuff that I thought "maybe this will be an insult to them because they already know it" but performance on exams suggest that no, I need to include that stuff after all)

RandyGC said...

If ever called to testify (fortunately I'm too insignificant to ever be so cursed) I would loudly and vehemently denounce any attempt to charge me with Contempt of Congress. Congress is a vital institution to a Representative Republic as mandated by the Constitution, a system I have sworn to defend with my life if necessary.

Contempt of Congressman on the other hand, well it depends on the individual and I would have to honestly plead guilty depending on the congress critter involved.

I would also argue that the right to disparage, insult, and mock any politician at any level is an inherent natural right (probably included in one of the penumbra's of the First Amendment) that separates a 'Murican from most other folks on the planet.

rickn8or said...

Glad to know there's at least one other voice of reason out there in the darkness. I have had to make the same arguments with other extended family members, a disturbing number of which are elementary and secondary educators.

The Old Man said...

Succinct and pertinent. A billboard of sanity.

Roberta X said...

RandyGC writes: "If ever called to testify (...) I would loudly and vehemently denounce any attempt to charge me with Contempt of Congress."

Let us distinguish between the legal charge "Contempt of Congress," which applies to fairly specific circumstances, like refusing to appear and/or testify when subpoenaed by Congress, and holding Congress as a group of individuals (or individual Congresscritters)in contempt; or even, I suppose, holding it in contempt as an institution, though your own words certainly appear to preclude the latter attitude.

Your quoted action, however, is like denouncing a speeding ticket when you know you were 15 mph over and the officer is showing you the radar display confirming it. If you want to clam up and go to jail, just do it; journalists have done so when Congress came prying.

RandyGC said...


In such an unlikely circumstance, I would go peacefully with the nice young uniformed people escorting me to whatever lock up they use (if I didn't intend to comply peacefully, I'd never show up in the first place).

Depending on the nature of the inquiry and the Congresscritters involved I might not even get charged under the statute in question. However, there are certain politicians and certain political positions that, well let's just say that I'm not a good actor and my opinions, even if not explicitly stated, would probably become obvious in short order.

It is not in my nature to "clam up" while being led to jail in such a situation. If I am being charged with contempt, I'd likely make the most of it under the "after the first felony they're free" theory. Perhaps not the smartest response, but more and more that's my likely response as I have less and less to lose and my lifetime supply of give a damn is approaching empty.

I understand what you are saying about the letter of the law don't disagree with it.


Divemedic said...

Impeachment is, at its heart, a political process. In this case, the Democrats know that they do not have a candidate that is reasonably certain to beat Trump. However, if they can run against the relatively unknown Pence, they have a better shot.

With that being said, this is most certainly an attempted coup. They have been on a never ending quest to find a reason to impeach Trump since the day after the election in 2016. Members of the House have filed articles of impeachment at least four times this year alone. Each of those four was LONG before the current hubub about Biden.

There were three articles of impeachment voted on last year. In all, there have been eight different articles of impeachment introduced since the 2016 election.

Certainly sounds like an attempted coup to me.

Phssthpok said...

5. Succession is clear.
Remove the President, the Vice-President steps up... a Vice-President who succeeds a President gets to name his own Vice-President.

1. Trump removed
2. Pence steps up
3. Pence appoints Trump as VP
4. Pence resigns
5. Trump steps up
6. Trump appoints Pence VP
7. Dems re-enact 'that scene'* from 'The Kingsmen'


Roberta X said...

Well, that escalated quickly.

RandyGC: the "contempt" in the formal charge of Contempt of Congress refers to A) failing to appear and B) failing to testify. Your opinion of Congress of Congressthings has nothing to do with it. This works the same way as Contempt of Court.

Divemedic: a "coup" is an illegal seizure of power, often by force of arms. Impeachment, on the other hand, is right there in the Constitution. There's nothing illegal about it. And I'm not seeing how giving dyed-in-the-wool SoCon Republican Mike Pence the spotlight helps the Democrats even a little; if the conservative Right is Mr. Trump's base, then Mr. Pence, who is pretty much a Boy Scout through and through, should be even more appealing to them than President Trump, who isn't even close to that ideal. Pence will hurt the GOP badly on the Left, but last time I looked, they didn't have any support there anyway. As I pointed out, the Legislative branch tries to impeach Presidents almost routinely now. It's not cheating to do so -- it's written right into the rules of the game.

Phssthpok: did I mention Congress has to confirm a President's choice of new Vice-President? Having been of newspaper-reading age during the latter part of the Nixon Administration, I assumed this was common knowledge. And then there's Article 1, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution: "Judgment in Cases of Impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from Office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States: but the Party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to Indictment, Trial, Judgment and Punishment, according to Law."
Please note that if impeached and found guilty by the Senate, the officeholder not only loses their present position, they also cannot hold office again. So your scenario is simply fantasy. It can't happen. (Also notice that "double jeopardy" doesn't apply, and if an ex-President was up to actual illegal behavior, they than, once removed, go up for trial in the regular courts, which is the second step on the trip from the White House to the Big House: I wrote there's no direct trip, but there's certainly a connecting flight.)

Guys, it's 2019. You can look this stuff up about as quickly as you can type the question, and get multiple sources to check between. There is no excuse for spinning tall tales. Yes, impeachment is highly politicized, just like most of what the Legislative and Executive branches get up to. That's what they do. That's how it works. The system was designed not for saints but for ordinary men -- the Framers expected conflict and confrontation, and built it into the system.

Roberta X said...

We have reached the limits of comments I will publish.

Increasingly, what I'm getting is nothing but fantasy that assumes most of Congress and the Executive had their fingers crossed when they swore to " and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic..." (The President's oath is slightly different, " protect and defend..." the Constitution). Most of them did not; most of them, however crazy their ideas, retain some understanding of the legal framework which lends them legitimacy.

Read the damn manual -- you can rely on Congressthings having done so, even if they were only looking for loopholes.