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Partisan Impeachment Shows Why Our Founders Set the Bar So High for a Senate Conviction

Partisan Impeachment Shows Why Our Founders Set the Bar So High for a Senate Conviction

It’s not new. But it’s gotten worse.

The Founders were fearful that impeachment would become a partisan endeavor, and they were right to be nervous. It has. That’s why the Founders set the bar so high for a Senate conviction.

If you look back at the history of US presidential impeachments, you will find a great deal of partisanship in the support for impeachment and removal. That is except for Nixon, the impeachment that didn’t happen, due to bipartisan agreement. He realized a Senate conviction was likely and stepped down before the impeachment ever occurred.

You will also find that the majority of the bipartisanship and/or crossing of party lines was by Republicans rather than Democrats, and it was Republicans voting against impeachment and/or removal of a Democrat president. This will probably not be a surprise. Democrats have tended much more to vote as a bloc for impeachment and/or removal of a Republican president.

Take a look at the vote on the impeachment of Democrat Andrew Johnson. Republicans held an enormous majority in the House, and there were only four defections out of 126 GOP House members voting “yea” for impeachment. Of the 47 Democrats, only two went against their party to vote “yea” instead of “nay.” So the House vote was highly – although not totally – partisan. However, in the Senate – also heavily controlled by Republicans (45 to 9) – something entirely different happened. Of the total of 45 Republicans, ten voted for acquittal, which was just enough to acquit Johnson by a single vote.

Nixon, I’ve already discussed. But for Clinton, we had a mixed House vote on the different articles. On the first article (perjury to the grand jury), there were five crossovers from each party. On the second (perjury in the Jones case), there were also 5 Democratic crossovers but 28 on the GOP side, and so that measure failed. On the third (obstruction of justice), there were 5 Democratic crossovers and 12 GOP ones; the article passed. On the fourth (abuse of power), there was 1 Democratic crossover to 81 Republicans who crossed over, and the measure failed.

In Clinton’s Senate trial, every single Democrat voted for acquittal on both counts. Even if every Republican had voted to convict, there would not have been a 2/3 majority to remove Clinton. But 10 Republican senators voted against the first article and 5 voted against the second, a bipartisan vote on the GOP side only. This resulted in the first article not even getting a majority of votes much less 2/3, and the second only getting a tie vote.

Now we are at the recent impeachment and trial of Trump. In the House, no Republican voted for either of the two articles of impeachment passed by the Democrat majority, and only 2 Democrats crossed lines on the first article and three on the second. And I don’t even need to link to the Senate vote in the trial because it’s easy to remember that there was only one crossover for conviction and removal: Mitt Romney. Otherwise, it was an ultimately party-line vote, the most partisan vote in the history of US impeachment trials.

This indicates another interesting point. Impeachment may start to happen again and again, whenever the opposite party of the president has the House majority. But as far as conviction in the Senate trial goes, if Democrats ever control the Senate by 2/3 and there is a Republican president, he or she may stand a good chance of being removed on a party-line vote. But if the GOP ever gets control of 2/3 of the Senate and there is a Democratic president, removal would be less likely, at least if you look at the historical precedents.

But that sort of imbalance hasn’t occurred in the Senate in recent decades. During FDR’s tenure, the Democrats had vast Senate majorities, but of course, FDR was a Democrat as well. The same was true for Lyndon Johnson.

One can only conclude that the Founders knew what they were doing in setting so high a bar in the Senate for conviction. Of course, that doesn’t stop the sort of stunts that the Democrats pulled this time, impeaching in the House because they could do it and because they thought it would help them politically even though they would not and really could not secure removal.

[Neo is a writer with degrees in law and family therapy, who blogs at the new neo.]


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In the end, it looks like house Dems mostly damaged themselves and torpedoed Joe Biden’s presidential bid.

    JusticeDelivered in reply to billdyszel. | February 11, 2020 at 8:27 am

    I wonder how many more Dems have reevaluated their party affiliation?

    oldgoat36 in reply to billdyszel. | February 11, 2020 at 11:00 am

    I don’t think that Biden was going to get the nomination in any event. The Democrats knew he was going to tank as he always has, he is a walking disaster, and probably the most corrupt VP in our history. They even planted stories on his corruption long before the impeachment happened. He was propped up to help the lies the House put together in the impeachment show, it didn’t work with any but Romney. That tells you how poor a calculation it was.
    I think the left believe everyone hates Trump like they do. It’s their bubble world.

Those old white guys, the Founders, were pretty smaaaaart guys…(emphasized Boston accent).

Clinton’s proceedings were highly partisan. It was a mistake then by the GOP because of the economy and his popularity, and it was a mistake now by the Dems because of Trump’s economy and popularity.

I think it was Newt’s biggest mistake. His legislative branch, along with the Senate, forced Clinton to do several things that Clinton got all of the credit for when it came time to reap the benefits. That probably pissed him and others off and they were aiming for blood.

    Health, in a way you’re right, and in a way you’re wrong.

    The Clinton impeachment was partisan because the *Dems* made it that way. The supreme law-enforcement officer of the United States committed perjury in court while President, and suborned perjury, two felony acts of which he was unmistakably guilty. In 1998, the Dems *knew* he did it, but fell in line and howled to the moon because 1994 the Republicans had cleaned their clocks but good, and if Bill had been removed from office as he deserved, they were looking at the potential of single-digit percentage representation in Washington for the rest of their lives. Power was slipping through their greasy fingers, and the only way they could keep it was to grab just as hard as possible and squeeze.

    Republicans were in a different pickle, like the dog who actually caught a car. They never expected Starr to actually *find* President Clinton had committed a felony, and yet there it was, complete with DNA evidence. If they had just censured him for his behavior, they would have set the bar for future impeachments terribly high, because how can you explain how the President goes straight from the White House to the Big House after just getting a gentle slap on the wrist from the Legislative branch. So they went through the process as legally precedent-setting detail-following as they could.

    So the Dems went from refusing to admit two felonies was enough to impeach a president all the way to wanting to impeach based on something that isn’t even a crime. All they care about is power.

Well, San Fran Nam n Chuck-y have demonstrated that they can successfully whip their caucuses in the legislature.

That’s not terribly impressive. Nor, really, does that build their credibility; gaggles of folks with exactly the same talking points, many voting against their constituencies, and their own political interests. All wearing uniforms to stand and sit on command during the SOTU just drives the point home. What were thinking?

What were they thinking?

Up against a showman, salesman, and self-made reality TV star the Screaming D’s decide to push the limits on decorum n convention at the SOTU. Add a layer of political performance art.

So, The Orange Crush awards El Rushbo the Presidential Medal of Freedom, right in their chamber, while they have to sit still and watch.

What did they think would happen?

It’s not my line, but these slow learners still don’t get that they’re not liking the new rules they make.

So, with absolute control of the process, secret testimony, questionable subpoenas, an energetic advocacy media, and a compliant judiciary, the Screaming D’s couldn’t make their case enough to peel off any more squishes that Pierre Delecto.

So, that left them what, 28-29 short, on a lower-hurdle procedural vote, for exactly the process n protocols used with President Clinton?

Wrong, partican *and* incompetent is no way to go through life.

Worse is the issues that Presidents have been impeached over.

Johnson was impeached over a difference in policy goals related to a central bank.

Nixon was not impeached, but would have been if he hadn’t resigned – over a petty crime committed by low level campaign staffers without his knowledge or approval (Nixon could and should have just thrown them under the bus, got in trouble for the entirely unnecessary cover-up).

Clinton actually committed multiple crimes: rape and sexual assault. He wasn’t impeached for them though, but rather for perjury during the investigation (and got convicted of the perjury in federal court after the Senate acquitted him – got fined and forced to give up his law license). Not sure this qualifies as a “high crime or misdemeanor” as the founders envisioned.

Trump was impeached without a crime being specified in the Articles of Impeachment. That was new. Sen McConnell, on the Senate floor both before and after the trial, and Trump’s lawyers on the Senate floor during the trial all noted this fact. Schiff’s response was to start accusing Trump of bribery and extortion – crimes that were NOT mentioned in the Articles – and Trump’s lawyers eviscerated him for this. Noting, correctly, that if a lawyer did this in a normal trial there would be an immediate mistrial – can’t accuse the defendant of crimes not alleged in the indictment.

Need a few rules changes in the House to set the bar higher. For starters, Articles of Impeachment should be required to cite actual federal laws violated or Constitutional violations. Then, the bar to pass the Articles should be more than a simple majority. 2/3 would seem appropriate.

Otherwise, Democrats have now lowered the bar for Impeachment to “we hate that guy”.

    Aarradin: {Clinton} got convicted of the perjury in federal court

    Civil contempt, not perjury. Clinton lied under oath in a civil case, but the testimony was not material to the decision. The judge tossed the case because the plaintiff failed to show damages. The suit was settled on appeal.

    Aarradin: Articles of Impeachment should be required to cite actual federal laws violated or Constitutional violations.

    The articles of impeachment included “high crimes and misdemeanors”.

    Aarradin: Democrats have now lowered the bar for Impeachment to “we hate that guy”.

    The Democrats alleged that Trump abused his power to coerce a foreign country into interfering in the U.S. election, and the evidence strongly supported that finding. This is exactly the sort of high crime and misdemeanor that that founders feared when crafting the impeachment clause.