US Senate Trial – Impeachment of President Trump | Source: US Senate Website
People consider and characterize two branches in our system of government as political. By this, I mean that the acts of officials occupying positions in those branches are determined, restricted, may be imposed by the fact of their membership in organized groups called political parties. Continuing membership, advancement, and good political fortunes depend upon the party stalwarts.
Thus, it should not surprise most anyone that impeachment – from the determination of the House of Representatives’ impeachment articles to the Senate’s trial – is an exercise steeped in party politics. It is more politics than it is about the law. The aftermath of treading a road not chartered by the political party will result in ridicule, chastisement, censorship, even banishment from the group. The price of divergence and recalcitrance could be too much for most to set their independence aside. They do this for their survival and ambition. For the independent-minded and daring few, it may be a nobler right and personally satisfying avenue to navigate the risk-laden road of an uncertain political tomorrow. The ways of politics essentially have neither emotion nor gratitude. Expediency is the norm, and survival, longevity, and power maintenance are the predominant motivating objectives.
“The ways of politics essentially have neither emotion nor gratitude. Expediency is the norm, and survival, longevity, and power maintenance are the predominant motivating objectives.”
The recent impeachment proceedings against former president Donald Trump by Congress members’ action present and illustrate again that politics is the predominant driving force in this particular kind of governmental exercise.
To date, four completed impeachment proceedings – filing of articles of impeachment and trial — of a president have occurred in US history. All respondents were charged with “high crimes or Misdemeanors,” though the particular acts differ. All ended in acquittals. Acquittal resulted because of failure to satisfy the sufficient number of senators constitutionally required to convict. The inability to reach the required number does not necessarily suggest that the senators believed that the respondent was not guilty. Other considerations made them vote as they did.
Andrew Johnson, the Democrat selected by the Republican Abraham Lincoln to be his vice-president, who ascended to the presidency upon Lincoln’s assassination, was impeached. It means the House of Representatives approved impeachment articles– by Republicans who controlled the majority who disagreed with his policies and actions. 126 Congressmen voted to impeach as against 47 who opposed. Though the Senate Republicans had the number of meeting the 2/3 standard, 7 Republicans defied their party to acquit the Johnson. 35 Senators voted to convict, with 19, including the 7 Republicans, voted for acquittal. He was acquitted “to protect the office of the president and preserve the constitutional balance of power” Read the link here.
It was a less ideal reason than that cited by the senators that voted to acquit Johnson compared to that which drove the outcomes of the last three impeachments (one against William Jefferson Clinton and two against Donald John Trump). Most of them harbor opinions based on what they saw online and read.
“Acquittal resulted because of failure to satisfy the sufficient number of senators constitutionally required to convict. The inability to reach the required number does not necessarily suggest that the senators believed that the respondent was not guilty. Other considerations made them vote as they did.”
In Clinton’s case, the House of Representatives voted strictly along party lines to approve impeachment articles. The underlying acts refer to perjury and obstruction of justice. In the Senate, 5 Republicans joined all 45 Democrats in support of acquittal. Some Democrats, after they cast their votes, openly criticized and condemned Clinton for his indiscretions.
In the first Trump impeachment, the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives approved the impeachment articles that referred to acts allegedly committed by Trump to pressure a foreign government to provide the information he could use against his political rivals. With the Democrats in the minority in the Senate, the fate of the impeachment trial was inevitable. Acquittal.
In the second Trump impeachment, the Democrat-controlled did not encounter any significant opposition to approving the single impeachment article against Trump. The overwhelming public condemnation of the unprecedented and historic attack on the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, which the House of Representatives charged Trump with inciting, was enough to hasten the process. Two hundred thirty-two approved the articles of impeachment as against 197 who opposed. All 222 Democrats voted in favor, together with10 Republicans who defied their party pressures. With Republicans and Democrats each having 50 seats in the Senate, the challenge to get the additional 17 votes from the Republicans to convict was daunting. Impracticable.
“All said the impeachment proceedings are political exercises dictated by political rivalries with the results dictated by expediency.”
Nevertheless, 7 Republicans did side with the Democrats to vote to convict. As was in Clinton’s case, some Trump party mates criticized and condemned Trump’s actions before and after they voted to acquit. We can rationally argue that the reality of Trump’s power and influence over a significant chunk of Republican voters and the specter of what could result from a vote to convict have dictated their conduct.
All said the impeachment proceedings are political exercises dictated by political rivalries with the results dictated by expediency.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Manuel B. Quintal, ESQ., practices law in New York since 1989. He is active in the community as a member, an officer, or a legal adviser of various professional, business, and not-for-profit organizations. He was a columnist of Newstar Philippines, an English language weekly newspaper published in New York, from 2006-2009. He was Executive Editor of International Tribune, an English language weekly newspaper for the Asian community, based in New York, from 2010 to 2012. He is admitted to practice law in the Philippines and New York State. He has graduate degrees in Political Science and an LL.M. major in International Law.