Opinion: Why Congress had to impeach Trump, regardless of whether the Senate convicts (which it won’t)

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Recent polls show that Americans remain divided along party lines on the issue of impeachment, with only about 63 per cent even taking an interest in the process. Around the country, people feel disconnected from the impeachment inquiry underway in the halls of the nation’s capital. And it’s easy to understand why.

In Washington DC, Democrats and Republicans continued to go head-to-head over the legal implications of Trump’s dealings with Ukraine. Meanwhile, in rural America, people are just trying to make a living and pay their bills because — in spite of a labor market that’s grown over the past nine years — the trade war with China has left farmers and business owners with high tariffs to pay and a smaller, more competitive market for their products.

Certainly, that’s not the only problem our economy is facing; for one thing, the federal minimum wage remains at $7.25 an hour — a number that hardly reflects the rising costs of living. Middle class and lower-income folks are understandably more preoccupied with everyday concerns like paying high rates for health insurance that doesn’t even fully cover them, finding affordable care for their children or elderly parents, and saving for retirement. Making matters worse, we’ve practically shut out an entire generation from the housing market because millennials are too overwhelmed paying back student loans at predatory interest rates to even consider buying a home. And millennials aren’t the only ones prevented from home ownership — the percentage of black people who own their home is at an all-time low , at 41.4 per cent. In a country where 71.9 per cent of homeowners are white, we have a serious problem.

In other words, it’s understandable that voters feel Democrats in Congress who support the impeachment inquiry are out of touch with the needs and concerns of their constituents back home.

But let me tell you why that isn’t true.

Our members of Congress are constitutionally required to take an oath of office . That hasn’t changed since 1966 and includes a pledge to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against “all enemies, foreign and domestic”, that the member of Congress will “bear true faith and allegiance to the same”, and finally that members will “well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office”. So, while they are tasked with representing their constituents in federal government, they are also responsible for upholding our democracy and its Constitution.

The oath members of Congress take is decidedly different from the oath that the President of the United States takes, which is prescribed in Art. II, Sec. 1, Clause 8: “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” But what happens when the person elected to lead the country has allegedly violated that oath? Whose responsibility is it to investigate and right the wrongs of the executive office? The answer: Congress.

The Constitution gives the House of Representatives the sole authority (and responsibility) to impeach an elected official, and the Senate the sole right to conduct the impeachment trial. Removal from office is laid out in Article I, Sec. 2 Article II, Sec. 4 of the Constitution, which says: “The President, Vice President and all Civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”

Although High Crimes and Misdemeanors isn’t defined in the Constitution, it has long been understood to refer to abuses of power. In number 65 of , the set of documents used to persuade New Yorkers to ratify the federal Constitution, Alexander Hamilton wrote that impeachment is “a method of national inquest into the conduct of public men” accused of violating the “public trust.”

The American revolution (1775–1783) began because the colonists felt that King George III was overstepping his bounds in the colonies and violating the public trust. By giving Congress the sole authority and responsibility to impeach and try the president, the founders’ intention was to place an important legislative check on the power of the executive, among other important elected officials.

And while the task of writing the Constitution must have been a fascinating endeavor, it was a physically unpleasant process. The delegates to the 1787 Constitutional Convention debated day in and day out, locked away in Philadelphia’s Independence Hall with the windows nailed shut so that the public could not hear what was going on inside. Their coats, waistcoats, breeches and silk stockings were ill-suited for the sweltering summer heat. But they stuck it out. And in spite of the physical discomfort, the item at the top of the agenda for the Convention’s delegates was avoiding a regression to the abuses of power suffered by colonists under the British monarchy.

The founders’ sense of urgency on this precise issue was so great, in fact, that they wrote impeachment into the Constitution even before they set out to define the parameters of the presidential rights and responsibilities.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi was initially reluctant to pursue impeachment, until the Ukraine scandal erupted and left her no alternative. And on December 5th, when she announced that the House of Representatives would proceed with the Articles of Impeachment against Trump, Pelosi invoked this very same concern of the founding fathers: an executive office that violates the Constitution for its own personal benefit to the detriment of our democracy. In her televised announcement , Pelosi reminded listeners, “Our democracy is what is at stake… The president leaves us no choice but to act.”

So, it may feel like Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats pursuing impeachment are “out of touch” with the needs of their constituents back home. But the truth is that the needs of constituents are no more important than — and, perhaps more importantly, distinct from — Congress’s constitutional responsibility to uphold our democracy. In other words, the duty to constituents and the duty to the Constitution are not mutually exclusive. Our members of Congress have no choice but to defend our Constitution and, when the occasion arises, create a physical record of the alleged abuse of its powers by elected officials, including the president.

A nation without a memory is likely to repeat catastrophic mistakes, but a nation that does not value its most fundamental contract with its citizens is a nation without a future.

Originally published at https://www.independent.co.uk on December 10, 2019.

IHRL attorney & writer. Bylines in: PBS, USA Today, Independent UK, Al Jazeera, Romper, Ravishly, & National Catholic Reporter.

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