The Special Counsel in Washington might have closed his doors, but he didn’t close the controversy. In this boomer opinion piece, BoomerCafé’s co-founder and executive editor Greg Dobbs writes about not just the constitutional calculus, but the political calculus that Congress must consider.
I’m sorry, but if Congress has a duty, then… well… Congress has a duty. In this case, to follow up on Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s unmistakable if unofficial indictment of the president who officially he was not allowed to indict: “If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so.”
It couldn’t be much clearer than that.
Within hours of Mueller’s proclamation, members of Congress and several Democratic presidential candidates alike rashly called for the immediate impeachment of the president. Personally I preferred the prudence of one candidate— John Hickenlooper, immediate past governor of my own state of Colorado— who, instead of rushing to judgement, floated a more fundamental issue: “We cannot leave unanswered the question of whether or not the President of the United States committed a crime.”
No, we can’t. Or to be more explicit, no, Congress can’t.
That’s because Congress has a duty to exercise the checks and balances the Founding Fathers enshrined in Articles I, II, and III of the Constitution. And, if warranted, to exercise the option of impeachment established in Article I, which lays out the commitments of Congress and uses the word three times:
- “The House of Representatives shall chuse (sic) their Speaker and other Officers; and shall have the sole Power of Impeachment.”
- “The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments.”
- “Judgment in Cases of Impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from Office… but the Party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to Indictment, Trial, Judgment and Punishment, according to Law.”
Article II, which lays out the parameters of the presidency, brings it up again:
- “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.”
Of course if we all can agree on anything, it is that Congress— under the control over the years of both parties— has dodged (or downright defied) as many duties as it has fulfilled. Exhibit A, on which Democrats will agree anyway: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s barefaced blockade of President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee— a moderate, no less— a full ten months before Obama left office.
But Exhibits B-Z are all the other issues on which Congress behaves with impotence, like healthcare, the debt, equal rights, public safety, foreign wars, and most recently, the nation’s crumbling infrastructure. You can defend one party or the other, but both bear blame for inaction, because both have exhibited an inability and unwillingness to meet somewhere in the middle for the greater sake of us all.
So what would I have Congress do? Pull out all the stops to answer the question posed by candidate Hickenlooper, “of whether or not the President of the United States committed a crime.”
Yes, many Americans, even including some Democrats, believe we ought to just do what the president (and McConnell) has demanded and declare, “Case closed.” But here’s the trouble with that: it isn’t. And as long as it isn’t, then there will be precious little progress on all the substantive issues on which we need action if this nation is to preserve its place as the best nation on earth.
But investigating, and impeaching, are two different things. The investigations must continue if we ever are to get closure, which each side would define in a different way but which, for both sides, might be indispensable for our sanity. Closure, and possibly, justice.
Impeachment, though, is a different story. Sure, depending on what Congressional investigations turn up, impeachment might become an imperative. But with a Senate firmly in Trump-friendly hands— even if only because senators are fearful of losing their jobs by speaking out against the bully in the White House— I’m afraid it will jeopardize priorities 1-10 in my book, all of which are to ensure that this disgraceful demagogue is a one-term president. If Democrats race to impeachment in the House but it is repudiated in a trial in the Senate, that will play right into Trump’s hands… and possibly help him win re-election. That’s called winning the battle, but losing the war.
For me— and most likely for the majority of Americans, who voted against him in 2016— that is the worst outcome of them all.