The Right Gripes that Impeachment Ain’t Fair

The Right-Wing Noise Machine is making all kinds of absurd noises to discredit the impeachment inquiry. Just an example:

RedState is running a hysterical claim that Nancy Pelosi’s December 2018 Rule Changes Block Republicans From Participating In Impeachment Process.

In December 2018, the soon-to-be Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, was busy making changes in the House rules for the incoming 116th Congress. She was actually setting the stage for her anticipated impeachment of President Trump.

Considering that Pelosi opposed the impeachment of Trump, that was mighty prescient of her. But soon RedState stumbles into bigger problems.

Although impeachment is rare, on the few occasions one has been initiated, a full house vote has been taken. However, this is not mandatory. Pelosi has not held a full house vote and there’s a reason for that. A formal vote would give the minority enforceable rights. Without a full vote, the articles of impeachment “can be drawn up without any participation by the minority. This was always the plan that was visible in Pelosi’s changed House rules.”

As near as I can tell, the “full vote” of the House refers to a resolution calling for the formal initiation of impeachment procedings. This is not something mandated by the Consitution, and it’s been handled differently in each of the three impeachments the House passed or almost passed.

In the case of Richard Nixon, the House Judiciary Committee had actually been messing around with pre-impeachment activities for several months before the full House passed a resolution on February 6, 1974, that gave formal authority to the House Judiciary Committee to launch an impeachment inquiry against the president. The pre-impeachment activites included investigations into the Watergate mess and research into how a bleeping presidential impeachment was supposed to happen, since the Constitution says nothing but that the House does it. Records of the Johnson impeachment provided some guidance, but mostly the House back then was making it up as it went along.

The House Judiciary Committee began impeachment proceedings against Nixon on May 9, 1974. By July 30, the Committee had passed three articles of impeachment against Nixon, but he resigned on August 8 before the full House voted on the articles.

In the case of Bill Clinton, the House Judiciary Committee never investigated anything; it just went by the investigations Kenn Starr had conducted. The full House passed a resolution calling for an impeachment inquiry on October 8, 1998. I believe this is it. But whatever “inquiries” the Committee made were perfunctory compared to the lavishly drawn out hearings I remember from the Nixon days. Indeed, nothing much happened until after the November midterm elections, when the Republicans lost five seats, although they were still in the majority. House Speaker Newt the Suit Gingrich had been confident the impeachment show would help the GOP pick up at least 30 House seats, and when the GOP lost seats he announced his resignation. After a lot of shouting on the House floor three articles of impeachment were passed on December 19, 1998. And, of course, the Senate failed to convict.

So in the case of Clinton it’s hard to say whether there was anything approximating a formal “impeachment inquiry.” Basically, the Republicans knew they were going to impeach Clinton, and after some inquiry theater for the folks back home, they impeached him.

As far as Andrew Johnson is concerned, the only impeachment “resolution” I could find was something dated February 21, 1868. Johnson was impeached on February 24, 1868. That didn’t leave them time for much inquiring. Indeed, there is nothing in the Constitutution that says anything about impeachment inquiries or resolutions or even the House Judiciary Committee. The House Judiciary Committee did seem to take the lead in Johnson’s impeachment, which set the precedent, but they were definitely making up their own procedures from scratch.

So, according to precedent, the House Judiciary Committee draws up articles of impeachment, which then are voted on by the full House. The RedState article seems to be complaining that Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee can draw up these articles without input by Republicans on the committee, and that this can be done because Nancy changed the freaking rules.

Here are the current House Rules. They don’t say bleep about impeachment. I found only one mention of the Judiciary Committee, which was something about memorials.

The RedState article is griping that the rules allow House Committees to function without the participation of the minority. In other words, as I understand it, the committees can’t be shut down if the Republicans on the committee refuse to show up. Whether this is the change Pelosi made that they are angry about I do not know, as I don’t know what the rules were before, but if it is a new rule — brava, Nancy. Otherwise, of course the majority party will write and pass whatever articles of impeachment might be passed. They don’t need permission from the minority party to do that. This is why elections matter.

And if the shoe were on the other foot, and a Republican House majority were inquiring into impeaching a Democratic president, I’m sure Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee who objected would be cordially invited to piss into the wind. Because that’s how it always works.

But we aren’t yet at a point at which anyone has said there will be articles of impeachment. This is a point that the righties are confused about. In this case, the “inquiry” is about looking into whether there ought to be articles of impeachment. This was a step that was, in effect, skipped in Clinton’s case, and was definitely skipped in Johnson’s case. Perhaps if the Judiciary Committee announces it is ready to start drawing up articles of impeachment, the House could have a full floor vote giving them authority to do so, if that makes everyone happy. But there is no such step provided for in the Constitution, and it seems rather silly to me. As far as the Constitution is concerned, any member of the House can draw up some articles of impeachment and submit them for a vote. Dennis Kucinich used to do it all the time, as I recall.

And anyone reading this is welcome to read RedState’s article and links to see if I haven’t got their complaints right, because frankly they don’t make a lot of sense to me.

Back to RedState:

Once the articles are drawn up and passed out of committee, they will come before a full house vote. “Once Pelosi achieves a vote of passage on any single article President Trump is considered impeached.”

Well, yes, that’s how it works. That’s how it’s always worked, the few times it has happened. This is not a secret conspiracy against the Republican Party.

Pelosi has deliberately timed the whole sequence of events so that Democrats will have the current two-week recess to return to their districts to convince their constituents that impeachment is necessary.

Except a lot of Dems are staying in Washington to prepare for their inquiring. Further, whatever convincing is done will be done in public committee hearings. Or, at least, that’s how it worked with Nixon, as I well remember. Dem constituents are mostly already chomping at the bit to get rid of Trump, so it’s the nation as a whole that will need convincing. And, oh, look: A CBS News poll finds that 55 percent of Americans approve of the impeachment inquiry.

I understand there is also a lot of screaming that the White House phone call memo is hearsay, which rather stretches the normal definition of hearsay. But impeachment is not a criminal proceeding, so I don’t know if hearsay rules apply.

And many on the Right are hung up on the idea that since there was no (in their minds) quid pro quo with Ukraine, Trump did nothing wrong. Some are claiming that it was Biden who was guilty, because (as an agent of the United State government) he offered aid to Ukraine in exchange for getting rid of the corrupt prosecutor. For the record: For the president of the United States to ask for dirt on a political opponent from a foreign government is a criminal act and an impeachable offense, even without a quid pro quo. And if the government of the United States offers aid to a foreign government in exchange for their canning a corrupt official who is causing problems in the region, that is a quid pro quo but not an illegal one, and not a scandal. However, for those who remain confused about what constitutes a “quid pro quo” and what does not, see Alexandra Petri’s handy guide.