For the third time in a 243-year political history of the United States, a President has been impeached in the House of Representatives with Donald Trump entering the exclusive club of Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton.
However, a stubborn Trump is also quite confident that he will not create history of being the first President to be thrown out of office as both Johnson and Clinton were acquitted in the Senate where a conviction requires a two thirds majority or 67 votes.
The rancor and acrimony leading up to the House vote was quite expected but it ended also on what was widely predicted. It was a party line vote with only two Democrats breaking ranks and one Democrat choosing to vote “present”.
On the first article of impeachment, Abuse of Power, it was by a 230 to 197; and on the second article of impeachment, Obstruction of Congress, it was by a 229 to 198 margin. Two Democrats broke ranks and voted against impeachment on the first article, while a third Democrat voted for a first article but against the second article of impeachment.
Interestingly, Representative Tulsi Gabbard, seeking the party nomination in the 2020 Presidential election did not vote for the articles of impeachment and instead chose to vote “present” out of an apprehension that her negative votes may not go well with her constituency in Hawaii.
It was not as if the nearly ten-hour debate in the House was not without its theatrics, both from within the Chamber and outside. Democrats supporting the articles of impeachment hammered away at the idea of a President threatening the very basic functioning of a democracy; while Republicans uniformly supported the President charging that that the whole process was both unfair and not legitimate at all.
In fact, one Republican law maker, Barry Loudermilk compared the Trump impeachment in the House to what Jesus Christ went through. “During that sham trial, Pontious Pilate afforded more rights to Jesus than Democrats have afforded this President in this process,” he said.
In an indication of the things to come, President Trump was constantly tweeting during the House debate, slamming Democrats on the witch hunt that he has all along been talking about.
Attending a boisterous campaign rally in Battle Creek, Michigan, Trump once again mocked the Democrats saying that they are on a “political suicide march” and that they have “branded themselves with an eternal mark of shame.”
But, even before he rained furious rebukes in Michigan, Trump set the ball rolling earlier in the week when he dashed off an angry letter to the Democratic Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi stressing that he has been “deprived of basic Constitutional Due Process from the beginning of this impeachment sham.”
Calling the impeachment an illegal and attempted partisan coup, Trump said in his letter, “You are the ones interfering in America’s elections… You are the ones obstructing justice. You are the ones bringing pain and suffering to our Republic for your own personal, political and partisan gain.”
Time and strategy are the key essentials at this point of time for both Democrats and Republican law makers. The attention will slowly shift to the Senate where the prosecution of the President will start sometime after the Christmas break and in January 2020.
The first indication to this is that Speaker Pelosi seems to be in no hurry to send over the Articles of Impeachment to the Senate, giving the impression that she would like to know more about the Senate procedures; and Speaker Pelosi also appears to be in no hurry to name the House Managers for the trial in the Senate.
Management of time is critical for the Democrats since they would have to hit the campaign trail for the Presidential and Congressional elections of November 3, 2020. Stretching it out weakens the Senate Democrats seeking the party’s Presidential nomination.
Republican Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky is a tough nut to crack and the first indication of his approach came a few days ago when he rejected the Democrats’ demand that four witnesses including the Acting White House Chief of Staff and former National Security Advisor, John Bolton would have to appear for testimonies in the Senate.
The conviction of President Trump in the Senate is not going to happen at this time even if Democrats are hoping that moderate and centrist Republicans will break away when they impassionately look at all the things this President has done.
Democrats are also hoping that those Republican Senators retiring will have a re-think about impeachment as they would want to leave a legacy behind their names. The current Senate has 53 Republicans and 47 Democrats (that includes two Independents who caucus with them).
Twenty Republicans will have to cross over to throw Trump out of the Oval Office. There are no indications of this happening. And four Republican Senators who are retiring this year have not made sympathetic comments about the Democratic process.
And Republican Senators if at all mulling over abandoning their President would need to keep in mind two things: first, of the 34 Senate seats up for grabs and a special election for the state of Artizona, the Grand Old Party has to defend 22 seats as opposed to the Democrats’ 12.
Would voting against a Republican President benefit their re-election chances ? And secondly, would any Republican want to invite the fire and fury of Trump by voting against him in the Senate whether or not he/she is up for re-election ? In the last three years the administration and Congress have been witnessing the manner in which President Trump deals with friends and foes—that he has no permanent friends and persons opposing him are permanent enemies.
(The writer was a former senior journalist in Washington DC covering North America and the United Nations.)