In a few days, Donald Trump will become the third U.S. president to be impeached in the House of Representatives and acquitted by the Senate.
The first was Andrew Johnson, a Democrat. He served as vice-president under Republican Abraham Lincoln in a National Union ticket and became president after Lincoln was assassinated in 1865.
Johnson was impeached in the Republican-controlled House in 1868 for violating the Tenure of Office Act by attempting to remove Secretary of War Edwin Stanton without the Senate’s approval. He was barely acquitted in the Republican-controlled Senate, which fell one vote shy of the two-thirds majority needed to remove him from office. (This act was repealed in 1887.)
The second was Bill Clinton, also a Democrat. In 1998, he was impeached in the Republican-controlled House for lying under oath and obstruction of justice, both related to his sexual relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. He was acquitted in the Democratic-controlled Senate by a margin of 55 to 45 for Article One and 50-50 on Article Two.
Trump is the first Republican president to be impeached in a Democratic-controlled House. Like Clinton, he was charged with two articles of impeachment: abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. Both were related to an allegation of withholding military aid to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky unless Ukrainian officials investigated a Democratic presidential rival, Joe Biden.
The Republican-controlled Senate will acquit Trump along (mostly) party lines on Feb. 5. The Democrats stalled the final votes to ensure the president’s State of the Union address the night before will occur while the impeachment trial remains in progress, but it’s a meaningless and rather petty gesture.
Then again, his impeachment proceedings have been nothing more than a heavily politicized show trial. It was always as clear as day that Trump would ultimately be acquitted. Quite a few Americans didn’t seem to realize this at first but most now understand. Senior Democratic politicians like House Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer reportedly didn’t even want to go through with this trial, knowing full well they would lose and it would cause them some embarrassment.
Trump will be the first impeached president to run for re-election.
Public opinion polls actually seem to show his trial has helped him in certain ways.
A Jan. 26-28 NBC/Wall Street Journal poll showed that 46 per cent approved of the job Trump was doing and 51 per cent disapproved. While those numbers are consistent with previous data, 36 per cent now “strongly” approved of his job performance and 33 per cent expressed “very positive” feelings. These latter two categories are record highs since he took office.
These numbers don’t necessarily guarantee re-election but they offer a small window into the American voters’ mindset. Combined with the fact that the current crop of Democratic presidential candidates have been less than stellar, things are pointing in the right direction for the current occupant of the Oval Office.
Unfortunately, the concern that I and others had about impeachment being used more frequently as a political weapon by the president’s opponents could be realized.
Iowa Republican Sen. Joni Ernst mused on Sunday: “I think this door of impeachable whatever has been opened.” In particular, she felt Biden “should be very careful what he’s asking for because, you know, we can have a situation where if it should ever be President Biden, that immediately, people right the day after he would be elected would be saying, ‘Well, we’re going to impeach him.’”
Ernst walked that back on Monday but the genie is out of the bottle. It wouldn’t shock me if some Democrats tried to impeach Trump again if he’s re-elected in November. There’s no rule in place that prevents this from happening.
My hope is today’s politicians won’t abuse the constitutional legacy set by America’s founding fathers. These important provisions were put in place for a specific purpose and political strategy shouldn’t be part of the equation.
Let’s hope Trump’s impeachment trial, as ridiculous as it has been, is the last one we witness for quite some time.
Michael Taube, a Troy Media syndicated columnist and Washington Times contributor, was a speechwriter for former prime minister Stephen Harper. He holds a master’s degree in comparative politics from the London School of Economics.