The World At Home: Charles Laffiteau’s Bigger Picture
2018-12-01 13:47:53 -
Opinion
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By Charles Laffiteau

 

As I predicted, although Democrats took control of the US House of Representatives in last month’s mid-term elections, the Republican Party actually strengthened its grip on the US Senate by winning two additional seats. What this means for President Donald Trump is that unless he is arrested for being, say, a murderer, he will never be impeached, tried, convicted or removed from office during his current term as president. If President Trump’s opponents want to oust him, they will have to do so at the ballot box on 3 November 2020.

Could Congressional Democrats impeach President Trump if he was shown to have violated the law by obstructing Robert Mueller’s investigation of his presidential campaign? Yes. But will they? No, because Democrats also know Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell will never allow the Republican-controlled Senate to try and convict the president. That is because under the United States Constitution, while the House of Representatives has the “sole power of impeachment”, the Senate has the “sole power to try all impeachments”.

In fact, over the course of history only two American presidents — Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998 — have ever been impeached. While both were later tried by the Senate, neither was ever convicted. Although the House of Representatives also began impeachment proceedings against President Richard Nixon in 1974 over his role in the Watergate cover-up, Nixon resigned before the House voted.

But the primary reason why House Democrats won’t try to impeach Trump is because it just isn’t good politics. I know, deciding not to prosecute your political opponent for criminal conduct while they are in office sounds counter-intuitive. But history has also shown that doing so does not yield any political benefits for the prosecutors. Even though they had an overwhelming majority in the Senate, Republicans failed to convict President Andrew Johnson. Six years later, Johnson became the only former American president ever elected to the Senate. Republicans also failed to convict President Clinton, whose job approval rating peaked at 68 per cent after he was found not guilty.

Although many younger Democrats from the party’s progressive wing have been agitating for Trump’s impeachment, older Congressional Democrats learned a valuable lesson from the disastrous Republican attempts to impeach President Clinton. Following that failed endeavour, during the 1998 mid-term elections the Republican Party lost five seats in the House and also failed to gain a single seat in the Senate.

The 1998 mid-terms were the first since 1934 where the out-of-presidency political party failed to gain congressional seats in the House. It was also the first time since 1822 that the party not in control of The White House had failed to gain any seats in the mid-terms of a president’s second term. Furthermore, Republicans failed to pick up any seats in the Senate despite the fact that the Democratic Party had to defend several more Senate seats in the 1998 mid-terms than the Republican Party.

The more moderate leaders of the Democratic Party are determined to avoid repeating those mistakes. Instead of trying to impeach President Trump, they will use their power to propose legislation that will put Republicans on the spot if they oppose it. The new Democratic committee chairs will also use their power to initiate multiple investigations of President Trump and his administration.

On the other hand, because the Senate is still firmly controlled by Republicans, President Trump will be able to continue packing the federal courts with conservative justices. But because only the House can propose legislation that deals with money, including taxes and revenue allocations, Trump’s last chance to get funding for his infamous ‘wall’ will come in the final ‘lame duck’ session of Congress this December. That is why Trump is threatening to shut down the government this month if he doesn’t get his wall.

With respect to Robert Mueller’s current investigation, the day after the mid-term elections saw Trump fire Attorney General Jeff Sessions. However, instead of replacing Sessions with the Deputy Attorney General, Rod Rosenstein, Trump instead appointed Session’s chief of staff Matthew Whitaker in the interim. Before becoming Sessions’ right-hand man last year, Whitaker had written an op-ed for CNN that criticised the Mueller investigation, saying it had gone too far.

Trump also took the unusual step of transferring Justice Department authority over Mueller from Rosenstein to Whitaker. Democrats as well as some Republicans immediately questioned the legality and constitutionality of Whitaker’s appointment because, unlike Rosenstein, Whitaker had never been confirmed by the Senate. But even though Whitaker is obviously a Trump political hack, I also don’t think he wants to go down in history as the person who derailed the Mueller investigation.

Charles Laffiteau is a US Republican from Dallas, Texas pursuing a career in public service. He previously lectured on Contemporary US Business & Society at DCU from 2009-2011 and pursued a PhD in Public Policy and Political Economy.

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