Opinion Piece: The 2nd Impeachment

The vote, the explanation and the future of impeachments


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Donald John Trump was impeached for the second time in his presidency. He is the only U.S. president to be impeached twice, but he is also the first former public official to have an impeachment trial. The trial began Feb. 9 and ended Feb. 13.
The House’s Lead impeachment manager is Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, an expert in constitutional law. Joaquin Castro-TX, Madeleine Dean-PA, Diana DeGette-CO, Ted Lieu-CA, Joe Neguse-CO, Stacey Plaskett-US Virgin Islands and Eric Swalwell-CA were the supporting managers.
For the Trump legal team, Bruce Castor Jr., David Schoen and Michael van der Veen were chosen a day before the impeachment trial. A disagreement between the previous team and Trump occurred due to a difference of legal strategy. This team was going to be led by Butch Bowers, a South Carolina lawyer, and Deborah Barbier was supposed to join the original team as well. Former President Trump wanted his defense team solely to use fraudulent election allegations; however, Barbier and Bowers were not going to do so.
In the U.S., our branches of government are unique in design due to checks and balances. An impeachment is a check for the chief executive, and the rules for the trial’s proceedings and the two-thirds requirements for a conviction provides the balance between the legislative chambers.
I think it is important to remind people what exactly an impeachment is. An impeachment is a power the House of Representatives has; further, any public official including the president and congressional members may be brought to this ultimate or highest action to check them. If the article of impeachment passes the House, it is said that the President has been formally impeached; however, to see any change, the Senate’s impeachment trial must have a two-thirds majority vote in order to convict the respective official from the charge the House passed. If a conviction satisfies the two-thirds vote outlined in the constitution, the highest judgment the conviction can lead to is removal from office (if held at the time) and/or disqualification from holding public office in the future.
If the impeachment trial is conducted while the president is in office, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court presides; however, this trial was held after Trump left office. So, the Senate designated Patrick Leahy-VT (President Pro-Tempore) as the chair. One criticism I have is, the trial could have gone better in the sense of structure. During this trial, there were times where a little more knowledge on Parliamentary Procedure could have dissolved confusion in the body. I believe that a chair of an impeachment trial should be the closest to excellence in Robert’s Rules of Order. Instead, Leahy relied on the Parliamentarian, which could have undermined his legitimacy, causing more distrust in the process.
The defense attorneys for the former president argued that the impeachment trial challenges constitutionality. Consequently, Sen. Rand Paul-KY invoked a motion the first day of the trial to halt the proceedings against Trump for incitement of insurrection. The motion passed 55-45 with five Republicans agreeing it was constitutional.
Trump’s constitutional impeachment trial allocated a few days to submit evidence and strengthen arguments for both parties. The House managers unveiled some video clips not previously made public. These included, but were not limited to, different angles of the shooting of Ashli Babbitt, police body cam footage of battery and the Capitol security camera footage. The defense countered the House’s case with video clips of Democratic Party officials making statements in mid-2020 they said were similar to the inciting effect Trump had on Jan. 6.
On Saturday, Feb. 13, the vote to not include witnesses led to closing statements from the House and defense and concluded the trial, invoking a roll call vote. Even though the House’s impeachment article was the most bipartisan of Trump’s two impeachments, the current Republican Party had 43 senators voting not guilty. Seven of the 50 Republican senators voted guilty; this did not meet the two-thirds majority vote to disqualify Trump of holding future public office.
So, how does this impeachment trial affect us? Well, we had a unique situation. The House impeached a President still in office, but the Senate trial for Trump occurred after he left the White House. I believe everyone has a right to disagree with it being constitutional or agreeing to it being constitutional.
I think after this impeachment trial, there will be increased conversation about the introduction of an amendment to the Constitution for clarification. It does not matter whether you lean left, right or are grounded in the center. If the clause on impeachment should be changed or refined, then it will be done so by an amendment; however, our framers made this clause to be broadly interpreted in order to accommodate to the future accepted values of Americans.
I have heard the argument that impeachment trials should require only a simple majority vote. This should not be done. According to 65th Federalist Paper authored by Alexander Hamilton, impeachments are purely political, and we must remember every human being is political. Trump’s “incitement of insurrection” was political, and the house of the common people (the House) responded with a political reaction consequently for his action. The Senate is also structured as the upper house, or more elite public officials, that decides between acquittal or conviction. This is to check the House of Representatives’ power. It is important to know that at the time the impeachment clause was written that senators were chosen by the respective states’ legislatures until the 17th amendment (which allows the popular vote to be used to select a state’s senator).
If conviction required a simple majority vote, you would see the legitimacy of the presidency steer downwards because it would lead to the legislative branch becoming the executive in a sense; therefore, abusing the checks and balances. This creates a pathway to impeaching officials, particularly the president, more easily, risking high turnover. If someone blames the senators who voted to acquit the 45th president, then we should be blaming the people who elected them into office. Representatives from the House may feel more pressure to vote in line with their constituency due to their two-year terms; however, senators may not feel as much pressure due to their longer, six-year terms. Additionally, the composition of the House of Representatives will respond more quickly to the political shift of voters because Senate elections are staggered. For example, Sen. Tammy Baldwin-WI was last voted in 2018, and her re-election is in 2024; on the other hand, Sen. Ron Johnson was last voted in 2016, and his re-election is in 2022. There is not as much turnover in the Senate’s elections compared to House elections, which are every two years.
In all seriousness, if someone does not like the way their senator voted for this impeachment, not only should they voice their opinion by voting, but they should also actively reach out to the community and lead civic and civil conversations even during non-election years.
The House impeached Donald Trump for inciting insurrection. The Senate did not meet the two-thirds vote to convict him, but a simple majority was met. Moreover, the fact that Trump was acquitted should not be used as evidence that the majority of Congress found Trump innocent of the incitement.
Trump faces other preliminary criminal cases in Georgia and New York, but he is not disqualified from running for office. The justice system’s judgments in those states will be the deciding factor whether Donald J. Trump will be in prison during one or more future general election cycles. If he is not ruled guilty, the American people (not solely relying on editorial broadcasting or social media) must hold each other accountable to inform our public’s opinion of why he should not be voted in again.