Democrats in the House of Representatives seem determined to impeach President Donald Trump. That makes this a good time to refresh our memories about impeachment.
First of all, impeachment doesn’t mean the president will get the boot – it’s just a list of charges compiled by members of the House, kind of like a criminal indictment. The Senate then gets to decide if the president is guilty.
There have been two presidents in American history who were impeached and one who avoided it by getting out of town in the nick of time. Here’s a quick rundown.
Andrew Johnson. Johnson was from Tennessee, and was the only Southern senator who stuck with the Union during the Civil War. He was a Democrat, and Abraham Lincoln picked him to be his running mate in 1864 on a unity ticket, which just goes to show Honest Abe might not have been as smart about everything as we thought.
When Abe got shot, Johnson took over. He was squarely against civil rights, which made the radical Republicans mad at him. The Republicans passed a law called the Tenure of Office act that said the president couldn’t fire anyone unless the Senate approved it. When Johnson fired Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, who is quite a story himself, Congress impeached Johnson.
The official charges were violation of the Tenure of Office Act and bringing into “disgrace, ridicule, hatred, contempt, and reproach the Congress of the United States.” This seems rather ironic, since Congress has proved time and time again it is perfectly capable of inspiring contempt and reproach all by itself.
It takes a 2/3 vote of the Senate to find a president guilty. Johnson survived by a single vote. It was all very dramatic and ruined the little bit of Johnson’s political future that he hadn’t already ruined on his own.
Richard Nixon. Articles of impeachment for Richard Nixon had been drawn up when Nixon ruined everyone’s fun by quitting and getting out of Dodge. It all started with the Watergate break-in and eventually led to charges of abuse of power and contempt of Congress (those people in Congress sure seem touchy about their reputations).
Nixon hoped his friends would see him through, but when Barry Goldwater, Hugh Scott and John Rhodes visited the White House and told him that, well, he didn’t really have any friends left, Nixon decided to leave town. Gerald Ford moved in as president and everyone immediately nodded off to sleep.
The worst part of the whole thing was that for decades any scandal that popped up became a “Gate.” There was Irangate and Contragate and, if you’re an Ohio State fan, Tattoogate. Journalists show a startling lack of creativity sometimes.
Bill Clinton. I know, you’re thinking Monica Lewinsky but it really wasn’t what Bill and Monica did that caused the problem – after all, if you can impeach presidents for fooling around you’d end up with a pretty long list. It was that Bill lied about Monica and Paula Jones, too. So Congress charged him with lying under oath and obstruction of justice, things I think many members of Congress might know a lot about.
It really wasn’t close. Remember, you need 2/3 of the senators to show thumbs down, which would be 67. There were two counts of impeachment, and there were 45 votes for conviction on one count and 50 votes on the other. Monica and Paula, alas, didn’t get to vote.
So what will happen to Donald Trump? A president can be impeached for “high crimes and misdemeanors.” The authors of the Constitution dropped that little phrase into the Constitution and left it for future generations to figure out. No one ever really has figured it out and people have been fighting about what it means ever since. That covers a lot of ground. I imagine most of us could be impeached for something that falls in that category.
It seems unlikely there will be 67 senators who would vote to remove the president from office, but you never know. At the very least, this will keep Congress busy and away from causing other problems for a long time, which is something.
And one other good thing: no one has yet starting calling this “Ukrainegate.” We’ve finally moved on. Maybe there’s hope for us yet.
David Lindeman is a Troy resident and former editor at the Troy Daily News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.