In almost two hundred and forty years, America had forty-five presidents and three processes of impeachment. None of these cases led to the removal of the President, the closest being the resignation of Richard Nixon. Gene Healy of the CATO Institute thinks, “It’s hard to say that it’s historic that there’s never been an Impeachment of a President … it’s easier to say we do not start these processes enough times.”
We needed to get to the Trump-era to see Articles of Impeachment of a US President submited in the House of Representatives.
The authors of the Constitution considered some conditions for the impeachment process. The original proposal restricted this process to “acts of betrayal and bribery.” However, this definition was rejected as too limited, and a later proposal was presented to be “acts of misadministration.” This was rejected because it was too vague. The terms “major crimes and misdemeanors” was finally accepted ans inscribed in the Constitution.
High crimes and misdemeanors describe much more than legal infractions. In the Federalist Papers, Alexander Hamilton presented the definition of “misconduct of public men, or, in other words, abuse or violation of the public.” James Madison, when confronted with the question whether the removal of government officials without just cause would be a reason for dismissal, replied that: “unconcerned removal of meritorious officers would be sufficient reason for Impeachment and removal.”
Political scientist Allan Lichtman, author of “The Case for Impeachment” says: “The motives for an Impeachment need not involve a crime. That is why the process is not legal, but political. It does not take place in the courts but in the House of Representatives and Senate”.
In another book, “Impeachment: A Citizen’s Guide,” Harvard law professor Cass Sunstein adds: “If a President makes gross violations of the public trust placed in him by having the place of president, he may be dismissed, convicted , and removed from the place”.
Impeachment is not the only way, beyond the democratic solution of voting, to withdraw a President from power. Another option is to invoke the 25th Amendment of the Constitution, which allows the President to be removed from office if a majority of the members of the Cabinet and the Vice-President certify that the former is “unable to apply the powers and obligations of his position “. This Amendment was ratified in 1967 in response to President Eisenhower’s health problems, or when due to the assassination of President Kennedy.
The 25th Amendment is also a matter of interpretation. It can range from diminishing physical to mental capabilities. If an independent and substantiated clinical opinion shows that the President suffers from a mental disorder, or any injury that prevents him from fulfilling his constitutional duties, the Amendment may be activated, and with that the removal of the President.
However, both the Impeachment process and the activation of the 25th Amendment were intended for a reality that is not the current one. The United States Presidency has much more power than the “founding fathers” imagined, and the political system is supported in two parties, where, being one in power, it has sufficient conditions to prevent the President from being deposed. Majorities, both in the House of Representatives and the Senate are needed to move forward with the Impeachment process, and in a politically fragmented America, there isn’t enough votes to make sure that the process will go trough both chambers.
The question then arises, what is “the red line” for Republicans, with a majority in the two chambers, to remove President Trump from the political and military decision-making center of the United States. A nuclear war on the Korean Peninsula? A conventional war in the Middle East? Clearly, the possibility of collusion with an opposing power (Russia), or obstruction of justice (FBI) are not enough.
Hopefully, whatever it is, will not lead the United States to ruin, or the world into armed conflict.
(This Op-Ed is from the responsability of Ricardo Silvestre)