Re: The Costs of Impeachment

Clerk of the House Cheryl Johnson and House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving deliver the articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump on Capitol Hill, January 15, 2020. Following are impeachment managers House Judiciary Committee Chairman, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, Rep. Sylvia Garcia, Rep. Val Demings, Rep. Zoe Lofgren, and Rep. Jason Crow. (Tom Brenner/Reuters)

In response to The Costs of Impeachment to the Country Aren’t High

Thanks for your reply, Ramesh.

To be clear, I wasn’t saying that impeaching with no chance of conviction will tank the stock market, precipitate a foreign war, or blight forever the year in which it takes place. It’s just a bad use of our time and energy.

What are the downsides? Well, it stirs up intense passions, which, unless you are a cable TV news producer, you should want to avoid doing unnecessarily.

In this instance, it actually foreshortened the investigation into the president’s misconduct. The reason Democrats rushed and didn’t even subpoena key witnesses is that they knew the closer the election got, the more absurd impeachment and removal would look. So, the fantastical prospect of removal cut short the very real inquiry. Now, Democrats can always go back and investigate some more, but the probe might have less juice.

There’s the unintended consequence of holding Democratic presidential candidates in Washington. Conservative may snark, “It’s better for America that Bernie can’t campaign,” but it’s not better for Democratic voters in Iowa. The candidates are only pinned down because they must adhere to the fiction that there’s an impeachment trial that might lead to the president’s removal.

Even for the Democrats’ own purposes, impeaching with no chance of conviction is a bad idea because it will end with a victory for Trump. Of course, Democrats will immediately reverse field from insisting removal is the only way to hold him accountable to saying that he’s been held accountable because he’s been impeached as a form of censure. But, then, why not censure, which would be simpler, not require the pretense involved in impeaching with no hope of conviction, and might get a little bipartisan support?

Finally, and this is hard to quantify, it’s not great to draw on the majesty of our institutions, as an impeachment trial does, in support of what’s basically a charade.

As I say in my column, now that both sides have done this, it’d be nice if everyone concluded it isn’t a great model. That happened to the independent counsel statue after both sides were on the receiving end, although that consensus broke down with the Mueller investigation and Republicans may embrace this model of impeachment when a Democrat is president rather than shun it. It’d be better, though, if everyone agreed to use impeachment when there’s some real chance of a super-majority against a president, and otherwise wielded all the other tools a Congress has to hold a president accountable.

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