‘Its Deja Vu All Over Again’

There have been three successful Presidential impeachments undertaken by the House of Representatives during the history of our country.

Thus far, there have been no convictions in the U.S. Senate.

In two impeachments, the political party in the House was in the hands of the opposition.

When Bill Clinton was impeached, the Republicans controlled the House. In the case of Donald Trump, the Democrats were in charge.

With Andrew Johnson in 1868, it was his own party that impeached him largely over differences he had with Congressional policies toward the South following the Civil War.

Now, we go to phase two of Donald Trump’s impeachment: a trial in the U.S. Senate where conviction requires a two-thirds majority of voting Senators. In some ways, I think the standards for conviction are higher in the Senate than the well understood “proof beyond a reasonable doubt” standard of a normal criminal trial.

To succeed in ousting a sitting President is next to impossible since it requires that a super majority of legislators determine that “high crimes and misdemeanors” have been committed.

Nevertheless, the current controversy on what procedures should be used in the Senate trial is important. It is clear that the framers of the Constitution did not want such a trial to be merely a “white wash” of Presidential conduct.

They expected a thorough review of the alleged misconduct with a vote on the merits.

Thus, it was without a great deal of surprise that Senator Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska, recently advised Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, that the Senate should not view itself as a “rubber stamp” for the White House since the Senate, as part of a constitutionally-created separate branch of government, is supposed to make an independent judgment relative to the impeachment charges.

The Democrats, of course, have recommended procedures and made a list of witnesses that they would like to see testify in the Senate trial.

They also are realistic and know that they are in the minority and not in control. However, the concerns of Republicans, like Senator Murkowski, cannot be taken so lightly. Senator Murkowski may well end up voting against the impeachment, but she also wants to be sure that the charges and defenses to those charges are fully discussed in the Senate.

There was another article I read recently relating to another former U.S. Senator during the Clinton impeachment — Republican Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine. Though the Republicans then were also “in charge” in the Senate and the majority seemed to want to quickly and summarily vote to convict President Clinton — Snowe went to the then-majority leader, Trent Lott, and convinced him to have a more open and serious process before the Senate would decide.

In a sense, that is where we are again today. Though Senator McConnell and the White House may want a quick proceeding and fast acquittal of the charges, others in their party are calling for a more deliberate and transparent process in deciding the fate of the President of the United States.

Yogi Berra had a point when he said: “It’s deja vu all over again.”

We have been here before. The Senate trial may be a quick “slam-dunk” for the White House. On the other hand, it might end up being the kind of serious quasi-judicial proceeding that the framers of the Constitution envisioned.

Rolland Kidder is a Stow resident.


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