To impeach or not to impeach, or when is it OK to ignore your oath of office?
Article VI of the U.S. Constitution requires senators and representatives as well as all executive and judicial officers to be bound by oath or affirmation, to support the Constitution.
According to the United States House of Representatives, History, Arts & Archives online, the Framers of the Constitution debated whether to include impeachment in the Constitution. Some said since the president’s term was four years, why not let the election process make the judgment call whereas others argued that impeachment was a way to keep the executive in check. Impeachment, as explained by Constitutional Framer Alexander Hamilton in Federalist Paper #65, involved the “misconduct of public men, or in other words from the abuse or violation of some public trust.”
Following Donald Trump’s 2016 win by Electoral College (and loss by popular vote), his presidency has been fraught with divisiveness, and calls for impeachment came early in his tenure. His inflammatory speech and tweets, not to mention his lies and misrepresentations (more than 10,000, according to the Washington Post), are seen by many as conduct unbecoming the nation’s commander-in-chief.
In addition to allegations of obstruction of justice, other conduct by the President is deemed impeachable, or, in other words, to require a public inquiry into allegations. These other allegations include, but are not limited, to the following:
• Failure to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States” — by his repeated attacks on the press, an attack on the First Amendment;
• Failure “to take care that the laws be faithfully executed” — by his attack on the Affordable Care Act; in questioning the fitness of judges on grounds of ethnicity and the party of the President appointing such judges; in instructing the Treasury Secretary to defy the law by refusing to release the President’s tax records to the House Ways and Means Committee; by inflaming violence against a sitting member of Congress; by appointing cabinet heads whose background and expertise are contrary to the mission of the agency, or in the words of Trump strategist Steve Bannon, “If you look at these Cabinet appointees, they were selected for a reason, and that is the deconstruction”;
• Violating the foreign and domestic emoluments clauses by his business organization’s properties profiting from use by state politicians, federal officials, and foreign governments;
• Inhumane acts by intentionally causing great suffering or serious injury to body or to mental or physical health by separating immigrant children from their parents;
• Directing that security clearances be issued to senior personnel over the objections of career national security officials, endangering the nation.
Some worry that impeachment will lead to four more years of Trump. Bernie Sanders, for example, said that impeachment would distract from talking about “all the issues that concern ordinary Americans,” resulting in a Trump advantage in the 2020 election. Others, like the House Majority Leader, say that since there are not the votes in the Senate to convict, impeachment is not worthwhile.
The two reasons offered for ignoring the oath of office seem to be (1) ineffectiveness and (2) a justifiable aim not based on constitutional process but, instead, driven by other interests.
Should the House avoid impeachment because the Senate won’t convict? Will the people benefit by a public investigation into the allegations? “A good magistrate,” said constitutional Framer Elbridge Gerry, “will not fear [impeachments]. A bad one ought to be kept in fear of them.”
As to the ends justifying the means of ignoring the oath of office, as an example, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell ignored his duty to proceed with advice and consent for a Supreme Court nominee, in effect allowing the state of Kentucky to steal a lifetime seat on the Court.
If impeachment is optional, is the oath of office optional? What about the vote? At Samantha Bee’s “Not the White House Correspondents’ Dinner” on TBS, actor Robert De Niro joked, “Impeachment or not, there will be an election. Unless Mitch McConnell can figure out a way to stop that vote, too.”
Far fetched? Maybe not, in an interview with the Breitbart News Network in March, the president said, “I can tell you I have the support of the police, the support of the military, the support of the Bikers for Trump. I have the tough people, but they don’t play it tough — until they go to a certain point, and then it would be very bad, very bad.”
Rita Carlson resides in Manila.