Particularly after Wednesday’s events the big political question in America is what to do with President Trump. To all but the willfully ignorant he poses a clear and present danger to America and leaving him in office for even a few more days is risky. There are three paths to evict him early, none of which are foolproof. Let’s explore.
The easiest way to rid the White House of the threat is for Trump to resign. It is both quick and final. The reality is that it is not going to happen except in one increasingly unlikely eleventh hour maneuver. That scenario is that Trump completes Pardonpalooza minus the self-pardon, resigns in exchange for Mike Pence doing a Gerald Ford and pardoning him. Since it has become public that Trump was complicit in an attempt to have Pence abducted and executed that is unlikely. Couple that with the facts that Trump has never trusted Pence, his ego may well not allow a resignation, it may not fit into his future plans/illusions and it would entail an implicit admission of guilt. I still think Trump will self-pardon and take his chances in the courts as to its constitutionality. He is an old man and may well not outlive a prolonged legal battle. This case has Supreme Court written all over it.
The next best option appears to have already been explored and died – invoking the 25th Amendment. Basically that entails Pence and a majority of the Cabinet saying Trump is unfit to hold the office and Mike Pence immediately replaces Trump. (There are various twists and turns along the way which I won’t get into today.) When Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, (a/k/a Mrs. Mitch McConnell – and keep that fact in mind), resigned it signaled to me that she led the effort to get the necessary Cabinet votes and failed. Interestingly Education Secretary Betsy DeVos also resigned which tells me that she was on board with Chao and doesn’t need a presidential pardon. Her brother, Eric Prince, does but I think he has enough on Trump that he will receive on his own “merits”. The need for a pre-emptive pardon is what I feel is keeping many other Cabinet members loyal to Trump up to the end. Self-preservation is trumping patriotism, (no pun intended).
That brings us to the last option – impeachment. As we learned in late 2019 and early 2020 impeachment is a two-step process that is best envisioned as indictment and conviction. The House impeaches and the Senate tries. Trump was impeached by the House on December 18, 2019 but found not guilty by the Senate last January. (Talk about blown opportunities!) I fully expect Trump to be impeached a second time this week. Conviction in the Senate is an entirely different story – one we do not know the script or conclusion of.
Depending on when Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff are seated there will be either 99 or 100 Senator and somewhere between 48 and 50 of them will caucus with the Democrats. Assuming all seated Senators are present and voting conviction will require either 66 or 67 votes. In any case somewhere between 17 and 20 Republican Senators will have to vote to convict. (If you haven’t figured it out by now the multiple variables – including when the trial actually commences and concludes – will dictate the numbers. That excludes the, in my opinion, unlikely scenario where one or more Senators absented themselves.) Most GOP Senators have been either ambiguous or silent about impeachment so it is impossible to tell if those numbers can be hit. My gut tells me it is unlikely but not impossible.
The biggest case against impeachment (from both ends of the political ideology spectrum) is timing. Why impeach Trump with a few days left until Joe Biden takes office anyway? Keeping with the trail metaphor, the way the article of impeachment will be drawn up conviction leads to a penalty phase. The penalty phase (there is better than a 50-50 chance the trial will not conclude until after January 20th.) includes Trump being ineligible to ever run for public office again. That could be appealing to many Republicans in that it eliminates Trump as a factor in 2024. Personally I don’t think he will be on the scene by then because his legal and financial problems will have overwhelmed him by then. Legitimate Republican Senators will be happy to rid their party of him and a handful of wannabes (i.e. Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley) will be happy to eliminate a rival and covet his voters. This is part of why I won’t rule out sufficient crossovers to get to the two-thirds.
A wild card is fiscal conservatism. After the actions of the Republican Congressional caucus during the Trump administration I am convinced that for the vast majority fiscal conservatism is just a hollow plank in their platforms however they still like to espouse it. If Trump is impeached and convicted he loses his pension and expense allowances. In the greater scheme of the federal budget it is little more than a rounding error but it is still several million dollars a year.
In life you are only responsible for what is under your control. Democrats control the House and can easily make Trump the first president in American history to be impeached twice. They have a moral obligation to do so! Option three – uncertain as its final outcome may be – is superior to inaction!
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