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A brief civics lesson on impeachment

Yesterday, I discussed the possible impeachment of President Bush. The comments that provoked convinced me that a lot of people -- especially "ed" -- hadn't the slightest clue about the impeachment process.

Impeachment is an important part of the United States Constitution. It is a key element of the system of checks and balances, and represents Congress' way of reining in the other two branches. As such, it is an exclusive power of Congress -- it may not be interfered with by any other body. No president can veto it, no court can overrule it. (Sorry, ed.)

But commensurate with the power comes its own restrictions. It is not an easy process, by any stretch of the imagination.

The first step is to persuade a majority of the House of Representatives (218) to pass articles of impeachment. (In Clinton's case, he was impeached on two counts, by votes of 228-206 and 221-212. Two other counts failed.) The Constitution specifies that impeachment can be for "treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors." Legal scholars pretty much agree that the language is so vague and the power so unfettered that they can impeach for any grounds they see fit -- the check on the power is the fact that the entire House and 1/3 of the Senate has to face re-election every two years. Once that hurdle has been passed, then the president is impeached.

But "impeach" is legally analogous to "indicted." That simply means that there will be a trial, at which guilt or innocence will be determined.

The trial is held by the Senate as a whole. The House appoints "managers" who serve as prosecutors, and the President provides his own defense. The 100 Senators are in effect the "jury," and the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court presides. But this is like no other trial in the world. The jury establishes all the ground rules of the trial, and at any time can overrule the judge with a simple majority vote. The judge has no authority to dismiss the case, direct a verdict, or do anything without the approval of the Senate as a whole -- either tacitly or explicitly. And in the Seanate, it takes a two-thirds majority to convict.

Now, let's presume the president is convicted. The sole penalty available to be inflicted is removal from office. There can be no fines, no incarceration, no prohibition from seeking public office. A convicted President is simply rendered an ordinary citizen on the spot.

OK, let's game this out. Suppose John Conyers decides to modfy his motion to censure President Bush and make it a move to impeach. First, he would need to find a co-sponsor -- something his censure resolution has failed to do. Then he must persuade 217 other Representatives to side with him. Speaking purely on a political basis, this could be a challenge -- The Republicans hold 231 seats, while the Democrats 202 (Vermont's Bernie Sanders, a socialist, is officially an "independent," but can usually be counted on to side with the Democrats, and one seat is currently vacant.) He would need to swing at least 15 Republicans to turn against their party's leader to impeach Bush.

Then, it's on to the Senate, where it's even more lopsided. The Republicans there hold 55 seats to the Democrats' 44 (once again, Vermont has an independent in Jim Jeffords). There the Democrats would have to swing at least 23 Republicans to win a conviction.

Some might say that the fact that the current Chief Justice, John Roberts, was appointed by Bush could help him. As I pointed out above, the role of the Chief Justice in impeachment is extremely curtailed. If there is enough support in the Senate to convict the President, there is nothing the Chief Justice can do.

OK, let's say that this all happens and President Bush is convicted by the Senate. What happens then?

He goes home to Crawford, Texas and mauls more brush. Or maybe he hits the lecture circuit, or campaigns for his supporters. About the only thing he can't do is run for president again -- and that's not because of the impeachment but the 22nd Amendment, which says he cannot be elected more than twice.

Back in Washington, though, say hello to President Dick Cheney.

But Dick is just as bad as Dubya, to many of their foes. So let's impeach him, too. Let's go all the way back to the beginning and go through the whole rigamarole and remove him from office, too.

Presuming that Cheney doesn't have time to appoint a new Vice-President (which requires Senate approval), upon his conviction he retires to Wyoming or Texas and is limited to only menacing geriatric lawyers.

Meet President Dennis Hastert, the current Speaker of the House.

OK, so get rid of HIM. That opens the door for Senate President Pro Tempore Ted Stevens to move up. And if you get past Ted, you start running through Cabinet secretaries, starting with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Of the 15 Cabinet officers, 2 are ineligible due to being foreign-born, the Secretary of the Interior will soon be vacant, and the Director of Homeland Security hasn't had their ranking fixed as yet. The liberals' only hope is down at slot 14, Transportation Secretary Norm Mineta.

So, my challenge to the Looney Left on impeachment: Bring. It. On. Not only is the attempt doomed to failure, but you will due tremendous damage to your own credibility, standing, and power. Most of the Democrats in Congress know this -- look how they're running from Conyers' grandstand play on censure. Most responsible adults in this country realize that impeachment is the "really big gun," a true "nuclear option," politically, and to whip it out on such spurious, frivolous, and ridiculous grounds is to dilute its power and weaken it for the times it is truly needed. (For the record, I thought Clinton should have been convicted -- he truly did lie under oath and obstruct justice for personal benefit. He raised his hand and swore to "tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth," under penalty of perjury, and then lied knowingly and willingly. Regardless of the context, he lied under oath and was caught, and walked.)

And I can always use some cheap entertainment.


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Comments (42)

Hmmm.Yest... (Below threshold)


Yesterday, I discussed the possible impeachment of President Bush. The comments that provoked convinced me that a lot of people -- especially "ed" -- hadn't the slightest clue about the impeachment process.

Congratulations Jay on being an ass.

So. What exact charge is Congress going to level against President Bush?

Being bad at public speaking?

Bringing impeachment proceedings against Bush requires being able to sell the entire enterprise to the American people. I.e. you have to convince them that there actually WAS frigging crime AND that Bush was personally responsible for it. You can't accuse him of a crime that some underling supposedly did. You have to actually show that Bush was involved and actually, you frigging know, knew about it and participated.

Nixon was going to be impeached not for the Watergate break-in, but for the coverup which is did participate in.

Clinton got impeached because he was on the record and under oath when he demonstrably lied.

So what the f**k are you going to impeach Bush on that isn't ALREADY a "high crimes and misdemeanors." and you CANNOT directly show that Bush participated in?

You're the one proposing that Congress can just go and impeach any President they want for any damn reason they care to cast about regardless of the legality of the charges.

What you're trying to argue is some half-assed theory. What that proposed theory does is not include the American people in this process. A rather stupid undertaking considering the has the GOP made of the Clinton impeachment process.

So go ahead and cast aspersions but if you make an idiotic argument I'm going to call you on it.

"you will due tremendous da... (Below threshold)

"you will due tremendous damage to your own credibility" ??

Just thought I would be the first to point it out.

Otherwise a good piece - informative and educational.

ed, I thought your assertio... (Below threshold)

ed, I thought your assertion regarding "crimes and misdemeanors" had some appeal at the outset, but there is authority that you are indeed mistaken. Here's an interesting explanation of the meaning that goes well beyond your cut-and-dried approach.

And here's an exhaustive discussion of the history and analysis of the language which supports the conclusion that "high crimes and misdemeanors" really is intended to mean any conduct that allegedly violates the President's oath of office.

Oh, and those links also su... (Below threshold)

Oh, and those links also suggest that the President does not have to be the principal actor -- but can be held accountable for the conduct of his subordinates if he does nothing post-act to remedy the misconduct. Interesting.

Ed:Did you read ei... (Below threshold)


Did you read either one of jay's posts? I can't figure out where you're coming from you're so off base. You're actually agreeing with jay without agreeing with him. Go figure.

Crud.Typo fixed. T... (Below threshold)
Jay Tea:


Typo fixed. Thanks, SmartGuy.

And ed... learn the difference between technical and pragmatic. TECHNICALLY, a president can be impeached on whatever grounds Congress deems fit. PRAGMATICALLY, it's almost impossible to pull off.


The Time is way over due fo... (Below threshold)
Amy Sasser:

The Time is way over due for the people of this country to claim back this great nation. Not only do we have an administration who has lied to congress but has lied to the American People. When are we going to say enough is enough? Myself, I want them arrested for war crimes, and the crimes of 911. We have enough evidence that shows the official story is a lie. Hitler had his Reichstag fire and brought forth the enabling act against the people of Germany. He blamed the fire on the communists, when in fact if you look back in history he was responsible. History does repeat itself. The patriot act is almost exactly like the Nazi enabling act. The false flag operation what was done on 911 was to create fear to draw the American people into their New Project for American Century plans. Devised by these neocons and their handlers. When are the American people going to get it that this has been done before in history? I find any congressman and/or senator that signed the patriot act in violation of the Constitution of United States of America, which is the supreme law of this great land. Their acts are Treasonous.
Our Republic has been over thrown and we need to take this country back from these criminals. The shock and awe on 911 was a phyops to scare the people into submission. Rise up people and take this great land back that our fore fathers willed to the people.

"It is not the function of the government to keep the citizen from falling into error; it is the function of the citizen to keep the government from falling into error."--- U.S. Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson

AmyCongratulations... (Below threshold)


Congratulations on a perfect imitation of Leftist cult member talking points list! You even worked in "Hitler" and "Reishtag".

Uh..it is an imitation...right?

Oh my God! Now you have sc... (Below threshold)

Oh my God! Now you have scared the crap out of me - President Al Gore!

The venomous portion of the... (Below threshold)

The venomous portion of the attacks on Bush are not about policy. They are about revenge/retaliation for the impeachment of Clinton. Prior to that, the Democrats saw Nixon's near impeachment and ensuing resignation as proof they are the more Moral Party.

Jay, thanks for your essay ... (Below threshold)

Jay, thanks for your essay on the impeachment process. Even though it hassn't been that long since the experience with Clinton, it's easy to forget how this works. Also thanks to our founding fathers for making it difficult to actually carry this out, protecting us from crazies.

Jay,While I apprec... (Below threshold)
Mac Lorry:


While I appreciate the civic lesson, I don't agree with the reason you wrote it.

As such, it is an exclusive power of Congress -- it may not be interfered with by any other body. No president can veto it, no court can overrule it.

As we are discussing theory and not reality, I have to point out an error in your article. Under Article II of the Constitution Bush can interfere with the impeachment process at any time prior to being convicted by the senate. How you may ask? As commander in chief, the president has exclusive command of the U.S. military, so it theory Bush could order a nuclear strike on Moscow from his ranch in Texas, knowing the Russians would send the same back to DC. With no congress, there can be no impeachment.

Now I know that's a twilight zone scenario, but when you call out ed for pointing out reality over theory it opens the way for all theoretical scenarios. If I said in a post that 90% of incumbents always retain their offices, I would hope that you wouldn't call me out by writing a piece saying that, in theory, the American people could turn out of office every incumbent in the house and one third of the senators this November. You would be right in theory, but I would be right in reality.

I read ed's post yesterday and he made a valid reality based point. Impeachment is about political reality, not legal theory. What you can do in theory is one thing, what you can do in reality is often something else entirely. In reality, it's simply not possible to impeach Bush without first proving to the American people that a crime has been committed. In reality, what constitutes a crime in the U.S. is still decided by the Supreme court, not congress. Think about that before you start bring up theory again. If the Supreme court were to rule that Bush violated the constitution with the NSA wiretaps, impeachment efforts would be politically possible. However, if the Supreme court were to rule that Bush had proper legal authority for the wiretaps, then it wouldn't matter what individual congressmen and senators thought, there would be no political support for impeachment. In reality, the Supreme court has the real power, at least in the wiretap case, and Bush could easily get the issue before the court if needed.

Peace (I hope)

Amy ... (Below threshold)

Amy You raving lunatic, 911 did not cause submissiveness ! it has had the opposite effect, since you cant see this you are apparently blind!

Mac?While a Presid... (Below threshold)


While a President is CinC, each member of the military is charged with the responsibility of disobeying even a direct order they know or feel is contrary to the law.

I remember my dad (WWII/Korea Vet, former DI) explaining this to me during the Lt. Calley trial... he was incensed that Lt. Calley's subordinates were not also on trial, as they had the obligation to defy Calley's orders.

Hmmmm.I r... (Below threshold)


I read ed's post yesterday and he made a valid reality based point. Impeachment is about political reality, not legal theory.


So yes in theory, a wildly speculative and rather ridiculous theory, a President could be impeached for no other reason than Congress is feeling a little bitchy and out of sorts. I suppose it could be argued that Congress has a PMS schedule synchronised with the election cycles.

But hey.

It's also theoretically possible that the Constitution could be amended to annoint me King Ramses the 43rd of the American Empire. Upon ascension to the Throne, I of course would begin building my Great Pyramid in downtown Washington because, if you're going to be a King, you might as well screw up traffic even more than it is already.

Since we're discussing theory.

Hmmm.Whil... (Below threshold)


While a President is CinC, each member of the military is charged with the responsibility of disobeying even a direct order they know or feel is contrary to the law.

Yes this is correct. All levels of the US military are required to obey a *lawful* order from a superior. The question, and it's a real headache in some cases, is the actual definition of "lawful".

Every order given, received and acted upon has to be judged on the basis of it's lawful intent and outcome against the UCMJ. And yes if you decline a lawful order and you're found to have declined without merit, you can be court martialed for it.

I did not take ed's initial... (Below threshold)

I did not take ed's initial comment to be a statement of political reality -- I took it to be his understanding of what the legal definition of "high crimes and misdemeanors" is. In which case he was wrong.

As a statement of political theory, he may be right -- the left is certainly doing its best to sell the concept to the American people, let's see who it ends up hurting in the end.

Darlean,W... (Below threshold)
Mac Lorry:


While a President is CinC, each member of the military is charged with the responsibility of disobeying even a direct order they know or feel is contrary to the law.

You are right in reality, but in theory Bush could give the order to some sub on patrol. The sub commander would have no idea what was going on and may just follow the procedure as he has been trained. I hope there are safeguards in place further upstream to prevent a President from launching a nuclear strike while sleep walking.

edyes, and if you ... (Below threshold)


yes, and if you obey an unlawful order you can be tried, too.

wavemaker,<blockquote... (Below threshold)
Mac Lorry:


I did not take ed's initial comment to be a statement of political reality -- I took it to be his understanding of what the legal definition of "high crimes and misdemeanors" is. In which case he was wrong.

I could see how you could conclude ed's comment to be a statement of political reality; it was short, to the point, and didn't carry a disclaimer. However, the context of Jay's piece was about real political events, and that alerted me to ed's intent, and within that context ed was correct, as usual.

Correction: I could see how... (Below threshold)
Mac Lorry:

Correction: I could see how you could conclude ed's comment to be a statement of political theory.

"He goes home to Crawford, ... (Below threshold)

"He goes home to Crawford, Texas"

Is Crawford, Texas his home? Didn't he buy it just before the election to convice people like Wizbang readers that he is so rugged that he loves clearing brush?

Worked like a charm.

If ed's theory is indeed co... (Below threshold)

If ed's theory is indeed correct, it would take some bad-ass behavior for an impeachment conviction to take place. Personally, I would be satisfied with lying under oath alone.

Worked like a char... (Below threshold)
Mac Lorry:
Worked like a charm.

There are lots of theories as to how Bush won the Presidency, but one of the factors was his compassionate conservatism philosophy. Some claim compassionate conservatism is an oxymoron, in that these two terms seem to be mutually exclusive. Irregardless, its politically brilliant, and I expect to see someone on the left use the oxymoron wise liberalism to great advantage.

jp2Would you like ... (Below threshold)


Would you like some nice brie and baguette to go with that whine?

To the commie moonbats in C... (Below threshold)

To the commie moonbats in Congress and their nut-job traitor supporters, has it ever occurred to them that Censure, Impeachment, High Crimes and Misdemeanors and removal from office can be more easily applied to them?
If the Republicans had a pair they could start by impeaching Senators Feingold and Kerry for aid and comfort to the enemy. Bring it on commie's!

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLICANS for ... (Below threshold)

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLICANS for FEINGOLD '08!!!!...and there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth...

Mac: Republicans are indeed... (Below threshold)

Mac: Republicans are indeed politically brilliant. Look what they did to Kerry, for god sakes. Incredible work. Turning a silver star war hero into a flip-flopping Frenchman traitor. However, what impresses me the most is their ability to build a cult following.

But all that political brilliance doesn't mean anything when it comes to actually running our government and helping the people in this country.

jp2, you give the GOP way, ... (Below threshold)
Jay Tea:

jp2, you give the GOP way, WAY too much credit. Kerry achieved that all on his own. All the GOP did was let folks know about it.


No, Jay, I disagree<p... (Below threshold)

No, Jay, I disagree

jp2 is not giving the GOP credit, he just does what all Left cult members do with faced with uncomfortable reality

punt the responsibility

People in America reacted t... (Below threshold)

People in America reacted to Kerry the same way we in Massachusetts (Dems included) have all along -- we recognized him as a smarmy, conniving, opportunistic fraud.

we recognized him as a s... (Below threshold)

we recognized him as a smarmy, conniving, opportunistic fraud.

You just gave the definition of a politician, you know.

Jay, I think the playbook i... (Below threshold)

Jay, I think the playbook is something like this:

- Democrats take the House and Senate in 2006
- Bush and Cheney impeached
- say hello to President Pelosi

From where I sit that is pretty darned frightening. Two years of that Botoxed visage staring out at me from the Oval Office and I'd probably do myself an injury.

Speaking of Kerry, did he e... (Below threshold)
Les Nessman:

Speaking of Kerry, did he ever release all his military records yet; or is he still hiding behind the incomplete records he has sent to the Boston Globe?

No he didn't.... (Below threshold)

No he didn't.

Attention all Supreme Imper... (Below threshold)
Apostle 3con:

Attention all Supreme Imperialists ! Our heroic leader will not be impeached nor censured. G.W.B. has been appointed by God himself to dismantle our inadequate form of government and purge the world of all evil scumbags that threathen our GREAT NATION. He will not hesitate to use force or use nuclear weapons against Germany, France, Canada, North Korea, China, Russia, Iran and any country that stands in our way. We need to gather and exterminate all unpatriotic intellectual thinking liberal dissenters. They are a threat to our core values and need to be dealt with immediately. Detention / Death camps have been built. Surveillance has been completed and we have the necessary information on all of our enemies. They can run, hide, we will find them and they will be put to death as it is written in the Bible. " The evil ones shall perish in the shadow of our almighty faith." Anyone who opposes our Presidents resolve to protect us shall be struck down by God's sword. God bless our GREAT NATION and be thankful George W. Bush has mounted the " White Stallion " to lead us out of this darkness and into the everlasting light of righteousness.

Apostle 3con,And h... (Below threshold)
Mac Lorry:

Apostle 3con,

And here I was worried that my twilight zone scenario of a nuclear attack on Moscow was over the top. It's obvious the loony left doesn't have to worry about being out lunaticed by me, at least not while they have you in their camp.

Thanks for making me feel rational and reflective again.

Jay:One element of... (Below threshold)


One element of your impeachment process analysis was lacking, and that was a little bit of background research. You may have learned with a brief visit to congress.gov that Congressman Conyers' resolution to investigate possible impeachable offenses by the president has already attracted the cosponsorship of 32 Members of Congress. His censure resolution has 15 cosponsors.

One little nitpick:<p... (Below threshold)

One little nitpick:

While the impeachment of President Cheney might take place before a new Vice President is confirmed, it's not very likely that the impeachment of President Hastart would happen before the House elects a new Speaker. Endless impeachment wouldn't likely reach the President pro temp of the Senate, much less the cabinet. It would be a succession of Speaker after Speaker after Speaker....

Dave Shuler above has the s... (Below threshold)

Dave Shuler above has the scenario about correct.

The Donks are merely laying the groundwork for a MASSIVE Hail Mary attempt to retake the White House.

Consider: There is nothing on the books that prevents simultaneous impeachment processes of both the POTUS and the VPOTUS. Right now the Donks are preparing for Bush, but the papers for Cheney are already printed up and will merely need a signature or two and off they go.

What do the Donks need for this to happen?
1) Retake the House - possible.
2) Retake the Senate by a margin of 67-33 on an organizational (voting) basis. They may not need the pure 67-33 D-to-R since they figure that either/or Snowe and Collins will flip. I haven't gamed this out, maybe others have, but this would require a poll turnaround the likes of which has not been seen in U.S. History.
3) Run through the impeachment process for both Bush and Cheney. If the Donks were smart, they'd do Cheney first and then bollix up the appointment of the replacement VPOTUS (of course, the Donks are not smart). Kick out Cheney, then do Bush.

Presto! It is my honor and privilege to present to you your first female President of the United States, former representative from the Peoples Republic of San Francisco, Nancy Pelosi.

Now we dance...


Impeachment reflects the Fo... (Below threshold)
Ricard Smith:

Impeachment reflects the Founding Father's fear of a tyrant. They wanted to guarantee that, at least in theory, anyone could be removed from office. It serves as a credible threat, a nuclear option that might never actually be used. The mechanism is designed to address problems posed by individuals rather than systemic problems linked to party conflict or corruption at all layers. The ultimate safety valve in the case of corruption of the full system is elections, not impeachment. The idea of a set or chain of impeachments is not in the spirit of the system. Bi-annual Congressional elections give us a rolling chance to remove the whole bunch -- both parties are equally accountable to the people.

The Founding Fathers did not anticipate fully our current governance system built on parties in general, let alone a bi-party system populated by career politicians. Some of the Founders, Washington included, were openly opposed to a party system. Indeed, much like Eisenhower's warning about the Military-Industrial complex in the middle of the 20th Century, George Washington left office with a dire warning about the dangers of a party-based political system at the end of the 18th Century. Looks like he was right. Such a system did emerge, obviously, quickly after the Constitution was made operational. He saw the changes around him, just as Eisenhower did, and did not like them. However, these changes emerged after the Constitution was put in place. As such, the impeachment process was not designed to remove governing parties from power. It was designed for situations where power or corruption was centered in an individual who threatened the hard won liberties the Constitution was meant to protect. The Founding Fathers did not want another King George, or another dynasty of Georges ruling without consent of the governed.

Right now, we have problems related to those populating the system -- in both parties. The appropriate response is to focus on elections, not impeachment. We need to rise above name-calling and ask ourselves how we got here. The fiscal state of this great nation is a shambles, and there are legitimate questions about the build-up to the current war given the lack of ties to Osama and the clear failure of inteligence on WMD. This should be clear. However, the build up to the war is history, and we need to focus on where we are now and where we should go from here. Now we are knee deep in it and bleeding money we are borrowing from the Asians and Europeans. China and Japan are printing money, and the Europeans are giving us their pension funds, hoping to profit by lending as we borrow to finance our foreign adventures. Our government is at the receiving end of this credit because it is unwilling to ask the American people to actually pay the taxes necessary for the "public services" (whether armed conflict or "prescription drug benefit") they provide. Way back when, in the beginnings of our great history, Washington warned us about getting entangled in foreign conflicts. The irony of this one, paid for by borrowed cash on top of the conflict itself, must have him spinning in his grave. We do not need finger pointing. We are where we are, and we need to focus on now. Where are we? Somewhere in the neighborhood of a protracted armed conflict peppered by religious fanaticism, a budget deficit that must be rendering central bank managers sleep deprived, and a political dialogue that has descended to name calling by both sides while we ignore the burning house we stand in. Impeachment is a distraction that allows both colors of politician (pink and baby blue) to shy away from these real and burning issues. We the electorate need to take responsibility for our own lives and the liberties we have been gifted. These are expensive, hard won gifts. They were paid for with blood. We should not allow them to be frittered away in a partisan scramble for borrowed treasure. Rather we should demand that our leaders deal with the real issues at hand, issues of substance, with gravity and not with Machiavellian maneuvers and schemes. If they will not, then we as citizens need to step forward and assert our right of ownership. The current management team for this country of ours, Democrat and Republican, is failing the American people and bickering when they should be working. Impeachment would just be another distraction. "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain."

And ed... learn the differe... (Below threshold)

And ed... learn the difference between technical and pragmatic. TECHNICALLY, a president can be impeached on whatever grounds Congress deems fit. PRAGMATICALLY, it's almost impossible to pull off.
Posted by Jay Tea

Oh, you mean technically like the ridiculous impeachment of Bill Clinton?

It's really been enjoyable reading all the posts of you idiotic republitards as you become less and less arrogant about your beloved George. The ship is sinking, and you idiots (e.g. Darleen) are proudly standing on the forward deck as Georgie Boy boards a lifeboat.







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