Critics who say that the impeachment of President Trump is futile because the Republican Senate will never vote to convict and remove him are wrong morally, constitutionally, and politically.
Morally, only articles of impeachment voted by the U.S. House of Representatives will hold the president accountable for his transgressions. Otherwise, he will continue to undermine our democracy and set a precedent for the unchecked abuse of power by future presidents. Trump does not want his brand tarnished by becoming only the third president in American history to be charged by Congress with committing high crimes and misdemeanors.
The critics are wrong constitutionally because the House has the sole authority for impeachment.
America’s founders put impeachment into the Constitution, not as a catastrophic contingency, but as a legal, orderly and peaceful means for removing a dangerous leader without resort to revolution or assassination.
The House has a responsibility to decide for itself whether the president has committed impeachable offenses. It is not their role to consult a cracked crystal ball to foretell what the Senate may or may not do when all the facts are on the table.
Politically, if the House votes articles of impeachment against Trump, Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has two unpalatable choices. First, he could follow the precedent of past presidential impeachments and hold a formal trial in the Senate.
Chief Justice John Roberts, who has a demonstrated fidelity to the law. not McConnell or Senate President Mike Pence, would preside over the trial. At trial, House designated managers would point an accusing finger at the president through opening and closing statements, live testimony and documentary evidence. They would cross-examine witnesses for the president and compel his lawyers to present real arguments and evidence, not just Rudy Giuliani-style television spin.
Only the third Senate trial of an American president in U.S. history would command public attention and present in a focused setting all evidence of the president’s alleged “high crimes and misdemeanors.” The weight of the evidence against President Trump could be compelling, even to Senate Republicans.
Although President Richard Nixon resigned before he was impeached and tried, damning public testimony before congressional committees drove his 67 percent approval rating down to 25 percent and turned leaders of his own party against him. Even if the Senate ultimately acquitted the president, the revelations of a public Senate trial could crack Trump’s voter support and doom his chances for reelection. The impeachment of Bill Clinton may have lost a few House seats for Republicans, but it gave them the greater prize of the presidency in 2000. George W. Bush campaigned on the themes of restoring honesty and integrity to the White House and a quarter of voters said the scandal was very important for their decisions.
Senate Republicans could attempt to dismiss summarily the charges against President Trump. But Republicans have only a thin three-vote majority and there may be enough principled, retiring, and politically vulnerable Senators to join with Democrats to block any attempt to avoid a full Senate trial, which the gravity of a presidential impeachment clearly demands.
Shakespeare wrote, “there is a tide in the affairs of men. Which taken at the flood leads on to fortune.” The tide is rising for America, and for the first time, Democrats seem to be seizing it at the flood for the good fortune of our country.
Allan Lichtman is a Distinguished Professor of History at American University and the author of “The Case for Impeachment."