Sunday, January 08, 2017

Article Two Section Four, or The Twenty-Fifth...

So I keep seeing all this talk about impeachment. Donald Trump's not even sworn in yet and there's people gaming out how removing Trump for his ongoing unethical behavior (via Digby):

There are some creative strategic thinkers out there, however, who are looking at the big picture and coming up with some exciting propositions. For instance, Robert Kuttner wrote this provocative piece for the Huffington Post, advocating for a group of experts, preferably bipartisan, to begin seriously putting together the case for impeachment...
He goes on to enumerate the high crimes and misdemeanors in which Trump is already implicated, beginning with the massive corruption inherent in his continued ownership of a privately held international company, the details of which he refuses to divulge. There are also his strange and uncharacteristic fondness for Vladimir Putin and his untrammeled nepotism, just for starters...

I have to admit, I dreaded the I-Word during the Obama years because I've seen the use of impeachment as a political, partisan tool in my lifetime (Clinton) and I was too young to witness impeachment under honest circumstances (Nixon's crimes in office, not just the Watergate cover-up but several others). I feared with each passing year - especially after 2010 and 2014 Midterms - that the Republicans would just break out the Impeach hammer and cudgel Obama with it until they drew blood.

But even Obama didn't get this kind of treatment back in 2009 - the Republicans preferred their Obstructionist gameplan instead - so I'm a little bothered that the Democrats and the Progressive Left are reaching for this tool before Day One even gets here.

Then again, Obama was never this big a goddamn glitch in the political Matrix.

Trump is coming in with so many conflicts of interest with his business holdings that he's honestly violating the Emoluments Clause the second he puts his hand to a Bible (which will likely burst into flames when he does).

Trump's alliance with Russian political and business figures - and his open devotion to autocrat Putin - is where he's valuing their friendship over the national security of the United States he's supposed to uphold and defend. Using the word "treason" describing this behavior isn't hyperbole or partisan wishful thinking...

Trump's ignorance and refusal to learn the rules and protocols of the Office of the President - especially in dealing with foreign powers - is 100 percent certain to cause a Constitutional Crisis. It's only a question of When and How it happens.

Just any ONE of those three points would be legitimate grounds - treason, bribery, other high crimes and misdemeanors as mentioned in Article II Section 4 - for impeaching...

It just comes down to a question of political will.

Like it or not impeachment is a political tool, not a legal one. For impeachment to happen, your political party in charge of Congress has to find it in themselves to go against their own party's leadership AND voting base. This is what happened to Nixon: as his crimes became more public, his Republican allies in the Senate had more reason to turn against him.

Trump, for all his unpopularity with the nation, still has his fans among the voting base of the GOP... and they've made it clear more than once they'll side with him instead of the party. The party leadership also has learned their lessons from the Watergate fallout (and it's the wrong lesson): stick together to defend the party at all hazards...

Trump is going to have to do something so vulgar, so crass, so criminal an act while President that the partisans in the House have no choice but to vote to impeach. And even then, there may not be enough practical or pragmatic Republicans in the House to pull it off: the wingnut Freedom Caucus could well split with the party on any situation, leaving the leadership without enough in-party votes. The numbers for this get worse when any impeachment moves to the Senate: To actually remove the impeached Trump requires a two-thirds vote of all Senators, and depending on the quorum rules that's 68 Senators. Right now, there's 52 Republican Senators.

What this means for both the House and the Senate to vote for impeachment: The Republican leadership in both wings of Congress are going to have to ask Democrats to join in the effort.

The Republicans might not want to go that far, even if they HAVE to. The Democrats may also be offended by whatever Trump does, and they will have every sane reason to kick a racist, sexist bankrupt fraud like Trump off the face of the Earth. Thing is, the Democrats are not going to do the Republicans in Congress any favors. They won't do this out of the goodness of their hearts (nor should they).

The Democrats - both in the House and in the Senate - are bound to insist on deals. They'll likely insist on protecting whatever's left of Obamacare (or bringing parts of it back). They'll likely insist on protecting Planned Parenthood. They'll likely insist on business regulations be put back into place. If the Dems were being sadistic, they'll likely insist on McConnell wearing a chicken suit on the floor of the Senate and publicly apologize to Obama for being an Obstructionist Asshole. Hell, the Dems will likely call for tax hikes on the rich - THE deal-breaker that no Republican will accept, so the Dems will only be asking for THIS trade-off if Trump does something really really evil...

This is why I don't think impeachment will ever happen. The Republicans would rather live with the horror and shame of whatever sins Trump does in office, if only because they'd rather never trade-off their wingnut agenda to get the Democrats to side with them on any real honest reason to impeach.

The Republicans would rather live with the low disapproval ratings and with their reputations for corruption and venality that will inflame the nation in the wake of Trump's disasters, if only because they're living with that terrible reputation now and are still in power. They'll gamble that they won't lose in 2018 or 2020 like they did in 2006 and 2008...

No, if there is any serious attempt to remove Trump from office, it's going to have to involve the 25th Amendment. Specifically, Section 4 of the 25th:

Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.

This is also known as the political coup option. It's where a faction within your own office can turn against you and remove your political authority as President. This can, granted, happen under any circumstance. Which is why it's a scary provision of the Amendment.

It hasn't happened yet because pulling it off is a great risk and a Constitutional crisis all its own. A Vice President has to be willing to sign off on taking power away from his/her boss, someone who has more political connections and has more popularity with your own party's base. Every member of the Cabinet (executive departments) and heads of intelligence agencies who signs off on this knows their political futures (and their lives) ride on a successful outcome. A move like this also has to involve the Joint Chiefs (Chair, Vice Chair, the heads of all four branches of the military plus the National Guard) otherwise you've got a military in chaos over who the Commander In Chief's gonna be. And both the Senate and the House has to accept what's happening.

Given the variances of party control throughout the decades since the 25th Amendment passed, there's never been a perfect alignment of factors to allow a Section 4 to take place. (When you come at the king, you best not miss)

Except Trump.

Given how dangerous Trump is regarding foreign affairs, his haphazard views on military use in global hotspots, his misunderstanding of our nation's nuclear weapon policies, and his coziness to Russia... if you asked the Joint Chiefs and the heads of the CIA, FBI and NSA to sign off on a Section 4 for Trump, they've probably already printed up engraved pens for this.

While Vice-President Elect Pence is only there because Trump picked him for the job, he doesn't owe Trump on this. Pence is a creature of the Republican Party, and has clear differences from Trump when it comes to World-View. (Given Trump's personal vulgar habits, a serious Far Right Christian like Pence likely abhors him in private) If it came down to invoking the 25th through Section 4, Pence will view it as a duty to the Party (and then... maybe the nation).

The one sticking point would be the Cabinet: enough of them have to sign off on this move. And I think - I am not sure, so if someone has the answer please confirm - there's a limit needed, like a simple majority of them. That means 8 out of 15 Secretaries have to concur with VP Pence and the Joint Chiefs/Intel heads. Which might explain why Trump has been selecting people with little or no political experience for those positions: He'll want people who owe him more than they owe the Party to be on his side if a Section 4 has to be invoked.

If the 25th Amendment removal does take place it only removes Trump from the day-to-day stuff, prevents him from signing or vetoing legislation, and it takes him out of the chain of command for any decisions that need making. Trump will still technically be President, and Pence will only be serving as Acting President (I doubt Pence could choose his own Veep during this, by the by). Trump might actually LIKE this arrangement, because then he doesn't get any of the headaches while believing he'll still get enough of the perks (and the media attention he thrives on).

He'll turn into the political equivalent of Thing That Would Not Leave.

Trump will then get a ton of pressure to "take the hint" and resign from office altogether. If he gets cut off from power via the 25th Amendment, it's likely going to be over something so egregious that nobody in Congress or the Executive branch (military) will trust him with that power again. Meaning they will never send that letter to Congress saying "all is well back to normal". But knowing Trump, he'll just as likely keep the title and remain a nuisance for Pence and the Republicans who "clearly betrayed" him, sticking around in the office not physically but spiritually, haunting the Pence regime that rises up, mocking anything and everything to keep his own voter base within the GOP angry towards their leadership as always.

This is also why the 25th Amendment scenario might not play out: The Republican leadership is well aware that if they boot Trump from power, their own party voting base will declare it an "unlawful coup" and turn against them. And the leadership has seen - hi, Eric Castor! - what happens when they do.

Again, it all depends on how serious a problem Trump becomes. It all depends on how DANGEROUS in office Trump becomes.

And this train wreck is oncoming. Nothing is stopping it. We all know it's going to happen.

It's just a question of When and How.


Paul Wartenberg said...

There IS a third way for Trump to get removed from office, but it really depends on the circumstances.

Trump could get charged with criminal felonies.

Presidents are not immune to certain criminal charges while in office. Granted, it still depends on the circumstances and the severity of the crime. There's also the risk of said President - having already proven a criminal - using his unchecked power of pardons to pardon himself of that crime before the cops can even slam the handcuffs on him.

Which is why it's encouraged to impeach first - or block from the office using the 25th - so he can't use pardons like that.

dinthebeast said...

I don't think it will happen. Even though the Republican voting base is infinitely reprogrammable and willingly espouses the opposite views as they held last week if Rush tells them to, Trump is the hell-beast fire-demon they've been waiting their whole lives to elect (having taken the RW bullshit they listen to every day seriously), and taking him away from them is not a safe political move for anyone who wants to hold office after the next primary.
Also, as long as congress is in Republican hands, they're not gonna care what he does, as long as he signs their legislation. Remember their reaction to Cheney and Dubya? "War crimes? What war crimes? It isn't torture unless Yoo says it is, and even if it was, it was the only thing that could keep us safe AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGGGHHH!!! Terrorists are coming to eat your face!!!!" That is, the exact specie of tactics Trump excels at. He may be a rich-guy doofus, but he learned political tactics from Roy Cohn, who Molly Ivins called "Maybe the most despicable man to ever live." so even though it may seem like it, he's not entirely dim.

-Doug in Oakland