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In our opinion: An impeachment designed to divide could actually bind the nation

SHARE In our opinion: An impeachment designed to divide could actually bind the nation
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Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., arrives to make a statement at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 5, 2019.

AP

A politically divided nation must resist the urge to elevate the rhetoric of rage over the reason of principles. In the case of the impeachment of President Donald Trump, that means adhering to the reason of principles the founders drove deep into the Constitution.

By now it is clear the president’s approach to Ukraine was wrong. His actions, and those of his team, were questionable. The president is sworn to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution. The president should be held to account for this. 

A House vote to pass articles of impeachment certainly would send that message, although that isn’t the only action lawmakers could take to censure the president. Whether those actions rise to a level that would warrant removal from office by the Senate, however, is another matter. That is especially true given political realities.

House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler explained this best — on Dec. 10, 1998, when a Democrat, Bill Clinton, was about to be impeached by the House.

“The effect of impeachment is to overturn the popular will of the voters as expressed in a national election,” he said. “We must not overturn an election and remove a president from office except to defend our very system of government or our constitutional liberties against a dire threat. And we must not do so without an overwhelming consensus of the American people and of their representatives in Congress of the absolute necessity.”

Then he added wisdom that has direct bearing on today’s hearings: “There must never be a narrowly voted impeachment or an impeachment substantially supported by one of our major political parties and largely opposed by the other. Such an impeachment would lack legitimacy, would produce divisiveness and bitterness in our politics for years to come. And will call into question the very legitimacy of our political institutions.”

It is instructive to remember that impeachment proceedings against President Richard Nixon gained legitimacy only when three key Republicans went to the White House to inform the president he no longer had the support he needed to remain in office. Until then, the proceedings had been mostly partisan. Removing a president is a solemn and serious business. It ought to require a bipartisan consensus.

For that to happen, overwhelming evidence of wrongdoing is required. The Constitution speaks of a president being removed for “high crimes and misdemeanors,” a deliberately vague term that must be interpreted as something substantially more than just a misdeed. 

Removing a president is a solemn and serious business. It ought to require a bipartisan consensus.

But to remove a president without such evidence, and without a bipartisan consensus, would be to risk making impeachment a regular part of American politics, a weapon to be used frequently when one party controls Congress and another controls the White House.

Americans must guard against this, which would threaten the legitimacy of government and the confidence of the American people. It would, as Nadler said 21 years ago, “produce divisiveness and bitterness in our politics for years to come.”

This is the fourth time in the nation’s history an impeachment process has reached such a level, and each time, the Constitution has been vindicated. Americans who have set aside partisan rhetoric, as well as social media-induced rage and rancor, can find optimism in this. They have seen that regardless of how politicians, political operatives and those seeking power have tried the sway the process, the checks and balances have worked.

Unless something new comes along to add a bipartisan consensus to a Senate trial, voters will decide, in the end, whether Trump is fit for office when they cast ballots in the 2020 election.

Impeachment proceedings that would appear to further divide the nation could, in the end, bind it together if the ultimate decision about who occupies the White House remains entrusted to the people.