The vote of the House of Representatives to establish formal rules for the investigation of President Trump to determine if he should be impeached reveals the hardening of party lines on this issue, the respective strengths and weaknesses of both the House Democrats and the House Republicans, and the probable outcome of both the House vote to impeach the President, and the Senate vote to acquit him and retain him in office.
The vote broke along party lines. Of the 233 Democrats present and voting, all but 2 voted to proceed with the impeachment proceedings. The 194 Republicans present and voting unanimously opposed further investigations. One Republican-turned-Independent sided with the Democrats.
The final vote contrasted sharply with previous votes to adopt rules for the impeachment of both Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton. In the Nixon case, the vote to formally investigate him was 410 to 4: Almost all Republicans joined with the Democrats to launch formal proceedings, making the decision to launch the investigation truly bipartisan. In the Clinton case, 31 Democrats joined Republicans to launch proceedings, allowing Republicans to claim some degree of bipartisan support for investigating Clinton, if not actually impeaching him.
But in this instance, neither side can claim any significant degree of bipartisan support for its respective position. Republicans should feel especially disappointed. It had been widely believed that Speaker Pelosi was not permitting a formal vote on impeachment procedures for fear that the 30 or so Democrats elected in 2018 from congressional districts carried by President Trump in 2016 would join with House Republicans to reject the formal procedures for fear of antagonizing their constituents and dooming their re-election chances in 2020. Yet Speaker Pelosi evidently calculated, correctly, that the red district Democrats were now ready to support their blue district counterparts. Republican chances to obtain Democratic help in defeating the impeachment process must be rated nearly dead.
But by the same token, it’s obvious that the Democrats can obtain little help from Republican lawmakers in either the House or the Senate. While Republicans have complained about the secrecy with which the Democrats have been conducting their investigations to date, and by the lack of Republican subpoena power to call witnesses, the fact remains that Republicans have been serving on the investigatory committees, know what evidence the Democrats have collected, and remain unconvinced that impeachment is proper. The continuing Republican refusal to support the Democrats in any way will lead to a final impeachment vote which the Democrats will win, but only because the Democrats constitute a majority in the House. A strict party-line vote will make the impeachment effort seem merely like a case of partisan vindictiveness to punish President Trump for his electoral vote triumph in 2016 and weaken him in 2020.
And if President Trump is impeached by the House in a strict party line vote, so too will he be acquitted by the Senate. There seems to be a growing willingness among Senate Republicans to acknowledge that President Trump, in his dealings with Ukrainian President Zelensky, acted improperly, but that his misconduct does not rise to the level of an impeachable offense. In this sense, today’s Republicans are echoing what Senate Democrats said about President Clinton: What he did was wrong, but not impeachable. Whatever one thinks of Republican logic on this issue, following it will rationalize their vote to acquit a President who remains quite popular with the Republican rank and file (88% approval rating) and thereby avoid the wrath of the President and his supporters.
In sum, since the election of 2018, it’s been widely predicted that the President will be impeached by the House and acquitted by the Senate. Last week’s developments support and reinforce these predictions.
Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present). He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014. He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.