Let’s ponder for a moment the raw politics of impeaching the president of the United States.
It appears to be a near certainty that the House of Representatives is going to impeach Donald J. Trump on grounds that he violated his oath of office by seeking foreign government assistance for personal political gain.
I stood with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s initial reluctance to impeach Trump. Then came that phone call with the Ukrainian president that revealed a clear violation of the presidential oath. It has gotten even worse for Trump since then. Pelosi changed her mind, launching an impeachment inquiry.
I now endorse the inquiry. I also believe Trump has committed impeachable offenses.
But what will happen when Trump gets impeached, where Democrats hold a significant majority in the House? It goes to trial in the Senate, where Republicans command a narrow 53-47 majority. The House needs a simple majority to impeach; the Senate needs a two-thirds super majority to convict the president.
Do I believe the Senate will kick the president out of office? No.
However, consider this: Three GOP senators are bowing out after 2020. They won’t seek re-election. They are Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Mike Enzi of Utah and Pat Roberts of Kansas. What happens to these men’s conscience when they are freed from the pressure of seeking re-election in states that voted for Trump in 2016? Is it possible they could decide that Trump has committed an impeachable offense? These men flip and we have a 50-50 split in the Senate. But wait a second!
There are other senators who are expressing grave concern about Trump’s conduct. Enzi’s junior partner in Utah, Mitt Romney, is one. How about Susan Collins of Maine, who has spoken critically of the president from time to time? Might there be one or maybe two GOP senators willing to vote to convict, knowing that their votes won’t result in Trump’s removal?
Yes, there is a chance — although it’s still small, but it could be growing — that a majority of senators vote to convict the president of “high crimes and misdemeanors,” but he remains in office by virtue of the high bar the founders set when they wrote the U.S. Constitution.
Furthermore, what about the House vote? A significant number of Republican House members have decided to step aside after 2020. They, too, might be motivated to vote their conscience rather than worry about retribution from a president who is known to retaliate against those who cross him.
The number of Republicans set to leave both congressional chambers very well might provide Democrats some measure of cover as they prepare to impeach Donald Trump.
If he is impeached, he will go down in history as an impeached president. If he clears the Senate trial, there might be a qualifier if more senators vote to convict him than acquit him. And how in the world is Donald Trump going to spin such an event?
Hey, strange things can — and do — happen atop Capitol Hill.