Nixon & Trump
The nation’s capital is abuzz with talk of impeachment, but President Donald Trump can probably thank the Founding Fathers, and political realism, that his job is safe — for now.
Impeachment is exceedingly rare. Congress has initiated a mere 62 impeachment proceedings in U.S. history, with 19 cases going to trial and just eight federal officials being convicted.
Only two presidents, Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton some 130 years later, have been impeached. Both were acquitted. No member of the Senate or House has ever been removed via impeachment.
Richard Nixon is the only high U.S. official who probably would have been removed from office, but he resigned in 1974 after the Watergate scandal when it became clear his presidency was doomed.
The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.’
U.S. Constitution, Article II, Section 4 Although the founders wanted a way to remove “obnoxious” federal officials, as Ben Franklin put it, they did not make the process easy.First, the House of Representatives has to authorize proceedings. If grounds for impeachment are found, a majority is required to impeach.
Next the Senate is empowered to conduct a trial, with the chief justice of the Supreme Court acting as the presiding officer.
Two-thirds of the Senate, or 67 senators, are required to convict. That’s a high hurdle for almost any significant bill, let alone impeachment.
Then there’s the political equation.
Republicans control both chambers of Congress. They are unlikely to pursue impeachment against Trump without overwhelming evidence of wrongdoing in light of how much damage it would do to their own party.
Indeed, the only time a party controlling Congress sought to impeach a president in its own ranks was in 1868, when Andrew Johnson warred with “radical” Republicans over how to treat the defeated Southern states after the Civil War. In the cases of Nixon and Clinton, the opposition party controlled Congress.
“The allegations against Donald Trump are not legal issues per se,” said Greg Valliere, chief global strategist at Horizon Investments. “Rather it’s all about the number of votes he can muster in the House and Senate — where, we believe, he has enough support to prevail.”
Trump is under fire amid allegations he tried to persuade former FBI chief James Comey to drop an investigation of Michael Flynn, who briefly served as Trump’s national-security adviser before departing in mid-February.
Trump fired Comey last week in a controversial move that has raised questions about whether he was trying to obstruct a federal probe into Russian interference in the U.S. election. Under pressure the Justice Department on Wednesday named respected former FBI director Robert Mueller to act as special counsel in an investigation of the Russian role and any possible ties to Trump.
“I think it’s reaching the point where it’s of Watergate size and scale,”
said Sen. John McCain, a Republican from Arizona.
House Speaker Paul Ryan appeared to downplay the Comey report. “It is obvious there are some people out there who want to harm the president,” he said, though adding that members of Congress are “going to follow the facts wherever they may lead.”
Another potential tool of removal is the 25th amendment, but it’s never been used. The amendment, adopted in 1967, creates a mechanism for Congress to oust a president if supermajorities in the House and Senate conclude a commander in chief is mentally or physically unfit for the job.
Here’s a snapshot of other impeachment efforts against U.S. presidents:
The Republican-controlled House voted on March 2, 1868, to impeach President Andrew Johnson after he resisted efforts to impose strict conditions on the re-entry of defeated Southern states. The Southern-born Johnson had been a lifelong Democrat before joining with Abraham Lincoln on a so-called union ticket in 1864. (Lincoln was assassinated on April 14, 1865.)
Foes accused Johnson of violating a controversial and short-lived 1867 law, known as the Tenure of Office Act, meant to prevent him from firing cabinet members without Senate approval.
Johnson was acquitted on four charges in May 1868 by a single vote. He later ran for and won a Senate seat, as a Democrat, in his adopted home state of Tennessee.
After Johnson, the House did not launch impeachment proceedings against another president for more than 100 years. Republican Richard Nixon was accused of obstruction of justice in 1974 in the wake of the Watergate scandal.
The process began in the House on Feb. 6, 1974, and led to the president’s resignation on Aug. 9 before an impeachment vote could be held.
Although Democrats controlled the House and Senate, Nixon had lost support of top Republicans. Historians believe he would have been the first president to be removed had he clung to office.
The only other president to face impeachment was Democrat Bill Clinton. The Republican-led House voted on Dec. 19, 1998, to impeach the president on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice. The charges stemmed from false testimony about Monica Lewinsky in a sexual-harassment lawsuit filed by another woman.
After a trial in the Senate, Clinton was easily acquitted on Feb. 12, 1999, in a pair of votes.