Throughout our nation’s nearly 250-year history, only three U.S. presidents have been impeached by Congress. One of them twice.
In case you missed how it goes down: The House of Representatives starts the impeachment process with an inquiry, writing and passing articles of impeachment, and then voting on those articles. A simple majority is needed to formally impeach a president. The next step is an impeachment trial in the Senate, where two-thirds of its members must find a president guilty of the crimes described in the articles of impeachment for any punishment to take place.
The first potential punishment is removal from office. The second potential punishment is disqualification from holding any future government position.
On Feb. 5, 2020 and Feb. 13, 2021, the 45th POTUS was acquitted on articles of impeachment in the Senate. The first regarded abuse of power and obstruction of Congress for his inner circle’s repeated invitations for foreign adversaries to interfere with U.S. elections (read all 448 pages of the Mueller Report and not just the sound bites to get the full picture). The second regarded his incitement of the deadly insurrection that occurred at our nation’s capital during the certification of the 2020 election results.
To be clear, 45 was acquitted twice on repeat behaviors to destroy one of the hallmarks that make this country free: fair elections.
To be fair, no U.S. president has ever been removed from office through impeachment.
People often think Richard Nixon was for his role in the break-in at Democratic National Committee Headquarters. He resigned.
President Andrew Johnson came the closest to removal from office through the impeachment process – one vote away in the Senate. Johnson became president after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. The short version of what happened is that political foes in Congress passed the Tenure of Office Act, which stated a president could not replace members of his cabinet without Senate approval. Johnson did and was accused of high crimes and misdemeanors.
Then there’s President Bill Clinton. While initially investigated for allegedly sketchy business deals in Arkansas, what ultimately led to his impeachment was a cigar and an intern. Both Clinton and the intern lied under oath about having sexual relations. For that, he was impeached for perjury and obstruction of justice.
On history.com, they claim if Nixon “hadn’t quit, he would likely have been the first president ever impeached and removed from office given the crimes he committed to cover up his involvement in the Watergate break-ins.”
Perhaps they are wrong.
Perhaps the Senate, as recent history shows, would have found yet another loophole or excuse to not do their job.
Perhaps Donald Trump was on to something when, as a candidate for president, he said, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters, OK? It’s, like, incredible.”
And it truly is incredible.
Rather than leading the nation in the peaceful transfer of power – another hallmark of our democracy – he pulled the rhetorical trigger on Pennsylvania Avenue, inciting a violent, deadly insurrection of the U.S. Capitol to stop the certification of votes.
For that, he was acquitted.
Our Founding Fathers made it difficult to remove a president from office, and the standard for removal should be high.
Sex? Lies? Burglary? Interfering with elections? Overthrowing the government? Where is that bar, exactly?
Our presidents seem to be above reproach, and we have nobody to blame but ourselves.