Early Returns

We Need to Talk About Impeachment

Jonathan Bernstein's morning links.

I've been trying to avoid talking about impeachment of the president, but Thursday's events -- in which the president almost bragged about obstructing justice in firing FBI Director James Comey -- make it hard to avoid. The first article of impeachment adopted by the House Judiciary Committee against Richard Nixon in 1974 was obstruction of justice, and he resigned before the full House could vote because new evidence appeared confirming that charge.

Could Donald Trump be impeached over firing Comey? That gets back to the old Gerald Ford comment: "An impeachable offense is whatever a majority of the House of Representatives considers it to be at a given moment in history."

In other words: Impeachment of the president is always a political act, requiring political judgment. That doesn't mean it must always be partisan (although few members of Congress ever ignore partisan and electoral considerations; see Dave Hopkins and Seth Masket below). But it does mean that it's always more complicated than simply assessing whether a specific crime has been committed. I think Ford got it mostly right. Just because a president has committed a particular felony doesn't mean impeachment is legitimate -- and at least part of the case for impeachment can legitimately be based on actions that are not technically crimes.

The language of impeachment in the House and a trial in the Senate may sound like the way lawyers talk, but both the House and Senate's decisions are inherently political. Does this rise to the level of something so important that the president must be removed from office? How central is the violation to the core functions of the presidency? Is the pattern of the president's actions offensive to the office he or she holds? Did the president do something that cries out for punishment, and if so, is impeachment and removal the only or best remedy? It certainly is helpful to answer these sorts of questions to understand the law, but that's only one tool that Congress can -- and should -- use. 

1. Dave Hopkins on the congressional Republican response to the Comey firing.

2. While Seth Masket at Vox reminds us that politicians will be politicians. That's not a bad thing; it's what they're good at. 

3. Molly Reynolds at Brookings on why adopting a budget resolution has become more difficult.

4. Vanessa Williamson and Theda Skocpol at the Monkey Cage on what activists can learn from the Tea Party.

5. Also at the Monkey Cage, Jack Hasler and Yonatan Lupu want to know whether Trump's meetings with authoritarian leaders of foreign nations are normal. They have the numbers. 

6. Rick Hasen wants to know why the new commission on "voter fraud" was announced before the full slate of commissioners was determined.  

7. Meanwhile, criticisms of that commission are coming in hot and heavy not just from Democrats, but also by academic and other nonpartisan elections experts. Tierney Sneed at TPM reports.

8. Maggie Koerth-Baker at FiveThirtyEight on Trump's false claims of voter fraud.

9. And Helen Klein Murillo at Lawfare on obstruction of justice.

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This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

    To contact the author of this story:
    Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

    To contact the editor responsible for this story:
    Brooke Sample at bsample1@bloomberg.net

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