A summary of the impeachment stuff

Okay, first up today, we have to do some groundwork for the other stories in the news. Late on Tuesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made it official: The House of Representatives has opened an impeachment inquiry into President Trump. In her announcement, she put the news in the context of American history, specifically the recent anniversary of the ratification of our Constitution. She also pointed out her long history serving in the House, including her involvement in creating many of the laws and positions that are key to recent events. Let’s listen to a portion of her remarks here, and by the way “DNI” stands for Director of National Intelligence. Listen in:

[CLIP-PELOSI-IMPEACHMENT]

All right, so Pelosi lays it out. What she’s saying is essentially, hey, the House already has a variety of investigations and lawsuits going on. Now she’s making it official by tying them together into an impeachment inquiry.

Now we have to explore what the presidential impeachment process IS, because this is something that is VERY widely misunderstood by the American public. A lot of smart people I know, including many friends on Facebook, think that the act of impeachment means removing the president from office. That is not how it works. Reading from the definition in Wikipedia, which is actually surprisingly solid:

“Impeachment in the United States is the process by which the lower house of a legislature brings charges against a civil officer of government for crimes alleged to have been committed, analogous to the bringing of an indictment by a grand jury. At the federal level, this is at the discretion of the House of Representatives.”

So, in this case, Pelosi is alleging that, among other possible stuff, President Trump asked the President of Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden’s son, in order to help Trump in his re-election bid. Now, we have to be clear, that is an allegation, not a proved fact. There are other potential misdeeds here, including withholding a whistleblower complaint about that issue, and, oh by the way, all that alleged obstruction of justice as detailed in the Mueller Report.

Okay, so what Pelosi started is an official inquiry. If this proceeds to find evidence, the House can recommend a trial in the Senate. If and ONLY if the Senate votes to do so, the President—or whatever official is being impeached—can THEN be removed from office. Reading from Article I, Section 3, Clauses 6 and 7 of the Constitution:

“The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments. When sitting for that Purpose, they shall be on Oath or Affirmation. When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside: And no Person shall be convicted without the Concurrence of two thirds of the Members present.
Judgment in Cases of Impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from Office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States; but the Party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to Indictment, Trial, Judgment and Punishment, according to Law.”

So, just to translate again a bit, that means that AFTER A WHOLE TRIAL TAKES PLACE—which could be as long or as short as the Senate chooses—two-thirds of the Senate has to vote, under oath, that yes, the case has been made and the officer—in this case, presumably the president or maybe the Director of National Intelligence, or whomever—should be removed from office. That is REMOVAL, which is a POSSIBLE end consequence of an impeachment proceeding. You can imagine how hard that is to get done under ANY political circumstance, much less the one we’re in today, right before an election.

No US President has ever been removed by the Senate. Both Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton were impeached by the House and acquitted in the Senate. The most famous quote-un-quote victim of “impeachment” was Richard Nixon. But he wasn’t impeached. He resigned before articles of impeachment could be introduced. He saw it coming and he high-tailed it out of there. And by the way, when that investigation started, it was very unpopular. So there MAY BE some parallels between historical precedent and today.

Okay, so that’s the setup. Pelosi is saying she sees sufficient evidence to investigate, and if that investigation turns up enough evidence, then maybe it goes to trial in the Senate. MAYBE. None of this is guaranteed, and none of it automatically means that ANY particular punishment is going to happen.

All right, let’s move on to the next bit.

What that impeachment stuff might mean for the presidential race

The next obvious question is, okay, great, what does this mean for the race for president? This happens to be a podcast about the election in 2020, so that’s kind of why we’re all here.

Today, it is deeply unclear what the heck any of this will actually do. If anybody tells you otherwise, they are either offering an opinion or just making stuff up.

The key thing we can be sure of is that this ratchets up the tension specifically between Trump and Biden. And that’s because the allegation at hand has to do with Hunter Biden, who is Joe Biden’s son. Okay, so first up, let me quote from an article in New York Magazine by Chas Danner, Margaret Hartmann, and Matt Stieb. This is about the allegations AGAINST TRUMP, and then we’ll get into his allegations AGAINST BIDEN in a moment.

“The central allegation: In a July 25[th] phone call, Trump pressured Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate the business dealings of Joe Biden’s son in exchange for unblocking U.S. aid to the country. (Bloomberg has cast doubt on the claim that the former vice-president interfered in Ukrainian politics to aide his son Hunter, but that doesn’t mean Trump couldn’t use it against his potential 2020 rival.)”

And to summarize the Bloomberg thing, Joe Biden DID threaten to withhold US funding for Ukraine unless it rooted out corruption. Specifically, Biden wanted a prosecutor in Ukraine to be removed because that prosecutor was not going after corrupt officials in Ukraine. And, here’s the kicker, that prosecutor had previously investigated an energy company in which Hunter Biden sat on the board. Meaning, Hunter Biden had a financial stake in whether that Ukrainian company did well, and here’s this prosecutor going after the company, and here’s Joe Biden saying let’s get rid of this prosecutor. Well, that seems bad, right? It would be, except according to Bloomberg reporting, all of this happened out of order. By the time Biden actually called for the removal of this prosecutor, the investigation into the energy company had already been dropped by that prosecutor years earlier. So there was nothing for Biden to accomplish aside from what he said, which was, he was trying to get this prosecutor to do his job.

Okay. So that’s the Biden side. Now back to the Trump side, the allegations are somewhat simpler. Trump withheld $391 million dollars in aid for Ukraine, then had a phone call with Ukraine’s president, and asked for said Ukrainian president to investigate this whole Biden thing. The insinuation there is, you know, the money had ALREADY been withheld, so maybe if you make the president happy, the money might not be withheld anymore. The only reason we know about this phone call is that an unidentified whistleblower in the intelligence community had provided a compliant to the Director of National Intelligence, who is, by law, required to give it to Congress. But he didn’t. After the Washington Post started reporting on all this, the president admitted to a series of pieces of this puzzle. He has confirmed the phone call, confirmed that he raised the Biden issue, confirmed that he wanted Ukraine to work with his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, confirmed that he withheld money from Ukraine prior to the phone call, and probably some other stuff I’m forgetting.

Also, early this morning, a summary of the call was released. It is NOT a transcript, but a reconstruction based on “notes and recollections.” Even that thing by itself doesn’t look great, because it confirms a lot of the allegations against Trump.

Okay, so back to the original question—what does this mean specifically for our election now in the primary and later in the 2020 general election? I can only speculate. It is too early to know. So let’s put on our speculation hats and go from there.

Obviously, the House going ahead with an impeachment process AT ALL is a tectonic movement in American politics. I cannot overstate the importance of yesterday’s announcement. This is a HUGE deal. This is the kind of stuff they write down in textbooks that students will learn about for the rest of the history of our nation. That is, assuming anybody still uses textbooks? Is that still a thing? I genuinely don’t know. Maybe it’s all YouTube videos now—but the point is, those YouTube videos will now deal with this as a serious historical moment.

Anyway, there are people in the field today who are currently serving in either the House or the Senate. Lots of them! Gabbard is in the House, and she had been against impeachment as a general thing for quite a while. Also, Ryan is in the House, but he is in favor of impeachment. And then you have the sitting Senators: Bennet, Booker, Harris, Klobuchar, Sanders, and Warren. Every single one of them is in favor of impeachment.

So this is now AT LEAST an issue. It’s an issue that will be all over the debates, it’s an issue that may unite or divide voters, and it’s a heck of a talking point for Biden. For Biden as a candidate, this serves to remind people that, yeah, he was very recently Vice President. And yeah, he was out there working in foreign policy, in fact fighting corruption on the world stage. So that may help him. If somehow the allegations against him turn up actual problems, then that hurts him. To be clear, I have not seen ANY evidence of that, but that’s part of why you investigate this stuff.

The other thing, and this is getting VERY speculative, is you have to wonder what Republicans in the Senate think about this strategically. They are already facing a dicey re-election bid with Trump at the top of the ticket. They are trying to figure out, like all of us, whether Trump can be re-elected or not. There is, in theory, a scenario where an impeachment goes ahead, Trump gets removed by the Senate, and somebody ELSE runs for President on the Republican ticket in 2020. Now, I HIGHLY DOUBT IT. But if you’re gonna put on a tin-foil hat, that’s a scenario to think about. And keep in mind that if Mike Pence is also implicated, then the line of succession for the presidency goes right past him to the Speaker of the House: Nancy Pelosi. I should also be clear, Pelosi pretty much had to be dragged kicking and screaming into this whole thing by her own members, but she did go ahead and get it started. Okay, remove your tin foil hats.

So that is where we are today—well, technically, this morning when I wrote the script. The key thing to understand right now is that many members of this field are currently in a position to actually participate in the impeachment process as part of their day jobs. That’s one thing. The other thing is that this is a new and substantive issue for them to discuss and debate. More on that in just a moment.

Highlights from last night’s Republican debate

Okay, well, last night Business Insider held a debate with two Republican primary contenders for president. They are former Illinois Representative Joe Walsh and former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld.

It’s important to note that the Republican National Committee did not sanction this debate, so it’s unofficial, but frankly, I don’t care, I just want to hear what these candidates have to say now that 10% of all US states have canceled their Republican primaries or caucuses.

First up, let’s listen to opening statements. Here is Walsh:

[CLIP-WALSH-OPENING-STATEMENT]

And here is Weld:

[CLIP-WELD-OPENING-STATEMENT]

Yeah, and so moderator Linette Lopez joked that it had been a slow news day, and after a bit more discussion, here is Weld going straight at what he thinks. It’s important to note that this is a Republican talking about the Republican president. There IS some kind of constituency for this thinking within the party. It may not be large, and it may take some convincing, but this is a very compelling thing to hear from a Republican with long political experience. Listen in, and Lopez speaks first:

[CLIP-WELD-TREASON]

Okay, so the discussion wasn’t all about Trump, though of course, you know, busy news day. I want to leave you with more interesting exchange including both candidates talking about climate change. And I think some listeners will be surprised by what these Republican candidates have to say about this issue. The Republican party is not monolithic on many issues, and these two candidates are proof. Okay, so listen in on this one. You do hear two different approaches here, and Anthony Fisher speaks first:

[CLIP-REPUBLICANS-CLIMATE]

All right, so I hope that sparked your interest somewhat. There does seem to be room within even this tiny Republican primary field for actual debate and differences on issues. And certainly lots of Trump-bashing too. But I’d love to hear at least a three-person debate, and we may pick up more candidates if the president himself looks like he’s in trouble given the recent news. There is a link in the show notes to the entire 90-minute Business Insider event, and I think it’s definitely worth your time if you found these clips to be interesting.

Well, that is it for one more episode of the Election Ride Home. I have been your host, Chris Higgins. You can always find me on Twitter @chrishiggins. Okay, what a news day it has been. There is a bunch of stuff I’m pushing back into future days, as, obviously, the news is moving fast right now. So stick with me, we will get back to policy and polling and fundraising and all that good stuff as soon as I reasonably can. But right now, to be frank, this IS the story. This IS pertinent to the election in HUGE ways—unpredictable way. So I gotta cover it, and even giving it proper coverage might take a few more days. As always, thanks for listening, and I will talk to y’all tomorrow.