Clinton’s Impeachment Was Dignified

December 26, 2019

There are always tensions between the House and the Senate, even when the same party controls both chambers. Each views the other, and its rules, procedures and attitudes, with some disdain. But the normal friction between the bodies has increased since the House began its effort to impeach President Trump.

There was intense partisan wrangling in the House during its brief Intelligence Committee hearings, the Judiciary Committee’s rapid-fire action, and the single day of floor debate on its impeachment measure. Congress is already at Defcon 2, and that could escalate. Speaker Nancy Pelosi now insists she won’t send the impeachment articles to the Senate until its majority leader, Mitch McConnell, agrees to her conditions for Mr. Trump’s trial. She’s threatening to raise the acrimony to a new level.

This is no normal back-and-forth about versions of a bill Congress is considering. Mrs. Pelosi is venturing into treacherous constitutional territory. Article I gives the House “the sole power of impeachment” and the Senate “the sole power to try all impeachments.” By attempting to prevent the process from proceeding unless Mr. McConnell acquiesces to her demands for additional witnesses and documents, Mrs. Pelosi is attempting to intrude on the Senate’s constitutional prerogatives and create a role for herself in the trial that the Founders didn’t intend.

Mrs. Pelosi presumes to be the arbiter of whether the Senate has a “fair process.” She told reporters: “So far, we haven’t seen anything that looks fair to us.” This is more than an invitation to Mr. McConnell to hear her out—it’s a demand that he clear his plans with her before proceeding. She imagines herself as Ulysses S. Grant at Fort Donelson in February 1862, and while Mr. McConnell is a Kentuckian like Simon Bolivar Buckner, his position is stronger than that of the surrounded Confederate general—strong enough to beat back Mrs. Pelosi’s demand of unconditional surrender.

Mr. McConnell, the wiliest Majority Leader since Lyndon B. Johnson in the 1950s, won’t capitulate. He occupies the high ground of precedent, saying the Senate should proceed as it did with President Clinton. The Senate adopted rules for his trial by a 100-0 vote with the support of freshman Sen. Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.), now minority leader.

Mr. McConnell is aided by the perception that Mrs. Pelosi has made Mr. Schumer look like her puppet. That’s never a good thing for any senator, even if the representative in question is the speaker.

Mrs. Pelosi’s approach is also creating more political difficulties for Democrats. The House acted hastily compared with previous impeachments, as its leaders claimed the president’s removal was urgently needed. Mrs. Pelosi herself opened the House debate on the impeachment resolution last week by calling the president “an ongoing threat to our national security.”

Suddenly, however, Mrs. Pelosi wants to hurry up and wait. She’s content to let this national security “threat” linger in the Oval Office until she gets her way. And while impeachment has spun up activists in both parties, ordinary Americans, especially swing voters who will decide the 2020 contest, appear to be losing interest. It’s not only because of the holidays. Washington is always infected with some amount of tomfoolery, but Mrs. Pelosi and the Democratic impeachment tactics have heavily taxed the tolerance of everyday Americans.


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