Censure and Impeachment
The Super bowl is maybe over but we are still waiting for some kind of extraordinary resurgence of new cases of COVID-19 following a special event. We were witness already on what the effects of previous holidays like Christmas and Thanksgiving have imposed upon the general population. More devastation with an increase in the number of cases, feeding a pandemic which takes its time to ravage a population little distinction.
There was a new super event in town, a new game in which figure members of the United States Congress and Senate. The object of the game was to impeach one more Donald Trump, a president who have already left office. History is in the making because this has never been recorded before in any previous history books. Each player is expected to sharpen their skills in this new game of intimidation in Washington DC especially when more important matters need to be debated after the election of a new president.
The new game is scheduled to be held in the political arena of the United States Senate and the object of the game is to express passion for a president who have already left the premise. What a page of history to be written by individuals who represent the cream of a society of leaders. Never heard of in the history books of the world but it will be a thrill for those law makers who have opted for such diversion while more serious business matters will be waiting for debate. History will be the only judge. A year and half ago, we have presented on the process of impeachment, an article published in the AMHE Newsletter and I will refer you to the article for a better understanding of the crisis in which the United States of America is going to be a player.
Around 14 presidents have faced such censure by either the Senate or the Congress (House of the Representatives) but really only one president was found guilty but later was expunged from the records and allowed to return to the business of the people. One has to understand well the term “Censure”. A censure is a reprimand by one or both chambers. As we have already discussed, it can target elected officials like Federal Judges, Senators, Congressmen and even the President of the United States. The term Censure per-se, does not appear anywhere in the constitution but the Congress find its disciplinary power from the Article 1, Section 5:” Each house may determine the Rules of its Proceedings, punish its members for disorderly behavior or expel a member…”.
Congress has the authority to censure or punish its own members but not the president. So if a resolution is passed by the Congress to censure a sitting president, it does not carry any weight in front of the Law. Such a proclamation communicates to the Senate a sense of misdeed. The impeachment process is Congress’s only mechanism to convict a president for “Treason, Bribery or other high crimes or misdemeanors in the goal of removing him from office. Then, it will be the Senate turn to approve or condom. How many presidents have already faced impeachment?
As discussed above, Congress lacks a clear constitutional authority to censure a president, but members of Congress have used the process to brand political opponents as corrupt. Nowadays, 12 sitting presidents have been censured by either the senate or the house through a resolution and only four (4) resolutions have adopted a majority vote. An additional two presidents were censured by other means. Let us review some of these resolutions on:
Andrew Jackson 1834
James Buchanan 1860
Abraham Lincoln 1864
William Howard Taft 1912
Ten other presidents were the target of congressional censures which were finally never adopted:
John Adams (1800), John Tyler (1842), James K Polk (1848), Ulysses S Grant (18(71), Harry S Truman (1952), Richard M Nixon (1972,1973,1974), William J Clinton (1998,1999), George W Bush (2005,2006,2007), Barack Obama (2013,2014,2016) and Donald Trump (2017,2018,2019,2020). The first time the term Censure appeared in a resolution was with Richard Nixon in the early 1970’s during the Watergate scandal. Other terms like Violation, abuse of power etc. were used in the past.
Andrew Jackson received the clearest congressional reprimand for the tactics he used during the bank war. He was opposed to have a second bank in the United States especially when there were a congressionally chartered commercial bank functioning as a national bank, arguing that the healthy business elites will benefit over the common man. He vetoed the extension of the bank in 1832 and tried to withdraw all federal dollars allotted to the new bank but the secretary of the Treasury, William J Duane, who was the one with exclusive power to regulate the banking system, refused to do it. Jackson fired him and replaced him by the interim treasurer who finally executed his orders.
A political cartoon became famous portraying a Kentucky Senator, Henry Clay restraining President Andrew Jackson and sewing his mouth during the battle over banking. The Clay’s resolution was adopted. Jackson argued but the censure stuck until 1837 when the democrat majority that have voted for the censure resigned to be replaced by the Jacksonians. Then during his second term, the senate expunging (blotted out) Jackson’s censure from the congressional record.
President Andrew Johnson became the first sitting president to be impeached when he violated the “Tenure of office Act”, forbidding a president from removing any federal official without approval of Congress. He fired the Secretary of War Edwin Stanton to replace him with Ulysses S Grant. The House passed an impeachment resolution with a vote 126-47 in February 1868 but he was acquitted by the Senate on May 16, 1868 by a vote of 35-19, one vote short of the two-thirds (2/3).
An impeachment resolution was introduced on July 10, 1842 against John Tyler regarding his use of presidential veto power but the resolution was defeated 83-127. A suspicion of bribery was bought against James Buchanan but after a year of hearings the committee concluded that Buchanan’ s actions did not merit impeachment. Harry S Truman was the target of impeachment proceeding for seizing the nation’s steel mills but only after three (3) days of debate on the floor of the House, it was turned to the Judiciary committee where it died in April 1952. The House of Judiciary committee investigated Ronald Regan for the Iran-Contra affair and although six articles of impeachment were introduced, no action was taken on the bill. They finally were dropped.
Other presidents have been subjected to articles of impeachment like Ulysses S Grant about his numbers of days absent in the White House; Grover Cleveland for selling unauthorized federal bounds; Herbert Hoover over economic grievances; Lyndon B Johnson for military and political duplicity; No actions were taken against those presidents. George H W Bush was also subject to two resolutions presented to the subcommittee on Economics and Commercial law but no actions were taken. George W Bush was hit with 35 articles and the matter was turned to the House Judiciary committee on June 11, 2009. No further action was taken. On December 3, 2013 the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on Barack Obama accusing him of claiming the right to essentially stand above the law but impeachment efforts never advanced past the committee.
The vast majority of presidential censure resolutions were never brought to vote on the floor of the Senate or the House of Representatives because they died in committee. Leader Richard Gephardt walks out of the House Chambers with a large group of Democrats to protest the Republicans’ refusal to allow a vote on the lesser punishment of censure against President Bill Clinton, on December 19, 1998. Many rebuked the president for his behavior and called him to step down.
Richard Nixon was the target of congressional censures after he fired the special prosecutor Archibald Cox during the investigation on the attempted burglary and wiretapping of the Democratic Committee headquarters at the Watergate in July 1974. Articles of impeachment for misuse of power, obstruction of justice and contempt of Congress were approved by the judiciary committee. The censure requested him to resign which he did on August 9, 1974 before the article of impeachment went to a full floor vote. By this way, he avoided impeachment but this is the only impeachment process to result in a president leaving office.
Have you ever asked why President William Jefferson Clinton survived impeachment and while President Richard Nixon resigned from office?… Bill Clinton was impeached by the US House on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice on December 19, 1998 by a vote of 228-206. After lying to congress over charges following an affair with a White House staffer, Monica Lewinski, the house of Republicans accused him and drafted a joint resolution for censure, requesting that he signed and acknowledged the censure/condemnation while he was binding to first, make a donation of 500,000 dollars to the Treasury, then not to serve at any public office after his present term as President. Two other charges in regard to an affair with Paula Jones and abuse of power were rejected by the house. He was asked also not to get involved in any fund raising for the democratic party. Clinton got lucky because this resolution never left the judiciary Committee and he was acquitted by the Senate on February 12, 1999 on the perjury and obstruction of justice charges.
Donald Trump was accused by a whistleblower for pressuring a foreign government (Ukraine) to interfere in the 2020 election and the House initiated a first impeachment inquiry, which concluded with the judiciary committee presenting two articles of impeachment in Abuse of Power for withholding US security aid to a foreign country and in Obstruction of Congress for directing defiance to subpoenas issued by the House and finally ordering officials not to testify, on December 10, 2019. He was impeached on both charges on 19 December 2019. The Senate voted 51-49 against calling witnesses and on 5 February 2020, Trump was found not guilty of the charges of abuse of power and obstruction to Congress.
The second impeachment of the 45th president of the United States, Donald Trump has started on January 13th, 2021, one week before the end of his term. The House of Representatives of the 117th US Congress has adopted one article of impeachment: Alleging that President Trump incited the insurrection and the storming of the US Capitol after he tried to overturn the 2020 presidential election claiming voter fraud conspiracy theories. 57 on 100 senators voted to convict falling short of the 67 needed votes. The president was acquitted on February 13, 2021. This was the fourth impeachment as a president of the United States and the second of Donald Trump. The first one was in December 2019.
A president can resign from office in which case the Vice-President will automatically step in to replace him and assume its powers and duties as an acting president (Article II of the Constitution). The vice-president can replace him in the event of death, resignation, incapacity or removal. This practice was codified with the passage of the 25th Amendment which deals with the president succession and disability. If Donald Trump had resigned, Mike Spence would have become the 46th president of the USA like Lyndon B Johnson replaced John F Kennedy when he was assassinated. The first president to resign was Richard Milhous Nixon after the Watergate scandal to avoid impeachment and he was replaced by his vice–president Gerald Ford in 1974. The 25th amendment allows congress to establish a committee to determine when a president is unfit to serve (unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office).
The second impeachment trial of Donald Trump, the 45th president of the United States, began on Feb 9, 2021 and concluded with his acquittal on Feb 13, 2021. Trump was impeached for the second time by the House of Representatives on Jan 13, 2021. Articles of impeachment were adopted against incitement of insurrection. He is the only president who have been impeached twice. Argument that it was unconstitutional to trial a former president were bought to a vote by senator Rand Paul, but it was defeated in a by-partisan vote. At the conclusion of the trial, the senate voted 57-43 to convict Trump in the largest bipartisan vote but short of the required two-third (2/3) by the constitution. It would have been easier to strip his powers and duties under the 25th amendment if the vice President Mike Pence were on board to play the political game of the democrats.
Last month after the inauguration of the 47th president of the United States, Joe Biden was already hit with articles of Impingement filed by the Representative Taylor Green, a republican from Georgia. She cited that he abused his power while serving as a vice–president and wanted an investigation on ‘Burisma Holdings’, a giant gas company where Biden’ son Hunter has served as a member on the board since 2014 in Ukraine. On February 1, 2021, she was removed from all committee assignments for incendiary remarks.
To conclude, I want to re-iterate what I have already described on the “The Process of Impeachment in the United States of America” in an article published in our AMHE Newsletter # 235, Summer 2018 (September 2018). Impeachment derives from the old French “empecher” (Latin: impedicare meaning the fact of being caught or entrapped). Nowadays, impeach a witness means challenge his credibility and his honesty. If the impeachment process was first used by the English parliament to punish Baron Latimer in the 14th century, later the United States of America has adopted the process. In modern politics, this original British procedure has become so rarely used that most countries around the world agreed with the resolution taken by the British parliament in 1967 that such procedure should be abolished. But still the game goes on in Washington DC.
Maxime Coles MD (2-23-21)
Boca Raton FL
1-Palmeri, Tara; Bade, Raphael; Lizza Ryan; Daniels Eugene: “Politico Playbook: Republicans feel the squeeze on impeachment (9 February 2021).
2- Turley, Jonathan: Turley Swift new impeachment would damage the Constitution” The Hill (11 January 2021).
3- Chalfanf, Morgan: “Dershowitz says he’d defend Trump again in impeachment trial”. The Hill (9 January 2021)
4-Read L “Mike Spence letter to Nancy Pelosi saying he won’t invoke the 25th Amendment”. CNN January 12, 2021.
5- Fandos, Nicholas: Trump Acquitted of inciting Insurrection, Even as Bipartisan Majority votes guilty”. New-York Times January 8, 2021.
6- Savage, Charlie: “How the Impeachment Process Works”. The New-York Times (12 January 2021)
7- Fandos, Nicholas: “How to impeach a President in 12 days: Here’s What It Would take” The New-York Times January 9, 2021.
8-Trump agrees to orderly transition of power” Politico January 7, 2021.
9- “Republicans blocks measure calling for removal of Trump” January 11, 2021 (Associated Press)
10-Coles, Maxime; “The Process of Impeachment in the United States of America”. AMHE Newsletter # 235 Summer 2018, August 2018.
11-Erskine, Daniel H (2008) “The Trial of Queen Caroline and the Impeachment of President Clinton: Law as a Weapon of Political Freedom” Washington University Global Studies Law Review.
12- Demeter, George (1969) Demeter ‘s Manual of Parliamentary Law and Procedure. 1969 ed p 265.