Group of House Dems unveil impeachment articles, party leadership cautions patience
People hold up signs at a rally calling for the impeachment of President Donald Trump in San Francisco on Oct. 24. | Jeff Chiu / AP

WASHINGTON — With a focus on his constitutional violations, and barely a mention of his anti-worker stands, a group of House Democrats have unveiled a set of impeachment resolutions against Republican President Donald Trump.

But since impeachment has both legal and political aspects, politics may stand in their way, despite what they call the president’s constitutional “high crimes and misdemeanors.”

That’s because the House Republican majority, politically wedded to Trump, shows no appetite for removing him. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., opposes impeachment. She said voters are interested in practical measures. Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., says there’s not enough evidence to impeach Trump, yet.

The rank-and-file Democrats, led by Reps. Steve Cohen of Memphis, Tenn., and Luis Gutierrez of Chicago, say there is—even if they just stick to the legal issues.

Cohen, Gutierrez, and Reps. Marcia Fudge of Cleveland, Adriano Espillat of New York City, Al Green of Houston, and John Yarmouth of Louisville, Ky., emphasized Trump’s obstruction of justice in the FBI investigation of ties between his 2016 presidential campaign and Russian government disinformation and destabilization of the U.S. election. They also cited Trump’s violation of the constitutional ban on “emoluments”—profiting from the office of president.

“Congress has the power of impeachment when behavior by the president puts the nation and our laws at risk,” Gutierrez said.

Popular opinion, at least among the Democratic base, may be a factor, despite what Hoyer said. There is already at least one “impeach Trump” website on the net, urging citizens to mobilize and enlist state and local governments to pass anti-Trump, pro-impeachment resolutions.

A simple House majority vote passes articles of impeachment, but it takes two-thirds of the Senate, sitting as a court, to convict and remove an officeholder. The impeachment articles, posted on Green’s website, went to the GOP-run House Judiciary Committee. Cohen and Gutierrez are committee members.

The U.S. came close to impeaching and convicting a president when Republican Richard Nixon resigned in disgrace 43 years ago before the House had a chance to approve three impeachment articles for the multitude of constitutional crimes now all labeled “Watergate.” With the “smoking gun” presidential tape recording showing Nixon approved the Watergate cover-up to prevent disclosure of other illegal acts, Senate conviction was a guaranteed conclusion.

The House actually voted to impeach presidents Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1999. Both

impeachments were rammed through on partisan grounds for dubious reasons and as political power grabs. Johnson escaped conviction by one vote in the Senate. Clinton never came close to Senate conviction over his affair with intern Monica Lewinsky, or his lies about it.

Gutierrez and Cohen focused on Trump’s obstruction of justice in firing FBI Director James Comey while his agency was investigating connections between Trump’s presidential campaign and the Russian government and its use of the Internet to destabilize the election in Trump’s favor.

The articles of impeachment cite that, and add Trump’s incitement of racism, his Muslim ban, and his encouragement of the neo-Nazis, anti-Semites, so-called alt-rightists, and KKKers after their Charlottesville, Va., riot. The riot killed counterdemonstrator Heather Heyer and injured at least 19 other people.

“There are many reasons why I think the president is an awful president and an awful person, but not all of those reasons rise to the level of impeaching a sitting president,” Gutierrez explained.

Impeachment reasons, he said, do not include Trump’s anti-worker policies, his attitudes towards women, “sustained anti-Latino bias,” or Trump’s Muslim ban. They also do not include “the growing racial and ethnic tension in this country, that, in my opinion, this president knowingly and willingly activates by playing up racial hatred and bias.” Instead, Gutierrez, who gave the most-detailed explanation, stuck to the legal case.

He said Trump’s “high crimes and misdemeanors” include telling Vice President Pence and others to leave the room before a private one-on-one conversation with Comey. Then Trump demanded the FBI “back off” the Russia probe.

“You do not ask witnesses to leave the room unless you know you are committing a crime, and in this case, it was obstruction of justice,” the congressman added. Obstruction of justice, though Gutierrez did not say so, was one of the impeachment articles the Judiciary Committee approved against Nixon.

“The president (Trump) once said ‘It’s very possible that I could be the first presidential candidate to run and make money on it,’ and he has kept his word on that promise, by continuing to line his pockets with money and to drive business to his brands using the public office of president. That’s not right and that’s not legal,” Gutierrez said. Those funds break the Constitution’s “emoluments clause.” It bans federal officials from accepting other “emoluments,” besides their pay, from the U.S. or from any state.

Gutierrez also predicted the ongoing investigation of links between Trump’s campaign and the Russians “will uncover even more instances where the president violated the law and the public’s trust.”

Cohen said Trump’s “train of injuries to our Constitution must be brought to an end through impeachment.” He also said there is “evidence he (Trump) attempted to obstruct” the Russia investigation by firing Comey, and that Trump has “blatant conflicts of interest” which violate the constitutional ban.

“And his attacks on ‘so-called’ judges and ‘fake news’ have undermined public confidence in the judiciary and the press,” Cohen said, even though the impeachment articles are silent on that point.

“It’s time for Congress to take action to stop this reckless and harmful behavior by removing Mr. Trump from office and to defend and uphold the Constitution of the United States,” Cohen said.

Fudge called Trump “a clear and present danger to our democracy. It is high time Congress takes a serious look at the president’s actions. If those actions are found to be in violation of the Constitution, then the Congress of the United States needs to do the job the American people elected us to do.”

“Trump is dangerous and nearly every month he has served, Americans have witnessed some violation of our values, civil liberties, and access to opportunities that represent who we are at home and to our allies around the world,” Espillat said.

The New York lawmaker criticized Trump for “turning back the clock” on civil rights and equality. And Trump “obstructed justice, violated the Constitution, and undermined the independence of our judicial system and the freedom of the press. The evidence is there, and the course of action is clear.”

Hoyer countered by calling Trump’s actions in office “dangerous, inappropriate, and harmful” to the country, but warned his election “should not be overturned except for the most egregious and demonstrable facts, and both Pelosi and I believe it is not timely to address that issue given what’s in front of us.”

Hoyer recognized the anger of House Democrats—and constituents—against Trump, but said there’s a lack of impeachable evidence, so far. “We have just made a judgment the facts aren’t there to pursue that,” he explained.

Another potential supporter, Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., made the point that impeachment is political as well as legal. The legal case is there, she told CNN in early November. “But impeachment is not just about the law, it’s a political process, and in order for it to be successful, the majority party has to sign onto it,” she added. Nevertheless, Trump “committed significant constitutional impeachable violations.” If the GOP doesn’t act, she added, the Democrats might have to do so.

Harvard constitutional scholar Cass Sunstein makes the same points Jayapal does in a just-published book, Impeachment: A Citizen’s Guide. After going through the legal angles, Sunstein adds:

“If a president systematically overreaches in his use of executive authority, or puts civil rights and civil liberties seriously at risk, he is likely to have, or to be able to get the backing of a lot of Americans. Will We The People end up doing anything in response? I don’t know.”




Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.