Thomas Bell, Assistant Professor of Political Science, and Duane Oldfield, Associate Professor of Political Science, hosted a discussion about impeachment in response to news that congressional Democrats are planning to try to impeach Donald Trump.
Bell opened the discussion by explaining what the Constitution does and does not say about impeachment.
Bell pointed out only the Senate holds the power to impeach the president. When they start the impeachment process, the Senate has a “change in culture” according to Bell.
The Senate becomes a judicial body to hold the impeachment trial. Bell said this reading of impeachment only includes impeachment as removal of the president for a criminal offense and is too narrow. He expanded the definition of impeachment to include impeachment as a means of providing political accountability.
“Impeachment, and high crimes and misdemeanors, were a weapon against the executive branch,” Bell said.
Bell stressed that the president is the president all the time, meaning that even in their personal lives, presidents are held politically responsible for their actions. Bell said an impeachment trial is usually started by the opposing party to try to hold the president accountable for what they see as violations of the office.
Bell brought the conversation to current events, bringing up the current impeachment inquiry. He said the inquiry was not a necessary process.
“Congress doesn’t have to pass an impeachment inquiry vote because Congress doesn’t have to have an impeachment inquiry,” Bell said.
Bell described the impeachment inquiry vote as a way for Congress to test the waters. After the vote, leaders will be able to predict how successful an impeachment trial may be. At this point, Bell let Oldfield take over to explain the role that party politics plays in impeachment.
Oldfield emphasized the importance of partisan politics in past impeachment attempts and predicted the effects of partisanship on the current impeachment inquiry. Oldfield presented data to show that Trump’s approval ratings were vastly different across party lines.
Oldfield predicts that votes from the impeachment inquiry will largely fall along party lines unless “perhaps if Trump is stark, raving mad” or Republicans decide last minute to turn on Trump. Oldfield and Bell both predicted any attempt at impeachment will fail because the divide between Democrats and Republicans has been growing.
Trump has been using the impeachment inquiry to rally his supporters, according to Oldfield. Oldfield predicts relations between the parties will continue to decline as a result of the impeachment inquiry.
“Trump’s reaction to impeachment is likely to accelerate the decline of mutual toleration and respect for democratic norms,” Oldfield said.
Oldfield and Bell answered a few student questions together, but both expressed a grim outlook regarding the results of the impeachment inquiry and what it could mean for future impeachment processes.