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As Clinton Hell-week was about to begin in Congress, it should have been anticipated that all of the Democrats’ favorite arguments against impeachment would be resurrected. True to form, ranking member John Conyers, referring to the impeachment proceedings in the House Judiciary Committee, said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press: “This thing is clinical now. It’s psychopathic. People want partisanship blood. I’m trying to explain to my few Republican friends, they are digging a deeper grave. You can’t tear Nov. 3 off your calendar last month. It was real. Ask Newt Gingrich.”
This is just one of many in a long line of statements by Democrats that the president’s removal from office upon his impeachment and subsequent conviction, would constitute the overturning of an election. Such statements usually refer to Clinton’s election in 1996, and even in 1992. Conyers’ quote is a variation of this theme in that it refers to the recent congressional and other off-year elections.
I think if I hear this nonsense one more time I’m going to scream! The removal of the president is by no stretch of the English language an overturning of his election. It does not, as is implicitly suggested, disenfranchise the electorate. It is simply another among the many arguments the White House and Democrats have been making in an attempt to have Congress’ decision to impeach and convict Clinton turn on reasons other than the proper ones.
The standard Republican rebuttal to this inane notion is that it is technically untrue because Vice President Gore, not the defeated candidate George Bush, would succeed Clinton. This answer, though accurate, is insufficient and misses the main point.
From the time of its adoption and ratification the United States Constitution has contained separate and distinct provisions governing the election of the president and his removal through impeachment and conviction. The Constitution expressly provides the procedure for electing the president (through an electoral college). The original provision was contained in Article 2, Section 1. The 12th Amendment superseded the procedural portion of this Section and the 20th Amendment further clarified the process. There are six separate provisions in the original Constitution, and an additional one in the 25th Amendment pertaining to impeachment.
A reading of all of these provisions concerning presidential election and impeachment, respectively, demonstrates that they are now and clearly were in the minds of the framers, two totally separate concepts. When the framers drafted the provisions governing presidential election, they were acutely aware of the provisions governing his impeachment. Similarly, when they drafted the impeachment provisions, they were mindful of the fact that any president who would be subject to impeachment necessarily would already have been elected to office. There is no possibility that they failed to realize the distinctiveness of the two procedures. In fact, all of the provisions relating to both were originally contained in the first two articles.
When the electorate, through the electoral college, elects the president to a four-year term to the highest office in the land, they have the absolute right to expect that he will conduct himself with the highest personal and public integrity. A president’s election does not authorize him nor give him a mandate to behave criminally. With their vote, the public is not saying that it so favors the candidate’s policies that he will be entitled to remain in office no matter how egregiously he dishonors its trust. But even if the public were intending to give the president an unfettered license to misbehave, such intention would be constitutionally irrelevant.
The Constitution explicitly empowers the House to impeach, and the Senate to conduct the trial. The public, other than through its duly elected representatives, is given no formal role in the process. Article II, Section 4, provides: “The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” It does not say anything about the president’s popularity with the electorate, either at the time of his election or during the impeachment proceedings by reference to polls.
As was the case with most governmental powers delineated in the Constitution by the framers of this “Republic,” the framers deliberately conferred the powers of impeachment and conviction on the elected representatives of the people. Our Constitution does not establish a pure democracy. Impeachment by plebiscite was never contemplated nor provided for by the framers. Democrats continuing to babble to the contrary know better and should be ignored.