Seemingly lost in the leftist media’s celebration of House Democrats’ “impeachment inquiry” is the fact that the Constitution safeguards against a partisan majority in the House from engaging in a political stampede to unjustly remove a federal office holder.
Today, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is the gatekeeper who holds the power to prevent any actual impeachment trial from ever taking place.
The Constitution details a two-stage process for impeachment proceedings. Stage one occurs in the House of Representatives with a public inquiry into allegations. Stage two consists of a trial in the Senate when called for.
Impeachment of any federal official is rare. The Legal Dictionary states: “From the passage of the Constitution … only 50 impeachment proceedings were initiated, and only a third of these went as far as a trial in the Senate. The reluctance of lawmakers to use this power is a measure of its gravity; it is generally only invoked by evidence of criminality or substantial abuse of power.”
According to Politico, a Senate impeachment trial of President Trump may never happen, even if the Democrat-controlled House finds “cause.” McConnell has the power to “table Trump impeachment proceedings without allowing any significant debate or a vote to convict a president from his own party, thereby removing him from office. But it’d be well within his power.”
Nowhere in the Constitution does it state that a Senate trial is mandatory after the House finds reason for impeachment, and it is indeed the Senate that has the “sole power to try” such an impeachment coming from the House.
“Up to the Senate,” former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said in an email to Politico. “No way to force them to act.”
“The Senate makes the decision,” Don Ritchie, the retired Senate historian, confirmed.
It would be an unprecedented move by McConnell to exercise his power to prevent an impeachment trial of the president and pressure would be immense for the majority leader to allow a trial to take place.
Conventional wisdom still says there has to be a Trump trial. McConnell, after all, said in March that the Senate would have “no choice” but to hold one if the House voted for impeachment.
But political conditions can change quickly in the Trump era. And lawmakers from both parties say they wouldn’t be surprised if the Kentucky Republican ultimately made the same calculation he did in 2016 when President Barack Obama nominated Merrick Garland for the Supreme Court — only for the Democratic president to see his pick axed by McConnell under the auspices of letting voters decide who should fill the vacancy in the next election.
On Wednesday, McConnell pointedly said in a statement, referring to the transcript of the call between President Trump and the Ukrainian president, that it is “laughable to think this is anywhere close to an impeachable offense. I’ve read the summary of the call. If this is the ‘launching point’ for House Democrats’ impeachment process, they’ve already overplayed their hand. It’s clear there is no quid pro quo that the Democrats were desperately praying for.”
If the House pushes through their impeachment inquiry and calls for a Senate trial, it would be seen on the right as the left desperately trying to wield a bludgeoning tool of political warfare. A divided nation will split apart even more drastically, so a decision by McConnell either way will likely have far-reaching consequences beyond just the current administration and 2020 elections.
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