Giving Congress power over Impeachment and ending the Imperial Presidency
This article is the fifth part of a six-part series, “Constitutional Changes to Restore American Democracy: Reforming the U.S. Senate and ending the Imperial Presidency.” Click here to read Part One: “The Undemocratic U.S. Senate.”
Making the U.S. Senate a reviewing and advising body will necessarily give the House of Representatives exclusive power over impeachment. As the Trump impeachment showed, the U.S. Senate has more power over impeachment than the entire Congress. Also, Congress should have more power to root out corruption and incompetence in the government. When a majority vote of Congress is sufficient to remove a federal officer, the people will truly rule themselves.
As for federal judges, the independence of the judicial branch must be maintained. Therefore, removing one from the bench should still require a two-thirds vote of the House of Representatives.
Removing the Senate from the impeachment process is consistent with the American people governing themselves by majority vote. Moreover, a reformed Senate comprised of wise and learned appointees will influence people automatically. Therefore, the House of Representatives will not remove federal officials frequently or without good cause.
Furthermore, the reforms I have outlined include allowing the House to override any veto by a majority vote. Once Congress can pass any law by a simple majority, the House will rarely want to impeach a president.
The President will always have a Personal Base of Support
An elected President will always have a personal base of support. Removing a president will never be easy, even if a bare majority of Congress can do it. To avoid offending voters, Congress will only remove manifestly corrupt and unfit presidents.
Furthermore, even if only a majority vote will remove a president or other federal officers, representatives will seldom impeach them to avoid offending voters. Therefore, if the Senate is out of the impeachment process, the House will vote for impeachment less often, not more.
Was Politics or his Fitness for Office behind the Clinton Impeachment?
In 1998 impeachment of Bill Clinton, politics probably motivated more Republicans to vote to impeach him than public interest. They could do this because the Democrats controlled the Senate, and they expected it to acquit him.
Consequently, in voting for impeachment, few expected many voters to criticize them later. However, if each member had been voting to immediately remove a twice-elected president of the United States, the Republican votes would not have been nearly unanimous.
As it turned out, voters punished the Republicans in 2000, and Democrats replaced many impeachment campaign leaders.
Majorities in Congress are never as secure as they appear
In the U.S., public opinion is so diverse that a party rarely wins safe majorities in a majority of congressional districts. There are always many close elections for Congress, even if the margin of victory is five or ten percent (i.e., 55%-45%).
No political party has been so popular as to have no effective opposition since the 1820s. Yet throughout that “Era of Good Feelings”, the presidents were also from the same party as that controlling Congress. For example, when Democrat James “Monroe Doctrine” Monroe was president, about 85% of the members of Congress were also Democrats. Needless to say, Congress readily passed the bills President Monroe wanted.
Presidents have held the trappings of a monarch – the White House, Air Force One, the West Wing, the State of the Union Address – for so long that the phrase “Imperial Presidency” is almost obsolete. It is time for the president to be less like an elected King and more of a public servant.
Presidential independence is overrated
Furthermore, what does it matter if Congress can dismiss the president at will? The House of Commons can remove the Prime Minister whenever it wants, yet the institution of Prime Minister is older than the United States.
Because he or she is both national leader and member of Parliament, the British “P.M.” must defend his or her policies regularly. Indeed, Parliament holds “Prime Minister’s Questions” sessions weekly in Parliament, and the opposition party leader asks multiple questions. Sometimes the sharpest questions come from a “Back-Bencher” in the Prime Minister’s own party! National television and radio broadcast each session; recordings are posted on YouTube.
Imagine if the president had to answer questions after the State of the Union address! Imagine if that happened every week instead of once a year!
The Founders never wanted an Imperial Presidency
Moreover, who selects the president is less important than that someone is always on duty to do the job. We have forgotten that, to the Founders, the most important reason to create the presidency was to make sure that someone could direct the Government day-to-day, and especially when Congress was not in session.
In the 1700s, travel to the national capital – in Philadelphia, New York, or the future “Washington City” – could take days and weeks, even in good weather. During storms, floods, and blizzards, travel was often impossible. Knowing this, the Founders created the presidency to handle day-to-day peacetime affairs, as well as emergencies.
The events of 1861 show that the true purpose of the Presidency is to act when Congress cannot
The spring of 1861, at the outbreak of the Civil War, proved the Founders’ wisdom, when loyal representatives and senators could not safely assemble in the Capitol. It was during that period, March to June of 1861, when Abraham Lincoln assembled his cabinet, asked loyal states to raise armies to defend the country, and generally foiled southern plans to establish a permanent Slaveowner’s Empire.
Yet once order was restored in the Union, Lincoln presented a full report on what he had done, and he asked Congress to approve his decisions, which it did. As Lincoln stated, he had acted alone only because Congress had been unable to act, and he had acted as he had sworn to act: To preserve the Union.
History shows that presidential independence is overvalued. In ordinary times, whether the nation be at peace with all nations or at war with whole world, the leaders the American people need is Congress assembled.
The president is not and should not be an elected king. The duties of the president are to uphold the Constitution and assure that the the laws are “faithfully-executed.” The president should only act alone when the U.S. is under such an imminent threat of attack that there is not enough time to assemble Congress. Those who would defend the Imperial Presidency bear the burden of proving that otherwise.
Conclusion: Saving the Last Best Hope of Earth: Reforming the U.S. Senate and Ending the Imperial Presidency (click here)