In the battle between the White House and the Democratic Majority in the House, the narrative each side is spinning may not tell the whole story, writes Margaret Valenti. The Constitution and precedents established by the Nixon and Clinton impeachments are in question.
Yesterday (October 8th, 2019), Pat. A. Cipollone, Counsel to the President, sent a letter to Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Eliot L. Engel, Chairman House Foreign Affairs Committee, Adam B. Schiff, Chairman House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and Elijah E. Cummings, Chairman House Committee on Oversight and Reform on behalf of President Donald J. Trump. The letter states that the White House will not cooperate with any aspect of the impeachment inquiry and any subsequent hearings in Congress under the current circumstances.
The White House — Donald Trump and his administration— argues that, because the Democrats did not bring a vote to the floor about whether or not to start an impeachment inquiry and are simply moving forward with an inquiry on their own accord, that the impeachment inquiry is partisan and unconstitutional.
From a legal perspective, it should be noted that there are no specific instructions or outlined processes on how Congress can initiate an impeachment inquiry and the subsequent hearings.
However, recent historical precedents exist for both the Nixon and Clinton impeachment inquiry In each of these cases, Congress conducted a vote on whether or not to commence the impeachment inquiries of these two Presidents.
Why Not Hold A Vote?
There are many reasons the Democrats, the current House majority, may not want to hold a vote. First, since the Democrats already control the House, a vote may seem redundant, which was also the case when Nixon, a Republican President, was in office. Second, a resolution would need to be drafted before a vote could take place. The drafting of such a resolution would not only delay the process but also may cause a rift in the Democratic party as they endeavor to determine which of the President’s actions should be included as evidence for an impeachment inquiry — are we impeaching him based on what he said or things he actually did?
Additionally, and perhaps the primary reason why the Democrats will not hold a vote, the House majority has the right to subpoena evidence or witnesses with or without a vote. Meanwhile, the House minority will be unable to subpoena any evidence or witnesses on their behalf unless there is a vote. Lastly, a vote would prolong the impeachment process even more than the months it will already take and, given where we stand in the presidential election cycle, delays will greatly benefit Donald Trump.
Since the vote would give the Republican minority in the House the right to subpoena, many Democrats suspect that would give them the opportunity to start investigations into the Biden’s or any number of Trump’s political opponents.
They may choose to subpoena the whistleblower themselves since many want the whistleblower to testify publicly, though the whistleblower has received threats from Trump and his Republican allies. Democrats are using Trump and his allies’ threats to justify keeping the anonymity of the whistleblower under the Whistleblower Protection Act.
The Trump administration’s view that an impeachment inquiry without a vote is partisan has merit since the minority House Republicans are essentially being shut out of the process.
The White House Pressure
The White House is currently in the midst of a major turmoil, with multiple officials in the White House coming out and saying that Trump’s interactions with foreign leaders, specifically phone calls, scares them. Trump’s actions, which have been exposed publicly in recent weeks, are seen by many as intimidation of foreign powers to do Trump’s bidding for his personal gain, not the U.S.’s interests. Trump, by claiming what the House Democrats are doing is illegal, is attempting to redirect focus onto the alleged unconstitutional impeachment inquiry in the House and away from his own illegal actions.
The White House also views the impeachment inquiry as a way to overturn the 2016 Presidential election results so the Democrats can say that the entire election was a sham and illegitimate. Before Trump was elected, many predicted that if he was elected he would eventually be impeached. There have been articles for the impeachment of President Trump brought before Congress since the beginning of President Trump’s administration. The whole idea of impeachment to Trump is a “witch hunt” of an illegal and overreaching Democratic Congress.
The Democrats could decide to bring the matter to a vote if the White House absolutely refuses to cooperate, which would then put the White House in contempt, not Congress. It is very clear that Donald Trump used his power for his own gain and needs to somehow be held accountable for abusing the power of the Presidency. The question is whether or not the Congressional Democrats are overstepping their power by bringing forth an impeachment inquiry without a vote.
Precedents vs The U.S. Constitution
The Constitution is not specific about how impeachment inquiries need to be brought to Congress nor if there is a vote required. However, the White House argues there are precedents set by Nixon and Clinton’s impeachment where votes were taken. Basically, it depends on whether the commencement of an impeachment inquiry should be based on the Constitution’s lack of specificity or the precedents set by previous impeachments.
There is no clear answer as to what should happen, but the Democrats will likely continue to move forward with the impeachment inquiry unless they are forced to take a vote. Gordon Sondland has already ignored a subpoena, and there will likely be more Trumpians who do the same.
If Trump stays true to his letter and his administration refuses to cooperate with subpoenas, the Democrats’ hands will be tied and they may be forced into holding a vote.
Whether the Democrats will ever bring a vote to the House is unclear, it would certainly delay impeachment inquiry, by which point the 2020 presidential race will be equally as important. It is pretty clear what Trump’s goals are here; to keep the House from impeaching him and in doing so survive into another term. Time, along with a test of wills between The White House and House Democrats, will tell how this all plays out.