Article I of our Constitution says: “The House of Representatives shall chuse their Speaker and other Officers; and shall have the sole Power of Impeachment. … The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments. When sitting for that Purpose, they shall be on Oath or Affirmation. When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside: And no Person shall be convicted without the Concurrence of two thirds of the Members present.”
Article II of our Constitution says: “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.”
Article III of our Constitution says: “The Trial of all Crimes, except in Cases of Impeachment, shall be by Jury; and such Trial shall be held in the State where the said Crimes shall have been committed; but when not committed within any State, the Trial shall be at such Place or Places as the Congress may by Law have directed.”
What does “The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States” mean? It means every federal employee. We know this because federal judges and Members of Congress have been impeached.
What does “high Crimes and Misdemeanors” mean? In theory, it does not mean “whatever the House Of Representatives says it means”. In practice, it means exactly that.
Let’s put aside misconduct that many of us might consider petty. Let’s focus on egregious misconduct, misconduct that almost all of us would consider impeachable. What might that be? Might it be conduct by a federal employee that unequivocally violates the Separation Of Powers defined by our Constitution? Let’s think about that.
Article I of our Constitution says: “The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes”. What if America’s President issued an Executive Order that imposed a $1,000.00 tax on citizen and used the military to collect the tax? Would that be a violation of the Separation Of Powers? Would that be an impeachable offense?
What if America’s President tried to impeach the Speaker of the House Of Representatives and tried to remove the Speaker from office? Would that be a violation of the Separation Of Powers? Would that be an impeachable offense?
Article I of our Constitution enumerates the Powers of Congress, none of which include the executive Power of establishing international policy. Article II of our Constitution says: “The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America. … He shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties”.
What if America’s President announced to the world America’s national policy, and then the Speaker announced to the world that the House Of Representatives will exert its best efforts to prevent America’s President from implementing America’s national policy? What if the Speaker made the announcement on foreign soil?
America’s President announced to the world America’s national policy: America does not agree with the Paris Climate Accord. Then the Speaker of the House Of Representatives went to Spain and announced to the world an effort to undermine America’s national policy: “By coming here we want to say to everyone we are still in, the United States is still in”.
The Speaker’s announcement in Spain was not an isolated incident. The Speaker presided over the creation of a House Resolution that opposes any Middle East peace plan that America’s President might propose, unless the peace plan satisfies certain criteria defined by the House.
The Speaker has the de-facto Power to prevent the House from impeaching the Speaker. How should We The People respond when a Speaker abuses that Power? Should We The People remove the Power of impeachment from the House, and try to create an apolitical process for impeachment?
Stephen B. Benisch, December 7, 2019