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Judd Gregg: How to impeach oneself

Article 2 Section 4 of the Constitution sets out the rules of engagement for impeachment.

It says in part that impeachment may proceed when there have been committed, “treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”

The term “high crimes and misdemeanors” is not further defined. There are diverse opinions as to when an action rises to the required level.

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It is up to the House of Representatives to set out what it finds to be an impeachable offense and vote on it.

 

It is then up to the Senate to vote to convict and remove someone from office — or not. A two-thirds majority is required to convict.

During the trial of President Clinton, on numerous occasions members of the Senate asked the presiding officer — the then-Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, William Rehnquist — to give some definition to the term “high crime and misdemeanor.”

He demurred, essentially saying it was a determination that had to be made by each senator.

What should be clear from our history is that impeachment is not to be taken lightly. It should be rare.

We have only twice gone down this road — once with President Andrew Johnson and once with President Clinton. In addition, if President Nixon had not resigned, it is likely he would have been impeached.

In Johnson’s case, there was an issue of his abuse of his appointment authority. In Clinton’s case, there was an issue of perjury. Neither of these proceedings actually led to conviction by the Senate.

All of this is given new relevance because of the recent and heightened discussion of impeachment, not only by those who oppose President TrumpDonald John TrumpFive takeaways from Cruz, O'Rourke's debate showdown Arpaio files libel suit against New York Times IMF's Christine Lagarde delays trip to Middle East MORE but by Trump himself.

In fact, there are some in the GOP who are running for Congress this year arguing that they need to be elected to keep the House Republican, so that the president cannot be impeached.

There are also those in the Democratic Party who are claiming that the first act of a House controlled by their party should be to bring forth articles of impeachment against Trump.

From a distance, it certainly seems premature to be bandying about the idea of impeachment.

The idea of removing a president from office who was duly elected, as Trump was, should be viewed with deep concern and foreboding.

Yet, here we are with the president himself putting the concept into the arena of debate. It is a strange course for him to be pursuing.

If a university had a course in how to create an atmosphere where impeachment becomes plausible, even if there are not any facts to support it, it might involve the following:

First would be having the president who has been targeted give the accusation credibility by talking about it as a possibility.

Second would be for his party to take up the cause of opposing the idea, for the purpose of electing its members. Doing so raises the visibility of the issue in an exponential manner.

Third, the president would bring in people to do damage control and have those supposed experts actually deliver more damage. This, of course, has been the outcome of the recent addition of Rudy Giuliani to the president’s personal legal team.

Fourth would be to have the president’s public image be affected by people in his orbit who have a certain aura of thuggishness around them. In this category would be figures such as Paul ManafortPaul John ManafortFusion GPS co-founder pleads the Fifth in Congress, attorney cries McCarthyism Virginia judge calls Manafort’s plea deal ‘highly unusual,’ but is it? Three reasons Mueller may not charge Trump with obstruction MORE, Roger StoneRoger Jason StoneCollusion judgment looms for key Senate panel The Hill's Morning Report — Where the Kavanaugh nomination stands The Mueller investigation: Where it stands at the midterms MORE, Michael Cohen and Corey LewandowskiCorey R. LewandowskiTrump and son signal support for McCarthy as next Speaker The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by Better Medicare Alliance — Facing major hurricane, Trump is tested Bannon seeks to boost Republican turnout in midterms with new film MORE.

Fifth would be to create an atmosphere that enhances the opportunity of the Democratic Party to take control of the House of Representatives and possibly the Senate in the upcoming elections. This seems to be the goal of the president and the Republican Congress.

About sixty percent of the electorate disapproves of the president’s job performance. It is virtually impossible for Republicans who are running in competitive districts to climb that hill of disapproval. Their wagon of reelection is inexorably tied to the president. And the numbers do not work.

The irony is that most of the president’s policies are producing positive results. The tax bill, the relief from the regulatory excesses of the Obama period, the appointment of thoughtful and conservative judges, and even his foreign policy seem to be generating forward movement.

It is not his policies that have caused people to give him the low approval ratings. It is his manner — his demeanor as personified by his incessant tweets and his speeches to audiences drawn entirely from the 35 percent of the population whose adulation he loves.

If the president does not want the House to go Democratic, thus dramatically increasing the risk of impeachment, then he might consider speaking and tweeting to the 60 percent of the people who find his self-indulgence unappealing.

He might try talking to Americans generally rather then just his base — and speaking in terms that reflect an understanding of their everyday concerns.

The Congress for its part, especially the Senate, must put forward policies that will help Americans with the issues of their everyday lives.

Right now, there is absolutely nothing of note pending in the Congress. The tax bill passed. But it is history.

Congress needs to take actions, or at least put forth proposals, that will resonate with folks who are not immersed in the gamesmanship of the Beltway.

Impeachment should not be an option. It should not be the topic of political discussion.

It is dangerous for the country to allow this sort of deterioration in our elective process at this time.

If the president does not know this, the people around him should — and so should Republicans in Congress. 

If they do not, then they may just reap what they are sowing.

Judd Gregg (R) is a former governor and three-term senator from New Hampshire who served as chairman and ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, and as ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Foreign Operations subcommittee.