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House Republicans Should Just Say No to 'Revenge Impeachments'

The Hill

A number of Republicans in the House of Representatives are looking for a little impeachment payback. While most Republicans were outraged at Democrats’ efforts to impeach President Trump, twice, some of them believe impeaching Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas or some other high ranking Biden administration official, or even President Biden himself, is justified because of these officials’ poor or criminal performance. But Republicans may also be looking for a little impeachment revenge.

Republican anger may be justified, especially with respect to Mayorkas, but there are several reasons why they should say no to revenge impeachments.

For background, the U.S. Constitution lays out the process of impeachment in Article I, Sections 2 and 3. Only the House can bring up articles of impeachment. And if the articles pass by a majority of the House, the Senate holds an impeachment trial. Two-thirds of the Senate must vote to confirm the House’s charges. If the Senate does, the impeached federal official is removed from office.

There have been relatively few federal officials impeached by the House since the Constitution went into effect in 1789, and even fewer convicted in their Senate trial. According to the Senate’s website, there have been 20 Senate impeachment trials in all — 14 were federal judges and one was a justice, with six of them found not guilty.

Three Senate trials were of presidents: Andrew Johnson, Bill Clinton and Donald Trump (but only for Trump’s first impeachment). Not one of those three presidential impeachments was upheld by the Senate, so no president was removed from office.

Even so, President Nixon was facing impeachment by the House, and likely would have been found guilty in the Senate trial, but he resigned first.

So, while the House can pass articles of impeachment with a majority vote, which seems to be easier to achieve in these ultra-partisan times, it is very hard to get the Senate to confirm the articles and find the official guilty. That high bar in the Senate is the Republican-controlled House’s biggest roadblock to impeachment success.

The Senate is controlled by Democrats. While it is at least possible that a low-level Democratic federal official, such as a federal judge, might be impeached for crimes or extreme malfeasance, there is virtually no chance that a Democratic Senate would vote to uphold the impeachment of a high-level Democratic official. And that includes Mayorkas.

The point is that impeaching almost any Biden administration official would fail miserably in the Senate. So what would be the point?

Some Republicans might say that impeaching an official in the House would tarnish that person’s record, even if the Senate doesn’t uphold it. But that’s not what we’ve seen in the recent past.

House Republicans impeached Bill Clinton in 1998, and yet the Republican-led Senate could not muster the two-thirds vote needed to convict him. Clinton went on to become the most popular Democrat for years after he left office in January 2001. If anything, impeachment may have strengthened his popularity and political standing.

Moreover, Republicans lost control of the House in the 1998 midterm elections, which was in part seen as the public’s rejection of Republican impeachment efforts.

Donald Trump was impeached by House Democrats in 2019 and 2021, but the Senate failed to confirm the 2019 impeachment with a two-thirds vote and didn’t even hold the trial in 2021 because Trump left office.

While Trump’s popularity has been declining among Republicans lately, that’s because of things he’s been recently saying and doing, not the House impeachments.

Both Trump’s and Clinton’s impeachments were seen by their supporters as partisan games meant to hurt them as presidents, and it’s hard to deny that’s what they were.

A better course for House Republicans is to investigate, investigate, investigate. They have the power to do that, and they don’t need the Senate. It’s also possible they could produce some high-level resignations if the investigations disclose serious crimes, ethical lapses or bureaucratic failures.

But even investigations can look partisan and merely undertaken for revenge if no useful information emerges. The Democrats’ barely-bipartisan Jan. 6 hearings had several problems, but they provided new information and compelling testimony, especially from Republicans. New House investigations need to do the same.

In addition, Republicans campaigned on addressing the country’s many challenges, and that needs to be their real focus. Too much time and effort spent on investigations that don’t seem to go anywhere could backfire in 2024 if voters believe House Republicans are merely seeking political revenge.

So, while House Republicans will be tempted to consider and initiate impeachments, they should resist the urge. Better to let the voters impose their own type of impeachment in the polling booths in 2024.