Republicans have told us there are things a president just doesn’t do in an election season, such as, fill a Supreme Court vacancy. The Republican controlled senate famously refused to hold hearings on a nominee during Obama’s second term, even though the election was far off.
To recap, Merrick Garland was nominated to fill the 2016 vacancy on the Supreme Court created by the death that February of Justice Antonin Scalia, an icon of conservative jurisprudence.
President Barack Obama quickly named Garland to fill the seat. Garland had long been considered a prime prospect for the high court, serving as chief judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit — a frequent source of justices that is sometimes called the “little Supreme Court.”
Widely regarded as a moderate, Garland had been praised in the past by many Republicans, including influential senators such as Orrin Hatch of Utah.
But even before Obama had named Garland, and in fact only hours after Scalia’s death was announced, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declared any appointment by the sitting president to be null and void. He said the next Supreme Court justice should be chosen by the next president — to be elected later that year.
Supreme Court picks have often been controversial. There have been contentious hearings and floor debates and contested votes. But to ignore the nominee entirely, as if no vacancy existed?
There was no precedent for such an action since the period around the Civil War and Reconstruction.
In a speech that August in Kentucky, McConnell would say: “One of my proudest moments was when I looked Barack Obama in the eye and I said, ‘Mr. President, you will not fill the Supreme Court vacancy.’ ”
Today, we are now being told there are just some things you don’t do to a president barely more than 400 days out from an election — such as impeachment.
In fact, the most intellectually honest arguments you’ll find against impeaching President Trump address the politics of the process — the fact that Republicans in the Senate will never vote to convict, impeachment is still broadly unpopular with voters, let the voters decide Trump’s fate in 2020, and so on — and not the president’s actions, because any fair-minded observer would agree that soliciting a foreign government’s assistance in taking down a political opponent is conduct worthy of removal from office.
Yes, impeachment is risky, divisive and a number of other politically fraught things. There are ample excuses to avoid it, and for good reason. But Trump’s attempt to enlist Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s election assistance gets to the very heart of our government’s legitimacy. This is about protecting the republic, not grinding a political ax.
As the saying goes — it’s not the crime, it’s the coverup.
And now, we have the coverup.
It was bad enough that President Trump decided to hold up American aid to beleaguered Ukraine, then told that country’s president he wanted help digging up dirt on his political opponent Joe Biden.
But the request was so outrageous, so alarming, that White House officials decided they had to find a way to hide it. A transcript of the phone call was placed into a super-secret computer system used only for “codeword-level intelligence information, such as covert action.”
As a nation, we had no trouble understanding why President Nixon had to go. His henchmen ordered a break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate apartments in June 1972, and Nixon helped orchestrate a coverup of the crime. Nixon smartly preempted his own impeachment; he resigned at the urging of Republicans, who by then had turned on their president.
By 1998, most American’s were outraged that then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich put the country through another impeachment trauma because President Clinton lied under oath about having an extramarital affair. Clinton was impeached by the House and acquitted after a trial in the Senate.
Funny, though. Puritanical Republicans who whipped themselves into hysteria about Clinton’s personal behavior just don’t seem to care anymore about whether a president lies.
The American people, as it turned out, never really got on board the Clinton impeachment train. Clinton’s popularity ratings soared after the impeachment. Maybe partly that was because he was finishing up his second term and would never run for office again.
Trump, on the other hand, is facing a daunting reelection campaign. He seems to be trying to persuade himself that an impeachment ordeal will whip up his supporters and help him win a second term.
Perhaps, it will have the opposite effect.
The fact is, the impeachment fever raging in Washington perhaps isn’t entirely about the phone call President Trump made to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
It’s about Brett Kavanaugh. It’s about Russia and the Mueller report. It’s about Stormy Daniels and hush money payoffs to porn stars. It’s about the president saying he likes to grab women by the pussy. It’s about emoluments and the president enriching himself while in office. It’s about the outrageous number of times Trump goes to his resorts to golf, after complaining that Obama golfed too much and if elected, he would not do the same. It’s about appointing Cabinet officials that are hell bent on destroying the institutions they are charged to protect. It’s about countless lies and the president’s utter disregard for the truth.
But right now, today, the unpalatable facts for Republicans are that the American president implicitly threatened to withhold millions of dollars in foreign aid to an allied country under invasion from a major American foe if it didn’t help his reelection campaign.
His minions tried to hide it.
This is Nixon-level lawlessness. Trump’s impeachment trauma is well deserved.
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