The Senate should stop divisive, destructive impeachment

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

While members on both sides of the congressional aisle are exchanging sharp words in committee rooms and even on the House floor, it is not too late and certainly not too difficult to turn back before we are divided even further.

The first and best way to do this is to stop the clearly partisan-driven impeachment of the former President of the United States, Donald J. Trump. And for obvious reasons: It will not right a single wrong. It will not erase anything that happened. It will not settle a single score.

But it will do this: It will rend this nation further apart.

While it is said that two attorneys can arrive at two (or more) conclusions about practically any legal question, the constitutional provision regarding impeachment could not be clearer: A person must hold office to be impeached. Also, impeachment is solely and only understood to be a check on the executive branch and officeholders that violate the law — not a last-ditch effort to get at a former rival.

Consider that neither the House nor Senate has ever before attempted to impeach — let alone convict — a former president. The full House of Representatives declined to impeach President Richard Nixon after he resigned, even though the Judiciary Committee had voted out articles of impeachment days before he left office. The Democrats of 1974 understood the difference.

The fact that Chief Justice John Roberts pointedly refused to preside at this second Trump impeachment (having done so at the first) speaks volumes about what the High Court thinks of the constitutionality of what the Senate is about to do.

Further, the Democrats’ assertions in their articles of impeachment are unsupported by what we know to be the facts on the ground and the logic of our language.

Specifically, they assert that the 45th president is “singularly responsible” for the violence and criminal acts perpetrated on Jan. 6. This is clearly false.

The clear record also shows that he supported peaceful conduct and did not call for violence. At no point does the president direct the crowd to storm the Capitol Building. To insinuate otherwise is a misrepresentation of events.

To be clear: The violence that took place that day must be denounced, and those responsible must face the full consequences of the law. But President Trump in no way hindered efforts to make sure that those responsible for breaking the law are held to account. But this impeachment would only serve to validate those individuals’ view of the world.  

Fundamentally, this is about more than one trial of one president. It is about the lasting, institutional damage that pointlessly partisan actions like this are doing not only to the Congress, but the country as well. We need to be able to stand at each other’s sides, not constantly be at each other’s throats.

Every one on my colleagues knows what is at stake this year. We not only have a pandemic to confront and overcome, but also an economy to repair and a working class to rebuild. We have schools that must reopen where students can learn, and teachers can teach. By any measure, this impeachment is both delaying that work and denying help to the people who need us most.

Ultimately, I fear it is a threat to one of our country’s immutable characteristics: Our proven resolve to set aside the worst of political conflict for the good of the nation.

Justice Antonin Scalia offered the right wisdom for this moment. A fierce debater himself, he lived by the rule that we should attack ideas, not people. He knew that we could disagree without being destructive.

Make no mistake: This impeachment will work to the further dysfunction of Congress — the true legacy of a political prosecution without precedent or peer.

• Congressman Darrell Issa represents California’s 50th District.

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