Impeachment and Precedent

Dave Johnson at Seeing the Forest questions the consequences if Bush is impeached by the House and acquitted by the Senate:

What happens if the House impeaches and enough Republicans in the Senate block conviction. Wouldn’t that mean that Bush is excused and is free to continue on as he pleases? Does it set a very dangerous precedent?

Barring a smoking gun such as the Watergate tapes, it is very unlikely that the Senate would convict considering the number of Republican votes which would be necessary. While impeachment is the Constitutional remedy for a President who has abused his power as George Bush has, I’ve not made for impeachment a major concern of mine for this reason.

Despite the fact that Bush would not be convicted, I support impeachment primarily as this would be a way to present the full case against Bush. After impeachment, Bush would not only be tried by the Senate, but would also be subject to the view of public opinion and of history. After the full evidence against Bush is not only presented but made a top subject of political conversation, Republicans may vote to protect Bush, but in doing so would risk discrediting themselves and their party.

There is the risk that Bush would feel he was exonerated and could do as he pleases if not convicted in the Senate. Fortunately he would have little time left in his term, and the increased scrutiny of his actions might act to inhibit him.

There is the risk that it could set a precedent if Bush is acquitted by the Senate. I hope that the lesson to history is not that Bush was innocent, but that he was protected due to the high degree of partisanship at present. I also fear the precedent set if no action is taken by George Bush. Bush has greatly expanded the powers of the Presidency well beyond that intended by the founding fathers. Future Presidents may feel no restraint in further abusing the powers of the office if no action is taken against George Bush at all.

There is one scenario for impeachment which is not plausible in the real world, but makes for an interesting fantasy. The next Congress begins before Bush’s term ends in January 2009. If there was enough public outrage against Bush and Republicans who refuse to convict him in the current Senate,this could become a major issue leading to Republican Senators being voted out of office in 2008. Even those Republican Senators not up for reelection until later might have second thoughts about defending Bush. While it will never happen, in theory a new Congress meeting in January 2009 could impeach and convict George Bush for the sake of precedent and the history books, especially if the investigations were conducted and evidence accumulated by the current Congress.

Some have argued for censure in place of impeachment. This might be a satisfactory alternative. While censure doesn’t carry the same historical weight as impeachment, it could allow for a full investigation and a public statement that Bush’s actions are not tolerated under our system of democracy.

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