There’s a lot of questions floating around the journals of late about impeachment. The basic flavor, from both the left in fret and the right in hope, is will the Senate shrug? The majority leader has said they will take them up, but then came suggestions of the inevitable motion to dismiss.
The first thing is that you will never see articles move out of the House unless Speaker Pelosi and her colleagues find them damning enough for four or more Republicans to vote with the Democrats against dismissal on at least one of the articles. Perhaps the only way the House moves on articles without that locked down is if the Senate Republicans signal they have given up entirely on their oaths and take to the Mall to fly kites. At that point, the House would vote articles to place an asterisk on this chapter in American history so that future generations will note how craven a party can become under the poison spell of a filthy fool like President Donald John Trump.
To go through preliminaries—which they’ll need to before they can receive a motion to dismiss—and then accede to such a motion would be disastrous. They would have set the stage for a trial, with the public’s understanding already formed, and then said there’s nothing to be done about that understanding. It would speak against the entire purpose of the separation of powers—that, the executive being unable to properly investigate and indict emself, must have eir actions subject to review by a separate branch. If that separate branch cannot bring itself to successfully review executive actions, we have a whole systemic breakdown.
From the timber of the Trump–Ukraine (now –China?) scandal to-date, at least a handful of Republicans should vote against dismissing some of the articles. Such motions are a low bar in all but the most worthless cases, whether civil or criminal. The fact of the coverup using the code-word NSC system, the fact of the attempts by Secretary of State Pompeo to block testimony, the facts of Attorney General Barr and the citizen Giuliani jetting about and phonecalling to dig up dirt, all point to there being enough witnesses and awareness of the wrongdoing to push this into the territory of impeachment. There was something else…. Oh—the call itself, where the President directly asked a foreign government for dirt on a political opponent!
The other reason that the Senate would want to hold a full trial is that they should want the thing put to bed, either way. If they refused to hold a real trial upon the basis of valid and dire articles of impeachment, the House could simply reissue them again and again, to drive home the point much the way that parents waking their children find particularly grating ways. If the Senate dispensed anything approaching real justice, allowing for the case to be presented, and then decided to acquit, at least history would be served, if not justice.
Which brings us to Chief Justice Roberts. He will preside over any presidential impeachment. He represents the third branch, but the main reason for his presence is that a removal of a president automatically elevates the vice president, which means the vice president has a natural conflict. To obviate the conflict, the chief justice presides in his place. And in that role, he is the presiding officer of the body, including the fact that he may break ties on votes requiring a majority. Under Senate precedents, Roberts will offer preliminary rulings on legal questions before the body, subject to reversal or affirmation by a majority of the body. He also reads out the questions posed by senators, in writing.
All of which is to say that the Senate has that extra reason to behave in the midst of an impeachment trial. They will not want to make Roberts look bad. They will not want to cast a bad reflection upon our judiciary.
A reminder: impeachment and removal are there to fix the government. They are not punishment; any criminal behavior can be prosecuted after removal and punished accordingly. The question of removing President Trump boils down to the fact of his abuse of our standing in the world to seek personal benefits, which is a matter that surely harms our national interest and our security particularly.
For now the matter remains in the House, where the inquiry is getting started. It’s unclear how the House will proceed, with some folks on the right calling for it to be formally voted as an inquiry and held inter partes as the Nixon and Clinton inquiries were. If the House Republicans wish that vote so badly, they are free to push a resolution to that end and vote for its adoption (rather than the feckless resolution they’re seeking on Representative Schiff for paraphrasing the readout of the Trump–Zelensky call). Instead, their entire strategy seems to be more about the lack of any defense for the president’s wrongdoing. That said, one expects a vote at some point, and that the president’s counsel will be allowed to participate, if only to ensure the get a close-up view of the grave position this White House is now in.