At the most elemental level the impeachment process is a political device meant to check, by majority vote in the House of Representatives, a president whom it sees as having become a clear and present danger to the American democracy, its institutions and its people.
And since by Constitutional design only the House of Representative has the responsibility and duty to impeach (charge) a president with high crimes and misdemeanors — beyond the limits of any specific law — an impeachable offense is whatever the House of Representatives says it is; meaning that any argument by executive counsel that the House’s charge does not rise to the level of an impeachable offense is both mote and irrelevant. Indeed, the applicable question for the Senate to judge is, do the House charges that the president’s deeds and actions represent a national threat ring true and are they worthy of having him removed from office — full stop.
To repeat, the impeachment process is designed to remove from office a president whose words and deeds endanger the national interest. It was never intended to prove that he broke some specific law, though of course he could easily break a law that puts the country in jeopardy as well.
It is upon the House’s case against the president that the Senate’s job is to render a verdict for or against his removal from office, not to argue the merits of House procedures or conjure up its political motives. As a practical matter, if in the eyes of the general electorate the House’s vote for impeachment was on frivolous grounds or was purely politically motivated; the electoral cost to the majority party would most likely be harsh. So, no, the impeachment process will not likely ever become a routine course of action over minor differences between political parties.
Sure, it’s the president’s business to influence domestic policy and decide foreign policy, of which many might not agree, but, still, if a majority of the House of Representatives believes that what he is doing seriously jeopardizes the national interest; it has the duty to act against the chief executive as a key component of the Constitutional system of checks and balances. The impeachment case and ensuing Senate trial is the only governance mechanism America has that can prevent a president from falling into the role of dictator in midstream of an election cycle.
Moving on, since the impeachment case against President Nixon did not unroll the whole nine yards because he resigned before the Senate could pass judgment, it does not make for a good comparison to the Trump situation, but the House Impeachment and Senate trial of William Jefferson Clinton does. These two examples, Clinton and Trump, are extreme opposites, yet, alas, the results likely will be the same. But then again with the wild and crazy Trump, he may find a way to sink his case.
With the Clinton impeachment, it was purely a political show, as some might say a witch-hunt. Ironical it was the very same Kenneth Starr defending Trump that led the Whitewater investigation of Bill Clinton, and, who, after spending many months searching came up with nothing. But then Starr managed to catch old Bill in a lie about his affair with young intern Monica Lewinsky, and it was that which became the flimsy basis for Clinton’s impeachment.
Now let’s get real here, a president lying about a blow job in the White House can hardly qualify as threating the nation’s security. Stupid yes, and when revealed embarrassing all around, but certainly not the sort of national threat the founders has in mind when they came up with the emergency ripcord we call impeachment.
Now contrast Clinton’s poor sexual judgment with President Trump’s dancing about with dictators and our most dangerous Russian foe, while undercutting our longtime allies and finally going full bore endangerment of our national interest by holding up weapons to an critical ally in a hot war with Russia in exchange for dirt on a political opponent.
The bottom line is that the Clinton impeachment was a waste of time, a frivolous affair that while it might have warranted some kind of censure, instead it became a mountain of sanctimonious Republican gibberish that they turned into an impeachment circus. On the other hand Trump has screwed the national interest in so many ways trying to seek personal advantage, it’s hard to know where to begin. But since his Ukraine escapade was the tip of the iceberg of his corruption and incompetence, the House built its impeachment case around that. All of this on top of his numerous unrecorded meetings with Putin and echoing the Russian leaders talking points along with refusing to take steps to bolster our highly vulnerable electoral process. In total Trump’s words and deeds include everything the framers of the Constitution feared when they conceived the impeachment process.
To untangle this impeachment rat’s nest, perhaps the House and Senate should form a Joint Congressional Committee to work out formal rules of engagement and more precisely define what is and isn’t impeachable, which should center on those things done by a president thought to endanger America’s democracy.