It’s not surprising that the House has impeached only three presidents, four counting Richard Nixon’s resignation before his inevitable impeachment. Nor is it surprising that the Senate has never convicted a president on impeachment charges. Removing a president from office is a drastic action that should be used sparingly. But it is remarkable how rarely the House or Senate has censured a president.

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As the House Judiciary Committee considers impeachment, there are three important questions for it to answer. Did President Trump violate his oath of office? If so, did his misconduct constitute high crimes and misdemeanors? And if so, should President Trump be impeached and removed from office?

President Trump has wanted to focus on the first question and stop further consideration there. Democratic members of Congress have focused attention on the second question and invited academic testimony there. But the third question is the most important one.


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President Trump’s decision not to host the G7 Summit at his Doral golf resort was not only prudent, it also reflects an important lesson for his supporters in Congress and elsewhere. They can stand with him by opposing impeachment charges in the House and blocking a conviction in the Senate, or they can resist his problematic behavior in the first place and prevent him from creating grounds for impeachment.

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Though the criticisms of President Trump’s withdrawal from Syria have been exaggerated (see here and here), the bipartisan condemnation reflects the fact that Trump does his greatest damage to the national interest on matters that are not grounds for impeachment. When he abandons our allies, emboldens our enemies, or engages in damaging trade wars, he may be guilty of bad policy choices, but those choices are not high crimes and misdemeanors. They are matters to be judged by the voters on Election Day.

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While President Trump clearly has given good reason to consider impeachment, the question remains whether impeachment is the appropriate way to address his misconduct. In one view, we should hold Presidents to high standards and impeach them if they fall short. In another view, impeachment should be reserved as a last resort when other responses to presidential wrongdoing are inadequate.

As the Framers of the Constitution observed, accountability to the public is our chief restraint on Presidents (and other elected officials). If Presidents violate their duties, they can be voted out of the Oval Office. In addition, Congress and the courts can check and balance a wayward President. Impeachment is an important tool, but as we have seen with other presidents, it can be misused for political purposes, including being used to undo an election.


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There clearly are good reasons for members of Congress to contemplate impeachment of President Trump. He tried to secure assistance from Ukrainian President Zelensky to promote his reelection campaign, he has used his office to promote his personal financial interests, and he has tried to obstruct justice. Whether he has abused his position to the level of high crimes and misdemeanors can be determined through further investigation and proceedings.

But some members of Congress, as well as some political observers, have invoked arguments that go too far. As the House moves forward with its impeachment inquiry, it is important that it does so on solid ground—otherwise, it risks making the process look like it’s more about partisan disagreements than about high crimes and misdemeanors. Here are some misguided arguments that have been made.


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Today’s New York Times reports that another member of Congress, Katie Porter (D-CA), has called for impeachment, citing the “constitutional crisis” provoked by President Donald Trump. According to Porter, echoing statements made by Jerry Nadler (D-NY) and other members of Congress, we have a crisis because of Trump’s misconduct, especially his failure to comply with congressional requests for documents and other information.

At some point, Trump’s disregard of the law may amount to a constitutional crisis, but we’re not there yet. In fact, with respect to the requests for information, the President is acting in many ways as the Founding Fathers expected.


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How does Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s public statement change the impeachment question? Not very much. He confirmed what we already knew from his report:

  1. If he had been confident that President Trump did not commit the crime of obstructing justice, he would have said so.
  2. He didn’t consider bringing charges against Trump because under longstanding Department of Justice policy, it is unconstitutional to file criminal charges against a sitting President.
  3. The proper way to hold the Trump accountable for his conduct is either through criminal charges after he leaves office or the impeachment process while he still holds office.

Does the Mueller Report justify impeachment?


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