Impeachment means to ‘impede’ or remove a public official from office. It does not mean removing former officials from public office for the same reason you can’t burn down a building that’s already been demolished. Even idiots should be able to grasp this principle.
Every Democrat argument for why President Trump can be impeached depends on the same stupid idea, which is that the Founding Fathers couldn’t have meant not to impeach former public officials.
Here’s Michael Gerson making this dumb argument in Bezos’ Washington Post.
Not long ago, it was common on the right for people to call themselves constitutional conservatives. But that, evidently, was a fad.
Here’s Patterico making that same argument.
The Constitution Doesn’t Mean a Damned Thing to the So-Called “Constitutionalists”
The echo chamber is short of original ideas, but big on talking points.
True constitutionalism, according to the experts in Orange Man Bad, means believing that the Founders couldn’t have not meant to impeach former officials because… ‘frantic arm-waving’.
But before we get to the main stupid argument, here’s an even dumber argument from Mike.
As the Senate trial begins, the main argument of Trump’s lawyers — repeated ad nauseam in their written response to the House trial brief — is that their client can no longer be impeached because he is no longer president. “The constitutional provision,” it reads, “requires that a person actually hold office to be impeached.”
The absurdities of this claim abound. The Constitution specifies two possible punishments the Senate can impose upon impeachment conviction: removal from office and disqualification from future office. The second penalty is always and only imposed on former officials, since they have just been removed from their job.
Just. Key word there. The argument here can only be pulled off by breaking down the process to the point of absurdity. Once you’ve successfully removed someone from office, they’re a former official and they can be disqualified from holding further office. This is not an argument proving that the Constitution meant to impeach former officials. The Constitution allowed disqualifying existing public officials from holding office through this process.
And there is nothing in the text of the Constitution that requires the imposition of both punishments in every case.
There is, more specifically, nothing in the Constitution that says former public officials can be impeached. It lists existing officials, not former officials.
The Orange Man Bad crowd is screaming that originalists are fake Constitutionalists because they’re not accepting their bizarre argument that you can impeach former officials based on absolutely nothing in the Constitution.
But then we come to the dumb Belknap argument at the heart of this debate.
The Trump team’s version of impeachment would leave the process easily gamed. Why wouldn’t every official facing the likelihood of conviction simply resign from office 10 minutes before the Senate votes?
Patterico makes a more colorful version of this same argument.
“OK,” I can hear you say, “but doesn’t the person being impeached have to be in office at the time of conviction?” No, and any other result would create an absurd result that the Framers could not have intended: that an officeholder could simply avoid future disqualification by resigning moments before the vote to convict is held. Under this view, an impeached president whose conviction was imminent and certain could simply burst in through the wall of the Senate chamber, like the Kool-Aid Man, minutes before the vote of conviction, only instead of yelling “OH YEAHHH!” the president would yell “I RESIGN! OH YEAHHH!”
This is actually the Belknap argument. That’s also the only actual time the Senate voted to impeach a former official. It also however voted to acquit him because enough Senate members believed that it lacked jurisdiction.
This is the part that none of the brilliant legal minds making this argument actually tell you.
The resignation argument is the Belknap argument. There are a number of problems with that argument…
1. Belknap provoked the Senate by specifically resigning right before impeachment to avoid impeachment. This was an isolated case from the late 19th century that reflects nothing on the Framers. It also ultimately failed.
2. The Framers would not have assumed or cared whether a public official resigned. The whole point of impeachment is to remove a public official. If a public official self-removes, then the problem is solved. The Framers would not have thought that disqualification was a further matter because resigning was an admission of guilt. And, indeed, Belknap never held any office of that kind again. That was a more honorable society. A pity that ours isn’t.
3. The Framers would have found the idea that someone would take the time and energy to become President, and then respond to an attack on his reputation by resigning to avoid disqualification, and then seek to successfully make it to the White House again. It doesn’t make that much sense today. It would have made even less sense back then.
Resigning is not some sort of superpower that shatters impeachment. It’s what impeachment is meant to achieve. Getting back to basics, impeachment removes public officials. So does resignation. The Orange Man Bad crowd is obsessed with the idea that President Trump might run for public office again.
The Framers were not nearly as focused on disqualification as on impeachment. The Constitution carries that emphasis.
Gerson pushes the Belknap argument past the point of absurdity.
“Think on this a moment. If only current officeholders can be impeached and convicted, only those officials who feel confident of Senate acquittal would choose to remain in office until the vote.”
Think on this.
Major public officials, including the President, would just resign rather than face impeachment, Gerson claims. Except who, besides Nixon, in recent times actually did that? Clinton didn’t resign. Trump didn’t resign.
The precedent for this is, I repeat, one cabinet member from the 1870s.
The argument that the Framers couldn’t have meant something is laborious when they clearly did mean it. It’s even more laborious when the premise for arguing that they didn’t is an absurdity. That’s not Constitutionalism. Like everything lefties do, it’s an attack on the plain and simple meaning of the Constitution.