WALLA WALLA, Wash. — As congressional Democrats assemble a team that will prosecute the impeachment case against President Donald Trump, Whitman College Assistant Professor of Politics Jack Jackson is surprised the proceedings have moved this far.
Democrats propelled Trump’s impeachment toward a vote by the full U.S. House on Friday, as the Judiciary Committee approved charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress in the constitutional and political storm that has divided Congress and the nation.
“I am somewhat surprised that Speaker (Nancy) Pelosi allowed impeachment to move forward after some of her earlier comments,” Jackson said. “But the evidence of abuse of power, combined with political mobilization in the country, has forced her hand in the matter.”
Jackson, who received his juris doctor degree from Cornell Law School, and focuses his instruction at the Walla Walla school on political theory and law with a special emphasis on political theories of freedom, public law, feminist and queer theory, constitutionalism and democracy, and political theories of time, said the roadmap in the process is straighforward.
“The Democrats need a majority of votes in the House,” he said. “This would then lead to a trial in the Senate. Removal of the president from office requires a two-thirds vote in the Senate. This procedure is set forth in Article 1 of the Constitution.”
The House is expected to approve the two articles of impeachment next week, before lawmakers depart for the holidays.
In the formal articles of impeachment announced Tuesday, Democrats contend Trump enlisted a foreign power in “corrupting” the U.S. election process and endangered national security by asking Ukraine to investigate his political rivals, including Democrat Joe Biden, while withholding U.S. military aid as leverage. That benefited Russia over the U.S. as Ukraine, an American ally, fought Russian aggression, the Democrats said.
Trump then obstructed Congress by ordering current and former officials to defy House subpoenas calling them to testify, and by blocking access to documents, the charges say.
By his conduct, Trump “demonstrated he will remain a threat to national security and the Constitution if allowed to remain in office,” the nine-page impeachment resolution says.
Trump is just the fourth U.S. president to face impeachment proceedings, after Andrew Johnson, Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton, and the first to be running for re-election at the same time.
Although the House impeached both Johnson and Clinton, neither was removed from office.
Nixon faced impeachment, but he resigned before the House voted.
Trump’s case is markedly different from his predecessors, in Jackson’s view.
“Trump’s connection to foreign powers and the alleged attack on Democratic processes in the United States makes this a quite different set of circumstances,” Jackson said. “In many ways, we are in new territory.”
Trump insists he did nothing wrong and blasts the Democrats’ effort daily as a sham that’s harming America. Republican allies seem unwavering in their opposition to expelling Trump, and he claims to be looking ahead to swift acquittal in a Senate trial.
Despite the gaping partisan chasm, Jackson’s said he’s not sure the impeachment process will fracture the nation more than it already is.
“It may reveal more consensus in the country about the president’s behavior than people imagine,” he said. “The partisan spectacle in Congress may, in fact, be obscuring this reality.”
Jackson said he views the impeachment process as a “good thing” as it relates to the overall democracy of the country, but it isn’t without flaws.
“It is one of the primary checks we have on presidents who abuse their power,” he said. “I do think one problem with the current impeachment proceedings is that they are too narrow. The abuse of Constitutional power by this president far exceeds the Ukraine situation.”
Jackson said though the news coverage of the impeachment proceedings has been nonstop, he believes journalists have missed a crucial fact.
“Presidents can be impeached for action that may not violate a specific criminal law,” he said. “It is why a successful impeachment leads to a removal from office and not a term in jail.”
The next steps in the process are expected to come swiftly after months of investigation into the Ukraine matter and special counsel Robert Mueller’s two-year Russia probe.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.