Quad.jpg (copy for impeachment event recap)

Valerie Sulfaro and Tim Lapira, who led the event, referenced other impeachment inquiries into past U.S. Presidents as examples. 

‘Impeachment Demystified,’ an event that explained the impeachment inquiry into President Trump, was hosted on Oct. 14 by the Madison Center and Dukes Vote. Political Science professor Valerie Sulfaro and Associate professor Tim Lapira spoke at the event.

An impeachment inquiry was initiated Sept. 24 by Speaker of the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The charge against the president was pressuring the leaders of foreign nations, like Ukraine, to find damaging information on political rivals, therefore boosting his chances of reelection in 2020.

Lapira said the media gets lost in reporting the impeachment inquiry in “the world of Twitter and cable news” because each outlet has its own vested interests. His three main points were that Congress acts autonomously, the House and Senate play different roles and that impeachment is a political, not legal, act. 

“There is no guidebook where you open it up and say, ‘This is impeachable and that is not impeachable,'" Lapira said. “The point is that it is up to the 435 voting members of the House of Representatives to decide what is impeachable and if a given action meets that standard.”

Lapira said that impeachment is akin to indictment. It’s a note to the Senate from the House of Representatives that indicates enough evidence exists for a specific charge. If the article receives a majority vote in House, it then goes to the Senate, where its members consider if the president should be removed by a two-thirds vote.

Lapira said that it’s “not ambiguous whatsoever” that the sole power of impeachment lies within the House of Representatives. It’s also the responsibility of the Senate to be the sole court for impeachment trials, as outlinedin the Constitution.

“Congress doesn’t ask permission from the judiciary whether it can impeach somebody,” Lapira said. “It doesn’t look for guidance or recommendations of the executive; it doesn’t ask the states either. It acts completely autonomously.”

Treason, bribery, high crimes and misdemeanors are reasons for impeachment, as outlined inArticle II, Section 4 of the Constitution. Lapira said that “one thing we have to understand” is that impeachment can’t be used to get rid of presidents that people happen to disagree with politically.

“She did it because this particular act, at least on its face — the prima facie case — is that it is an abuse of presidential power to dangle money in front of a foreign leader for some kind of an official action, especially when it's implying that it is going to be an attack on a potential electoral foe,” Lapira said.

 Only two other U.S. presidents have been impeached: Bill Clinton and Andrew Johnson. For Clinton, theHouse of Representatives voted 228 to 206 for impeachment on the grounds of perjury and 221 to 212 on the grounds of obstruction of justice. However, in the Senate, a two-thirds majority wasn’t reached, so Clinton was acquitted and allowed to serve up until the beginning of the next year. 

For Johnson, the Senatevoted 35 to 19 in favor of removal. It was one vote short of the necessary two-thirds.

Lapira said that it’s Pelosi’s “responsibility as leader of the party” to make sure her members are best situated to maintain a democratic-majority status in the House. Lapira also said that Pelosi has been putting off the extremists who’ve been calling for impeachment since the first day of Trump’s office, but she now has grounds to pursue an inquiry.  

 “I’m going to argue, presumably this means that other presidents have committed similar misdeeds but have not been impeached for them because the circumstances didn’t exist for them to be impeached,” Sulfara said. “[Johnson and Clinton are] the only people who have been subject to impeachment investigations and procedures, again, because it is also a political action.”

The Senate has options. Lapira said it can censure the president, which has the political effect of weakening Trump. It can also render the president ineligible for further federal office.

Lapira said that there have been “two buckets” that Pelosi has been dealing with from the democratic party: what they don’t like about Trump, and what they’re willing to make the case is an impeachable offense.

“We have to remember that politics is not a four letter word,” Lapira said. “Politics is a good thing. Politics is how we make decisions collectively on behalf of all of us."

As of Oct. 17, Trump’s approval ratings show that he’s disapproved by the majority. 54% disapprove, while only 41.6% approve. 

“For as many people that are upset at Trump getting impeached, there are also plenty of other people on the other side who really don’t like Trump,” Sulfara said. “I think, therefore, partisanship makes for some immovable objects, essentially.”Both Sulfara and Lapira don’t think that the U.S. in a “constitutional crisis” yet, as subpoenas haven’t reached the Supreme Court and more people still have to testify. Kyle Ford, a senior economics major who attended ‘Impeachment Demystified,’ agreed

“You do need to know how the impeachment process works,” Ford said. “I don’t really think we’re in a constitutional crisis right now. I think the process is working exactly as it should, just like [Sulfara and Lapira] said. It’s incredibly important so you can make rational decisions when you go to the polls next November.

According to the Pew Research Center, 54% of people support the impeachment inquiry. Lapira said that people need to understand this current moment of politics and how the “engine” works

“It’s akin to, you can support the Yankees or the Nationals,” Lapira said. “But in order to do that, you’ve got to understand the game of baseball.”

Contact Mitchell Sasser at sassermp@dukes.jmu.edu. For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.