This constitutional scholar explains how an impeachment inquiry 'bypassing the Senate' could be Democrats' best option
Everyone believes it's overwhelmingly likely that if the House of Representatives impeaches the president, the Republican-controlled Senate will decide to acquit him. But debates continue to rage about whether, despite this fact, the impeachment of President Donald Trump might still be worth it.
In a new op-ed for the Washington Post, constitutional scholar Laurence Tribe offered an innovative impeachment option for the House of Representatives to consider that would avoid giving the Senate the opportunity to "whitewash" a trial of the president.
"[The] House, unlike any grand jury, can conduct an impeachment inquiry that ends with a verdict and not just a referral to the Senate for trial — an inquiry in which the target is afforded an opportunity to participate and mount a full defense," he wrote. "It seems fair to surmise, then, that an impeachment inquiry conducted with ample opportunity for the accused to defend himself before a vote by the full House would be at least substantially protected, even if not entirely bullet-proofed, against a Senate whitewash."
If Democrats carry out an impeachment inquiry, find that Trump committed impeachable offenses, but still believe that the Senate will vote down any charges against him, the House could take advantage of another option, Tribe wrote.
Instead of pushing forward with articles impeachment that are doomed, it could instead vote on a measure — more severe than typical censure — condemning the president's actions.
"The resolution, expressly and formally proclaiming the president impeachable but declining to play the Senate’s corrupt game, is one that even a president accustomed to treating everything as a victory would be hard-pressed to characterize as a vindication," he wrote.
The point would not be to take old-school House impeachment leading to possible Senate removal off the table at the outset. Instead, the idea would be to build into the very design of this particular inquiry an offramp that would make bypassing the Senate an option while also nourishing the hope that a public fully educated about what this president did would make even a Senate beholden to this president and manifestly lacking in political courage willing to bite the bullet and remove him.
Tribe doesn't consider the downsides of this approach. But it's possible the strategy would be incomprehensible to the public since it seems to have the contradictory effect of saying the president is "impeachable" without actually moving forward with impeachment. And despite his confidence that Trump would be "hard-pressed to characterize" the process as a "vindication," the president obviously would do just that — and he'd likely even spread the discordant message that it was an unfair, perhaps unconstitutional, attack.
But Tribe's suggestion is a fascinating idea that's worth considering, especially as Democrats increasingly find themselves torn over what to do about a lawless president and an enabling Senate.