Here’s what the US Constitution says about impeachment and the congressional oath: expert

Here’s what the US Constitution says about impeachment and the congressional oath: expert
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Chuck Schumer (D-NY) speak during a briefing in reaction to Republican legislation to overhaul the tax code on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., November 2, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

As compelling as former special counsel Robert Mueller’s testimony before Congress was on July 24, it didn’t move the needle significantly when it comes to President Donald Trump’s chances of being impeached. Republicans in Congress are still unwavering loyalists, Democrats who favored impeachment before Mueller’s testimony are still in favor of it, and most Democrats who opposed impeachment before July 24 haven’t changed their minds. In an in-depth analysis for the Lawfare Blog, legal expert Quinta Jurecic explains that members of Congress have some discretion when it comes to impeaching a sitting president — and that how many Democrats will favor impeachment going forward will be determined by how severe they consider the evidence to be.


Jurecic notes that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff and Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (chairman of the House Democratic Caucus) have something in common: all of them had “harsh words for the president” during Mueller’s testimony but remain opposed to “the formal opening of an impeachment inquiry, much less articles of impeachment.”

Jurecic goes on to say that the U.S. Constitution can give members of Congress some discretion when it comes to impeachment, depending on the severity of an offense and how strong they believe the evidence to be.

“Impeachable offenses have to be evaluated along a spectrum — from offenses that are impeachable but allow for some level of discretion on the part of Congress to offenses that are so extreme that members of Congress must either begin impeachment proceedings or breach their own oaths of office,” Jurecic explains. “This is what remains for members of Congress to decide: whether Donald Trump’s behavior, as described in the Mueller Report and publicly displayed over the last two and a half years, is bad enough to cross this line."

Jurecic adds, “So far, the view of the Democratic leadership seems to be that the line has not been crossed.” And Pelosi, Jurecic observes, has stressed that whatever decision House Democrats ultimately make on impeachment, it must be done “with our strongest possible hand.”

Members of Congress, according to Jurecic, are clearly bound by oath to defend the United States Constitution. But exactly when lawmakers should feel compelled to impeach is unclear.

“The line between an impeachable offense and an offense that demands impeachment proceedings is not an obvious one,” Jurecic observes. “As with pain, everyone has a different threshold. It would not be an unreasonable assessment to make that Donald Trump’s actions as described in the Mueller Report, considered alongside his other behavior over the last two and a half years, have breached that threshold. But the question of these legislators’ fealty to their oaths is up to them to judge.”

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