Some time next month the US Senate will try President Trump and determine whether he should be removed from office. But there’s no doubt the Republican-controlled upper house will ensure that he remains in the White House, and – if the polls are confirmed – he will be re-elected in November.
Government resumes work in the US capital on January 6 when the Democrats and Republicans will continue sparring over the conduct of the trial. In principle, the Senate has to act as a jury with Chief Justice John Roberts in the chair.
So far, Republicans have shown no indications of neutrality nor any intention of observing constitutional safeguards.
Senate leader Mitch McConnell says he is coordinating the defence with the White House. He and some of his fellow GOP senators are looking for a quick event.
President Trump and his White House team want the equivalent of a show trial where he can flay his opponents.
There has been plenty of evidence this week, from his rambling and semi-coherent six-page letter to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and a spray of 45 tweets in the course of Wednesday. He has plenty of time to devise these since his days are relatively light with an abundance of “executive time” built into the schedule.
On Wednesday evening, Trump became only the third US president to be impeached – his predecessors were Andrew Jackson in 1868 and Bill Clinton 130 years later.
Richard Nixon resigned in 1974 before the axe fell.
Trump was done on only two counts – abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. The votes on both counts followed party lines, 230-197 on the first and 229-198 on the latter, following heavy whipping.
At times the debate resembled the theatre of the absurd. The process produced puzzlement and confusion across the United States at the direction – and evident nihilism – being displayed in both Houses of Congress.
One Republican compared impeachment with the 1941 Pearl Harbour attack when more than 2400 Americans were killed. Another charged it resembled the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
This prompted a tart rejoinder by a prominent Jesuit priest and author, Father James Martin, who wrote,
“Pilate had Jesus beaten and whipped, thrown into jail overnight, marched through the streets carrying his cross, and then nailed to that cross until he died. Comparing the treatment received by the President to what Jesus suffered is absurd. Also, only one of them is sinless.”
What comparisons can be made among Nixon, Clinton and Trump? Both used a special, independent prosecutor to conduct inquiries.
This time House committees did the hard work.
Nixon finally succumbed and agreed to hand over the incriminating Watergate-related tape recordings from his conversations in the White House.
Clinton was impeached on grounds of perjury to a grand jury by 228 votes to 206 and obstruction of justice by 221 votes 212, essentially relating to his dalliance with an intern.
Trump has refused to let any of his aides appear before either the House judicial or intelligence committees; nor has he handed over any documentation. Now he is going to the Supreme Court to block the House from accessing his tax and financial records which might disclose whether he has profited from the office, for example through the Trump Hotel in Washington DC.
Ever since Dwight Eisenhower, presidents have voluntarily disclosed their tax returns. But from the outset in 2016, Trump maintained he was “under audit” but would disclose them afterwards. The audit must still be underway.
While impeachment has strained loyalties, tested the Constitution, and divided families and parties, the business of government continues. The House passed $US1.4 trillion spending packages on Tuesday and sent it to the Senate,. It is due on President Trump’s desk today for signing to avoid another Government shutdown over Christmas.
This happened last year when a shutdown lasted 35 days from December 22, 2018 to January 25 after a dispute over funding Trump’s southern wall, intended to block illegal migration.
One casualty was the US Coastguard, funded through the Department of Homeland Security. As a consequence, the crew of the USCG icebreaker Polar Star in NZ and Antarctic waters, were not paid. Now the icebreaker is headed south again but this time they will be paid.