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Some Democrats began calling for President Trump’s impeachment less than two weeks after he took office – almost before he could begin carrying out his duties as president. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi consistently balked at heeding their demands for more than two and a half years.
As that inquiry moves forward, it is important to understand that the Framers of the Constitution did not provide for impeachment as a partisan political weapon or as a response to a president’s policies with which members disagree.
Speaker Pelosi was sensitive to this back in 1998. Back then, when commenting on the impeachment of Bill Clinton, she said quite correctly that impeachment should not be based on “vengeance.” Expanding on that theme, she lamented that in the “investigation of the president, fundamental principles which Americans hold dear – privacy, fairness, checks and balances – have been seriously violated and why? Because…Republicans in the House are paralyzed with hatred of President Clinton.”
So why did the Founders provide for impeachment? It was created as a constitutional remedy for serious misconduct by the president and other federal officials that renders them unfit for office. Specifically, it is to address “Treason, Bribery or other High Crimes and Misdemeanors.”
How does the impeachment process work?
The Constitution gives the “sole Power of Impeachment” to the House, which can approve articles of impeachment by a simple majority. As a practical matter, therefore, it might be said that the category of “High Crimes and Misdemeanors” includes whatever the House says it does. But America’s founders took this phrase from English common law, where it had developed a definition. It is a narrow category of serious misconduct that requires removing the president now, rather than waiting for the next election.