Everyone who has ascended to the presidency took an oath that includes the following: “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
That is fundamental to the office; and when an individual falls below that standard, it is the responsibility of the legislative branch to hold that person accountable.
Many within the chattering class suggest we’re currently in a constitutional crisis. This amorphous commentary is usually made without of the burden of explaining the definition of “crisis.” America is not in a constitutional crisis, but rather a lack of constitutional courage.
The report issued by Special Counsel Robert Mueller suggests President Trump could be in violation of the oath taken. The burden therefore rests with the legislative branch to use its oversight responsibilities implied in Article 1 of the Constitution to investigate.
But the president is unwilling to cooperate.
A federal judge rejected the president’s request to halt Deutsche Bank and Capital One from releasing financial documents related to his businesses in response to subpoenas from House Democrats. Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin is in violation of the law, ignoring a congressional subpoena to release the president’s tax returns, citing the nonexistent constitutional rationale that the request lacks “a legitimate legislative purpose.”
And last week, former White House Counsel Don McGhan, on direction of the White House, defied a congressional subpoena to appear before the House Judiciary Committee.
Meanwhile, Republican Michigan Rep. Justin Amash recently concluded that the president committed “impeachable conduct” and accused Attorney General William Barr of intentionally misleading the public. Amash via Twitter stated: “Contrary to Barr’s portrayal, Mueller’s report reveals that President Trump engaged in specific actions and a pattern of behavior that meet the threshold for impeachment.”
House Democrats are stuck between the false choices led by the “Frankie Five Angels contingent,” who said to Michael Corleone in The Godfather Part II, “Let’s hit ’em all now, while we’ve got the muscle,” and the more prudent wing led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, keeping an eye on the 2020 election. But even Pelosi’s more judicious approach has bite. Just before meeting with the president about infrastructure, Pelosi stated, “We believe the president is engaged in a cover-up.”
Without factoring the Mueller report, what should be the outcome when the executive branch systematically ignores subpoenas issued by the legislative branch? If this president is allowed to ignore the legislative branch’s oversight authority it sets a precedent for future office holders. The current president has changed the stakes by not complying with a co-equal branch of government.
Initiating impeachment proceedings seems to be the only viable option for a president who appears to demonstrate no respect for our democratic guardrails.
The reflexive talking points in opposition offer that no party should circumvent the will of a duly elected president. Some worry, should Democrats go the impeachment route, they will appear as the party that overreached, making the president appear as a victim.
In isolation, both positions are legitimate, but neither addresses the present moment. If “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution” is subjective, why not hold a constitutional convention to have the language removed from Article 2?
Opening impeachment proceedings grants the House more latitude to obtain the documents it seeks. Impeachment proceedings does not mean the House is circumventing the will of the people; it does mean that, as a co-equal branch of government, it has the right to make a judicious decision about the president by having the questions answered that were raised by the Mueller report.
Lest we forget, the preamble of the Constitution was written for the present generation as well as posterity. What good is it to maintain an eye on the 2020 election if there is collective complicity in dismantling the constitutional guardrails?
In my opinion, a constitutional crisis would include:
- Co-equal branches of government are at an impasse and the Constitution offers no clear path forward.
- Rebuffing democratic norms that are not addressed.
- The absence of moral justification.
President Trump has been pushing the elasticity on all of the aforementioned. We are currently hamstrung by the lack of constitutional courage, but if the Democratic House fails in exerting the constitutional power granted to it in Article 1, then it will be a crisis.
It remains possible the president is guilty of nothing. That, too, misses the point. He doesn’t get to decide if investigations against him are legitimate. The failure to hold him accountable will normalize what is now an aberration.
The Framers of the Constitution never imagined a president would be hostile toward our democratic guardrails. But even that does not constitute a crisis. It’s certainly nothing that a little courage cannot cure.