A Drama in 2 Acts: The House and Senate

By Jamie Stiehm

December 11, 2019 5 min read

WASHINGTON — They kept it simple and solemn in the House late in fall: abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

These are twin articles of impeachment now facing President Donald J. Trump, just announced by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Democratic chairmen, notably Reps. Adam Schiff of Los Angeles (House Intelligence Committee) and Jerrold Nadler of New York (House Judiciary Committee). Pelosi wore bright cobalt blue.

Artillery fire across the aisle soon erupted. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., accused them of trying to "tear down the country."

On the other side of the creamy Capitol, the Senate was still stirring, barely awake. That's the pattern we've seen all year: the House acts; the Senate reacts with a yawn.

Yet now the Senate has no choice but to get into the House act. By the Constitution's clear words, once the House impeaches the president, the eye of the Trump storm moves to the Senate.

Hurricane Donald threatens to leave a shambles in his adopted — or abducted — party wake when it's over. Just in time for the 2020 races.

You can count on it: The Democratic House will impeach Trump in late 2019 — next week — and a Republican Senate trial shall start in early 2020.

As sure as stars, it won't be a pretty mud fight, whether Trump is acquitted or removed from office. It's bound to make the bitterly partisan President Bill Clinton affair — he was impeached but not removed — look like horsefeathers.

That House drama happened early Tuesday morning. The power of two was quickly debated and rippled among the reporters in the Rayburn Room as they ran after the speaker for questions; she took none. The lawyerly Mueller report on Russia's 2016 election interference did not make the House cut.

That was the curious thing.

Most likely, the decision to keep the articles simple was a deft stroke to protect the moderates in the House Democratic caucus.

Rather, the Pelosi impeachment is all about Ukraine. Trump's explicit July call with the president of a foreign power, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, to pressure him into announcing an investigation of a 2020 political opponent, Joe Biden, and his son Hunter is on record.

(Thank you, whistleblower.)

About $400 million of military aid was at stake, and both presidents knew it: Trump and Zelenskiy. The American president's misconduct, spelled out by the House, was simple: use state power for personal gain.

"That could mean they don't like the way you get up in the morning," Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., fumed near the floor.

Likewise, the second House article, obstruction of Congress, is not hard to prove to the real jury, the public. The Trump White House refused to provide witnesses or documents to the impeachment inquiry.

But this is politics, not a straight legal trial. Yes, Virginia, anything could happen.

Public sentiment — and the Senate — ruled Clinton's slight affair with a young woman wasn't worth ousting a president in peace and prosperity. Lying about his personal life in a salacious investigation did not violate the Constitution, in the end.

Most of all, Clinton was a popular president who kept his chin up during a relentless Puritan proceeding.

Trump's approval rating is a rock-solid 43% or 44%. A few Senate Republicans up for reelection in toss-up states are in a tight spot. Key battlegrounds are Iowa and Maine.

Sens. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, and Cory Gardner, R-Colo., will be closely watched chess pieces in the Senate trial. Do they risk alienating their base volunteers and funders or independent swing voters?

While there may be a couple of crossovers, such as Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., or Mitt Romney, R-Utah., the Senate must reach 67 votes to remove Trump — a steep standard. House Democrats will stick together.

Schiff said in closing, "The President's oath of office appears to mean very little to him."

But Mitch McConnell, the shrewd Senate majority leader, may have the last word. Will he approve Hunter Biden called as a Republican trial witness? That would be foul, even in ugly political weather.

McConnell won't even divulge the date when the Senate returns for the January trial. He's biding — or, Biden — his time. Then the fun begins.

To find out more about Jamie Stiehm and other Creators Syndicate columnists and cartoonists, please visit the website creators.com

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