With the news of a presidential impeachment inquiry rocking the American political landscape, every member of Congress — including Connecticut’s congressional delegation — has to consider one of the most consequential decisions of their careers.
On Sept. 24, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-CA, announced that the House of Representatives would begin an official impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump. Since then, all seven of Connecticut’s legislators — five in the House and two in the Senate, all Democrats — have announced public support for the inquiry.
While one of the seven — Representative Jim Himes, D-Greenwich, a senior member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence — had already committed to supporting impeachment earlier this summer, the other six came to their decisions this week based on new reports of Trump’s interactions with Ukraine. According to a publicly released transcript of Trump’s call with Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Trump asked Zelensky to investigate former vice president and presidential candidate Joe Biden, one of Trump’s highest profile political rivals. Many in Connecticut’s delegation saw the move — using the powers of the presidential office to request political assistance from a foreign rival — as an unprecedented, unlawful maneuver, and called for an impeachment inquiry in light of the action.
“If a president in effect puts his own self-interest and political gain above our national security, it is deeply dangerous for our nation,” Senator Richard Blumenthal, LAW ’73 told the News in an interview this week. “Nothing could be more dangerous than a president who is in effect willing to sell out the country for personal political gain.”
Representative Rosa DeLauro, D-New Haven, agreed with Blumenthal, saying that Trump’s call with Ukraine was a step too far for in an administration that has appeared to have little regard for the law.
Six committees in the House are currently investigating various actions of Trump, not all related to Ukraine, that House Democrats view as potentially impeachable offenses. In the coming weeks and months, these committees will report their findings to the Judicial Committee, which will decide the best grounds from which impeachment should move forward. If the inquiry is passed out of the Judicial Committee with a majority vote, it will move to the full House.
Democrats earned a substantial majority in the House in the 2018 midterm elections, and more than a majority of House members already support an impeachment inquiry, which means that any inquiry that reaches the floor would have a serious chance to pass. However, any motion that passes the House would then require a two-thirds majority in the Senate to convict and remove the president from office. That would mean at least 20 Senate Republicans would have to join with all 47 Democrats to convict Trump, assuming all Democrats support the impeachment motion. So far, no Senate Republican has announced public support for the inquiry.
DeLauro told the News that she had previously been cautious to call for impeachment, partially due to the unlikeliness of the motion succeeding in the Senate. Yet now she views it as a necessity on legal and ethical grounds, saying that political considerations played no role in her decision.
“I don’t view the politics of the situation any longer,” DeLauro said. “This is about a violation of the law in asking a foreign government to interfere in our elections.”
Patrick Malone, Himes’ spokesperson, told the News that Himes also viewed Trump’s actions as an “abuse of presidential power.”
Yet unlike DeLauro, Malone said that for Himes, political considerations, in addition to the legal circumstances, are “always a concern,” especially with the 2020 elections coming in just over a year.
“The two concerns are that it could backfire and increase the president’s election chances, and also that you’re fighting a very big uphill battle when you’re trying to get two thirds of the Senate to convict in an impeachment trial,” Malone said.
Himes believed the legal evidence was strong enough to overcome political concerns as he decided to lend his support for the inquiry. In fact, Himes was the first member of Connecticut’s delegation to be publicly in favor of impeachment, making an announcement in June after the release of the Mueller report and continued attempts by the Trump administration to block subpoenas from the House.
Himes’ announcement sent shock waves through Washington, not just for leading the delegation on impeachment, but because he is the second-most senior Democrat on the intelligence committee — the committee leading the investigation into Trump’s Ukraine call. Himes, known as a thoughtful moderate, opted to support impeachment when fewer than 100, mostly left-wing members of the House had come out in favor of it. His decision lent credibility to the idea that impeachment could generate widespread support in the Democratic caucus at a time when Speaker Pelosi was still in opposition to any official inquiry.
As a senior member on the intelligence committee, Himes is also viewed as an expert on impeachment. Malone said the timing of Himes’ decision may have been nationally significant, showing moderates that it was politically feasible to support impeachment and helping many Americans come around to the idea. Acknowledging that determining causality is impossible, Malone posited that Himes’ announcement may have been a “turning point” in the national dialogue about impeachment.
“If, as it appears Mr. Trump has already acknowledged, the president violated his oath of office by using the constitutional powers entrusted to him to try to destroy a political rival, then the president must be impeached,” Chris Murphy, Connecticut’s junior senator, said in a written statement.
Only three other American presidents — Andrew Johnson, Richard Nixon and William Clinton LAW ’73 — have been the subject of formal impeachment proceedings in the House, but none were convicted by the Senate.
Emmett Shell | firstname.lastname@example.org