Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) has become an icon for the left in her unrelenting calls for impeachment of President Donald Trump and tapping into the blind rage across the country. That appeal to the base however took a worrisome turn this week as Waters rallied supporters around the assurance that impeachment is anything they want to say it is. As I stated recently to the Rolling Stones, this view was made popular by Gerald Ford and has been uniformly condemned by constitutional experts. Waters is dismissing the constitutional obligation to find “high crimes and misdemeanors” in assuring supporters that they can simply get rid of Trump on a muscle vote. Political convenience has long been the enemy of constitutional principle, but this effort is highly dangerous for our country as a whole. We are living in an age of rage and Waters’ approach would create an channel to direct that lethal rage into the heart of our political system.
In 1970, when Gerald Ford was still a member of the House of Representatives, he said, “An impeachable offense is whatever a majority of the House of Representatives considers it to be.” It was a reckless and inaccurate statement. On a very superficial level it is a political decision in the sense that it’s a decision that is ultimately made by politicians. However, that does not make the basis for decision purely political. It is akin to saying that, since a priest can grant absolution on his own authority, sin is a discretionary pastoral question. The Framers struggled to establish a standard and process to make impeachment both difficult and substantive. They did not want a parliamentary system where impeachment was just a variation of a vote of no confidence as I discussed recently in a column.
Waters is advocating precisely this type of dangerous approach to impeachment. She told the Congressional Black Caucus Town Hall on Civil Rights:
“Don’t come here and tell me, ‘Maxine, you keep on doing what you do.’ But when you gonna give me some support? How many of you in your organizations have said, ‘Impeach 45’ ? . . . Impeachment is about whatever the Congress says it is. There is no law that dictates impeachment. What the Constitution says is ‘high crimes and misdemeanors,’ and we define that.”
It is precisely the same constitutional short selling that has characterized the Democratic leadership for a decade — trashing constitutional values to achieve short-term gains. During the eight years of Obama, Democrats supported the unilateral actions taken by the president in circumventing Congress. That resulting uber presidency was then handed to Trump — only to have Democrats denounce the very unilateral powers that they endorsed previously.
Waters and her supporters would unravel the delicate balance struck by the Framers and remove any real limitations on political impeachments for future presidents. Trump will not be our last president, but Waters would create precedent for future members to discard their obligations and simply vote their political agendas. It is a system that few should relish and most would come to regret.