Professor Chris Edelson, assistant professor of government at American University, has penned an opinion column calling for President Trump to resign or be impeachment for his handling of the coronavirus crisis. It is just the latest in a long line of such impeachment theories that reflect a fundamental misconception of the function and standard for the removal of an American President.
Edelson has concluded that it is now “essential” to force Trump’s resignation or removal “[a]t each stage, he has lied, he has created confusion, he has made reckless predictions, and he has, once and for all, demonstrated his manifest unfitness to serve.” Edelson offers a series of a conclusory statements to support this conclusion like “it is so plainly the right thing to do” or it is clear that “Donald Trump cannot do his job.” Thus, “[i]n a functioning system, elected officials from both major political parties would call for the president’s resignation, and he would be forced to leave office or face impeachment and removal through the constitutional process.”
Such an impeachment would be facially abusive and baseless. Impeachment is not means to remove a president who you are dissatisfied with the performance of a president. As I have previously written, critics have largely misrepresented the standard as a type of no-confidence vote. The Edelson column reflects the continued disregard of the history and text of the impeachment provisions to avoid precisely what he has suggested.
However, Edelson’s call for impeachment or removal is nothing new. Not only did he support past impeachment calls, but, just a couple months into the Trump presidency, he was advocating a Rube-Golberg-like process to force a new vote on the presidency before the Trump family was actually all living at the White House. In that column, Edelson simply declared that “after just two months, there is no question that the Donald Trump presidency is an unmitigated disaster.” So here is what he suggested:
“Here’s how it could work: Each chamber of Congress, the House and the Senate, would have to vote by a two-thirds majority to hold a special election. three-quarters of state legislatures would have to ratify the amendment. The amendment would call for a one time special election, allowing qualified political parties (the Republicans and Democrats, and other parties who can meet a threshold to qualify for the ballot) one month to choose a nominee and then one month for a general election, to be held on a national holiday. The amendment would make clear this is a one-time event. After the election is held, we would revert to pre-existing constitutional procedures, for example, with a presidential election held every four years. The amendment could also provide for a national unity government to occupy the executive branch while the short election campaign goes on.”
As wacky as that proposal may seem, it still thrills many readers. Removal has become a rallying point for rage and it does not matter that the subject of impeachment has changed from opposing NFL kneelers to disproven Russian collusion to Charlottesville to the Coronavirus. The premise is the same: we must remove Trump as an existential threat. Another premise is that we need a “new constitution” which Edelson often demands because the constitutional standard and process did not allow for the removal of Trump.
Edelson and others have called for the type of impulse impeachments that the Framers feared in drafting the Constitution. This is the thrust of his call for removal that has remained consistent from two months after the election to the present day: “In calling for Trump’s resignation we are refusing to accept the assumption that Trump exists outside of normal rules. We know he isn’t up to the job.” Thus, the “new constitution” that Edelson has demanded would allow for such cathartic measures whenever a majority opposed a president because he “isn’t up to the job.” Imagine if Republicans had that unfettered option with Obama. Would Edelson be praising the power of removal in that case? Edelson and his supporters believe that nation would be more stable and stronger with the ability to remove presidents on such a fluid, facile standard.
Edelson is also a Fellow at the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies and holds a B.A. from Brandeis University and a J.D. Harvard Law School.