Most Americans are horrified by images out of Afghanistan and the negligence shown in the withdrawal from that country. However, we recently discussed why President Joe Biden should not be subject to impeachment over his alleged poor decisions related to the debacle. Now Rep. Andy Harris of Maryland and Ralph Norman of South Carolina formally announced impeachment articles against Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken for his own alleged failures in the withdrawal. Once again, the use of impeachment to address such policy and programmatic “failures” would fundamentally change the purpose of impeachment in our constitutional system.
The articles of impeachment against Blinken allege in part:
[Article 1] Secretary Blinken has failed to faithfully uphold his oath and has instead presided over a reckless abandonment of our nation’s interests, security, and values in his role in the withdrawal of American forces and diplomatic assets from Afghanistan
Secretary Blinken’s actions, including ignoring critical intelligence received from the embassy in Kabul and United States intelligence agencies, have left American property, military equipment and weapons in the hands of enemies of the United States, left American citizens stranded in life threatening situations in dereliction of his duties as Secretary of State (22 U.S.C. 2715; 22 U.S.C. 4802). These actions have eroded American interests and security as well as our credibility and relationships amongst our closest allies. In failing to uphold his responsibilities of his office, Secretary Blinken has failed to ensure the protection of the United States Government to American citizens, property, and interests in foreign countries.
…[Article 2] In direct conflict with the intelligence and advice provided by his own diplomats and the intelligence community, Secretary Blinken failed to advise and counsel the President accordingly and did not inform the Congress nor American citizens at home and abroad of the dangers posed by the advancing Taliban of which he was explicitly aware.
Those allegations raise policy and performance criticisms that were never meant to be part of the impeachment process. During the Trump Administration, we regularly discussed Democratic members and writers calling for the impeachment of Trump for everything from criticizing NFL kneelers to obnoxious tweets. This is the same misuse of impeachment as a type of “no confidence vote.”
Parliamentary systems, like Great Britain’s, allow for “no confidence” motions to remove prime ministers. Parliament can pass a resolution stating “That this House has no confidence in Her Majesty’s Government.” But that’s not our system, and it’s doubtful that the members of Congress calling for Trump’s impeachment would relish a parliamentary approach: When such a vote succeeds, the prime minister isn’t necessarily the only politician to go. If the existing members of parliament can’t form a new government in 14 days, the entire legislative body is dissolved pending a general election.
The Framers were certainly familiar with votes of no confidence, but despite their general aim to limit the authority of the presidency, they opted for a different course. They saw a danger in presidents being impeached due to shifts in political support and insulated presidents from removal by limiting the basis for impeachment and demanding a high vote threshold for removal. There would be no impulse-buy removals under the Constitution. Instead, the House of Representatives would have to impeach and the Senate convict (by two-thirds vote) based on “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes or Misdemeanors.”
In these two articles, the members seek impeachment over failed policies which is the very essence of a “no confidence” vote. To embrace such a standard would be to invite chaos in future administrations as congressional majorities engage in impulse removals of cabinet members or even presidents.
Once again, I cannot imagine how the United States could mess up this withdrawal in such a spectacular and gut-wrenching manner. We had long ago announced our withdrawal and had many months to carry out an orderly withdrawal. While the Biden Administration insisted that no one foresaw the collapse of the government in such a short time, that is simply untrue. Even if it were not true, good policymakers do not rely on such assumptions when you are dealing with the lives of tens of thousands of citizens and allies.
Nevertheless, what I said in 2017 in the face of Democratic calls for impeachment is still true today:
“History has already answered this call for impulse-buy impeachments. The Framers saw the great abuses caused not only by tyranny of nobility, but tyranny of the majority. They sought to insulate our government from the transient impulses of politics. Otherwise, impeachment becomes little more than grabbing any opportunistic excuse for impeachment like so many “straws” in the political wind.”