Trump im­peach­ment vote un­der­scores harshly par­ti­san era

The Saratogian (Saratoga, NY) - - FRONT PAGE - By Alan Fram

WASH­ING­TON >> This com­ing week’s vir­tu­ally cer­tain House im­peach­ment of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump will un­der­score how Democrats and Repub­li­cans have mor­phed into fiercely di­vided camps since law­mak­ers im­peached Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton.

Twenty-one years ago this Thurs­day, a Repub­li­can-led House ap­proved two im­peach­ment ar­ti­cles against Demo­crat Clin­ton. While that bat­tle was bit­terly par­ti­san, it was blur­rier than the near party-line votes ex­pected this week when the House, now run by Democrats, is poised to im­peach Repub­li­can Trump.

Two of the four Clin­ton im­peach­ment ar­ti­cles were killed — some­thing party lead­ers to­day would jump through hoops to avoid for fear of high­light­ing di­vi­sions. All four Clin­ton ar­ti­cles drew GOP op­po­si­tion, peak­ing at 81 on one vote. That’s an un­think­able num­ber of de­fec­tions to­day.

“Ob­vi­ously it was par­ti­san, but

it wasn’t as in­tensely par­ti­san as to­day is,” said Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., one of four Repub­li­cans who op­posed all the Clin­ton im­peach­ment ar­ti­cles and the last re­main­ing mem­ber of that group in Congress. “So you could ba­si­cally ar­gue con­science, you could say you looked at it and didn’t think this was the way to go.”

In the up­com­ing votes on im­peach­ing Trump, Democrats ex­pect sup­port from all but a few — two to per­haps five — of their mem­bers. Repub­li­can lead­ers en­vi­sion no GOP de­ser­tions.

Un­der­scor­ing the in­ten­sity of the par­ti­san­ship, Rep. Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey, one of the Democrats plan­ning to op­pose im­peach­ment, in­tends to switch par­ties and join the GOP. That’s ac­cord­ing to a Repub­li­can of­fi­cial who said top House Repub­li­cans have been told of Van Drew’s plans and de­scribed the con­ver­sa­tions on con­di­tion of anonymity.

Few de­fec­tions are ex­pected by ei­ther party when the GOP-run Se­nate holds a trial, prob­a­bly in Jan­uary, on whether to oust Trump from of­fice. No one ex­pects Democrats to muster the two-thirds Se­nate ma­jor­ity needed for re­moval over charges that he lever­aged U.S. mil­i­tary aid and a White House meet­ing cov­eted by Ukrainian lead­ers to pres­sure them to an­nounce in­ves­ti­ga­tions of his Demo­cratic po­lit­i­cal foes.

Most Democrats were dis­mis­sive of the GOP’s im­peach­ment charges that Clin­ton lied to a grand jury and oth­ers about his af­fair with White House in­tern Mon­ica Lewin­sky.

“The Con­sti­tu­tion is re­ally to pro­tect the na­tion against the abuse of pres­i­den­tial power. Any hus­band could lie un­der oath about an af­fair. It doesn’t take pres­i­den­tial pow­ers to do that,” Rep. Zoe Lof­gren, D-Calif., who op­posed the Clin­ton im­peach­ment and is still in Congress, said in an in­ter­view Fri­day.

Clin­ton was a lame duck but widely pop­u­lar pres­i­dent who was pre­sid­ing over a boom­ing econ­omy, and polling showed that im­peach­ment had lit­tle sup­port. That gave Democrats lit­tle rea­son to back the ef­fort to re­move him and made many Repub­li­cans think twice about back­ing im­peach­ment.

Back then, each party had scores of mod­er­ate law­mak­ers who would cross party lines on is­sues such as abor­tion, taxes and spend­ing.

That helps ex­plain why 81 Repub­li­cans op­posed one de­feated Clin­ton im­peach­ment ar­ti­cle. The other three ar­ti­cles drew 28, 12 and 5 GOP “no” votes. No more than five Democrats backed any of the ar­ti­cles im­peach­ing Clin­ton. Former Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas, was chief House GOP vote counter in 1998 and was known as “The Ham­mer” for his ef­fec­tive­ness in lin­ing up sup­port. In an in­ter­view Fri­day, he said he urged wa­ver­ing Repub­li­cans to read ev­i­dence gath­ered by Ken Starr, the in­de­pen­dent coun­sel who headed the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Clin­ton that led to the im­peach­ment.

DeLay said party lead­ers “can­not break arms” on an im­peach­ment vote be­cause it is too im­por­tant. That echoes cur­rent Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who has said she’s not lob­by­ing Democrats on the up­com­ing Trump votes.

“I knew where the votes were all along, and why they were wa­ver­ing and why they were strug­gling,” DeLay said. “The ques­tions they had, we wanted to make sure that we got an­swers for them.”

The num­bers of mod­er­ate House Democrats and Repub­li­cans have dwin­dled dra­mat­i­cally, es­pe­cially among the GOP. Only three House Repub­li­cans rep­re­sent dis­tricts that Demo­crat Hil­lary Clin­ton car­ried in the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, yet all three are ex­pected to op­pose Trump’s im­peach­ment.

Trump faces re­elec­tion next year and has a strong track record of weaponiz­ing Twit­ter to de­mol­ish the po­lit­i­cal ca­reers of Repub­li­cans who op­pose him. Re­tired GOP Sens. Jeff Flake of Ari­zona and Bob Corker of Tennessee left Congress fol­low­ing run­ning bat­tles with Trump, and South Carolina Rep. Mark San­ford lost a party pri­mary last year af­ter run­ning afoul of him.

“If you cross Trump, you’re a short-timer when it comes to pol­i­tics,” said John Fee­hery, a GOP con­sul­tant and former House lead­er­ship aide.

In con­trast, sev­eral House Repub­li­cans who op­posed at least one Clin­ton im­peach­ment ar­ti­cle saw their po­lit­i­cal ca­reers pros­per. They in­clude John Thune of South Dakota, now the No. 2 Se­nate GOP leader; John Ka­sich, who be­came a twoterm Ohio gov­er­nor and chal­lenged Trump for the 2016 pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion; and cur­rent Sens. Rob Port­man of Ohio and Richard Burr of North Carolina.

San­ford rose to South Carolina gov­er­nor, but aban­doned the job af­ter ad­mit­ting to an ex­tra­mar­i­tal af­fair. He re­turned to the House but was de­feated af­ter clash­ing with Trump.

Clin­ton’s im­peach­ment came four years af­ter Repub­li­cans led by Rep. Newt Gin­grich of Ge­or­gia cap­tured House con­trol for the first time in four decades.

Gin­grich be­came speaker and em­braced ag­gres­sive con­fronta­tions with Democrats. That cul­mi­nated in the House im­peach­ment of Clin­ton, which the GOP-led Se­nate later re­ject­ing. But even the Gin­grich era’s bat­tles were tamer than to­day’s fights, with Clin­ton’s im­peach­ment a case in point.

The cal­en­dar of both im­peach­ment votes also helps ex­plain why party di­vi­sions will be sharper this time than they were for Clin­ton.

The House’s Clin­ton im­peach­ment votes came a month af­ter con­gres­sional elec­tions, giv­ing in­cum­bents two years — a life­time in pol­i­tics — un­til they next faced vot­ers.

This year’s Trump im­peach­ment votes will come as the 2020 pri­mary sea­son is about to be­gin, putting re­cal­ci­trant Repub­li­cans at risk of fac­ing Trump-backed pri­mary chal­lengers.

PA­TRICK SEMANSKY- THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

In this Dec. 13, 2019, photo, mem­bers of the press view the roll call vote recorded by the clerk af­ter the House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee ap­proved the ar­ti­cles of im­peach­ment against Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump on Capi­tol Hill in Wash­ing­ton.

TELFILE

In this Dec. 19, 1998, file im­age from video, Speaker Pro Tem­pore Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Ill., pre­pares to an­nounce the House vote of 228-206 to ap­prove the first ar­ti­cle of im­peach­ment, ac­cus­ing Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton of com­mit­ting per­jury be­fore a fed­eral grand jury in Wash­ing­ton.

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