If the U.S. House ultimately moves to impeach President Trump, Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin (D) could be on a team of Democrats that makes the case to the U.S. Senate to oust the president from the White House.
It remains far from certain that House Democrats will attempt to go the impeachment route. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and many other Democrats in the caucus have been wary of that option, given the potential for political blowback.
But others are clamoring to launch proceedings aimed at ousting the president, and many say they’re at least open to taking that path in the future – including Raskin.
He told Maryland Matters in a recent interview that impeachment must be on the table for House Democrats. “The president is driving us into a constitutional emergency,” he warned.
The former constitutional law professor is only in his second term representing the suburbs north of Washington, D.C. But he’s quickly climbed the ranks in the chamber, securing slots on some of the House’s most coveted committees. He’s chairman of a House Oversight subcommittee on civil rights in addition to serving on the Judiciary and Rules committees.
Raskin is among those members of Congress beating the drum for more scrutiny of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Raskin signed up this week to join his Democratic colleagues in a marathon public reading of Mueller’s report, The Washington Post reported.
Raskin said the Judiciary Committee is nowhere close to assigning managers for a Senate impeachment trial. He laughed, calling such a discussion “wildly premature.” But, he joked, “I’ve only been to the Senate once, so I’d certainly like to see it.”
If the House does impeach the president, President Clinton’s Senate trial offers some lessons about how lawmakers could be picked to make the case to the upper chamber.
The House voted to impeach Clinton in December 1998, and the next step was a trial in the Senate. Then-House Judiciary chairman Henry Hyde (R-Ill.) picked a team of 13 of his GOP colleagues – all of them lawyers and some of them former prosecutors – to help him make his case.
The New York Times reported that year that the 13 House “managers” selected were all generally more conservative than a random sampling of House Republicans at the time.
They included some who are still in Congress, including Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who’s now chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee; and Reps. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) and Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), who remain members of the House Judiciary Committee. Sensenbrenner is a former chair of the panel.
For the month-long Senate trial in early 1999, those House managers argued for Clinton’s removal, although they knew their chances of success were slim. The Senate ultimately acquitted Clinton, failing to get the two-thirds majority of votes needed to convict him and remove him from office.
“We knew that maybe we wouldn’t win it in the Senate for a whole host of reasons, but we all thought we had to do our best,” former Florida Republican Rep. Bill McCollum, who was among the House managers, said in an interview.
McCollum, now a partner at the law firm Dentons, was charged with delivering the House managers’ closing arguments against Clinton on the Senate floor.
He told senators at the time, “I suspect that most of you – probably more than two-thirds – believe that the president did, indeed, commit most, if not all, of the crimes he is charged with under these articles of impeachment. I suspect that a great many of you share my view that these are high crimes and misdemeanors.” And he warned senators that there would be “some very significant negative consequences of failing to remove this president.”
McCollum said he wasn’t worried about any political fallout for participating in the trial. “I felt it just wasn’t something that I should put my finger in the wind and worry about,” he said. “I did what I thought was right.”
McCollum left the House after running for a Florida Senate seat in the 2000 election. He clinched the Republican nomination, but lost to Democrat Bill Nelson.
Another House manager in the Clinton trial was Rep. James Rogan (R-Calif.), who lost his 2000 reelection bid to Rep. Adam Schiff, who’s now the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.
Rogan “was under the most pressure and did in fact lose the next time around because he was in a very Democrat district that didn’t like this happening and he did it anyway,” McCollum said. “There’s the one who should get the profile in courage.” Rogan is now a judge on the Superior Court of California.
McCollum doesn’t think it’s wise for House Democrats to attempt to oust Trump from office.
“It’s certainly possible that they would choose to impeach him,” he said. “I think politically it’s not smart for them to do. I don’t think the same circumstances [that existed when Clinton was impeached] exist today in this situation.”
Donald Ritchie, who was the U.S. Senate historian from 1976 until 2015, said in a recent interview, “I certainly don’t think there’s the slightest chance of the president being removed.”
He added, “if you’ve got the speaker of the House saying it’s not a good idea, I don’t think it’s going to happen.”
Pelosi told The Washington Post in March, “Impeachment is so divisive to the country that unless there’s something so compelling and overwhelming and bipartisan, I don’t think we should go down that path, because it divides the country. And he’s just not worth it,” she said of Trump.
But Pelosi hasn’t closed that door entirely. “We can’t impeach him for political reasons and we can’t not impeach him for political reasons,” she said earlier this month. “We have to see where the facts take us.”
Some legal scholars have questioned whether the Senate could stave off a trial even if the House votes to impeach Trump.
Current Senate rules contemplate that a House vote on impeachment will lead to House managers presenting their case, wrote Bob Bauer, former White House counsel to President Obama. However, Bauer suggested, “it is also possible that, in this time of disregard and erosion of established institutional practices and norms, the current leadership of the Senate could choose to abrogate them once more” by attempting to block a trial.
Bauer noted that the Constitution confers on the Senate “the sole power to try,” but doesn’t expressly direct the chamber to try an impeachment.
“There’s no absolute requirement, but the Senate has always followed through and held a trial,” Ritchie said. “Public pressure would probably require some response,” he added. He expects that Republicans would calculate that there would be no chance of surpassing the huge hurdle of getting the votes of a two-thirds majority in the Senate needed to remove the president.
“In the era of Trump, literally anything can happen,” Raskin said. “But if you have any lingering appreciation for the language and the meaning of the Constitution, there’s no choice that the Senate has to conduct a trial.”
He said of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), “He can bury pretty much everything else, but he cannot bury an impeachment trial.”