By John Ruberry
One of the heroes in the Pulitzer Prize winning book, Profiles in Courage, which was credited to John F. Kennedy but largely written by Ted Sorensen, was Edmund G. Ross, a Radical Republican senator from Kansas who is credited as the deciding vote against the removal from office of President Andrew Johnson, who had been impeached by the House of Representatives.
Ross was appointed to the Senate in 1866, when, Sorensen wrote, “the two branches of government were at each other’s throats.” Such as it is now between the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives and President Donald J. Trump.
Johnson, like the man he succeeded, Abraham Lincoln, favored a quick readmission of the former Confederate states into the Union. But Johnson had few of the political skills of the Great Emancipator, and compared to the Radical Republicans, Johnson was very weak on the Civil Rights. Johnson was impeached in 1868–an election year–for violating the recently enacted Tenure of Office Act for firing Secretary of War Edwin Stanton. The president deemed that law as unconstitutional, it was repealed a few years later and the courts later proved Johnson correct.
Ross, along with six other Republican senators voted to acquit Johnson. Sorensen, in Profiles in Courage notes Ross’ words, written years after the impeachment trial.
In a large sense, the independence of the executive office as a coordinate branch of the government was on trial…If…the president must step down…a disgraced man and a political outcast…upon insufficient proofs and from partisan considerations…the office of the president would be degraded, cease to be a coordinate branch of the government, and ever after subordinated to the legislative will.
If Johnson had been removed from office America would have seen a weakened office of the presidency. One subject to the whims of an emboldened Congress.
Trump’s crimes in regards to the Ukraine call, if any–and I don’t believe there are any–are subject to interpretation. Say what you will about the only other president to be impeached, Bill Clinton, but he clearly perjured himself when testifying about Monica Lewinsky.
If Trump is impeached by the House, the likelihood of his being convicted by the Senate and removed from office is remote. But a precedent could be set by future Congresses to impeach presidents, well, simply because member of the “loyal opposition” opposes him. Or her, of course.
As Wikipedia writes about the Johnson impeachment:
The impeachment and trial of Andrew Johnson had important political implications for the balance of federal legislative–executive power. It maintained the principle that Congress should not remove the President from office simply because its members disagreed with him over policy, style, and administration of the office. It also resulted in diminished presidential influence on public policy and overall governing power, fostering a system of governance which Woodrow Wilson referred to in the 1870s as “Congressional Government”.
But most of the current crop of Democrat members of the House don’t care about history. They simply want to, in the crass words of freshman congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, “Impeach the motherf—er.”
When impeachment comes to a full vote in the House, will any Democrats–and not just those from districts that are overwhelmingly pro-Trump–offer a profile in courage?
It seems right now that most House Democrats have profiles in cowardice–they answer only to the MSNBC–incited mob who fill their campaign coffers.
John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.