Can Donald duck impeachment?

With a belligerent attitude towards his own party, President Donald Trump faces a mounting opposition from his fellow Republicans in just about every move he makes. In particular, Senate Republicans are divided on several legislative issues, foremost of which is the repeal and replacement of Obamacare that Trump has been championing since he started his presidential run. Then there is tax reform that is at standstill. And then there is the “Wall” along the U.S.-Mexico border that Trump wants to build at the expense of Mexico, to which the Mexican government said, “No way.”

With Mexico not cooperating in building the border wall that’s intended to stop illegal immigration from Mexico, Trump demanded the U.S. Congress to pay for the proposed wall along the 1,900-mile U.S.-Mexico border. Estimated to cost between $12 billion and $22 billion, the U.S. Congress is hesitant to appropriate the funds. In frustration, Trump threatened to shut down the U.S. government if Congress fails to fund it. But Congress doesn’t appear to give in to Trump’s demands. But building the wall is just one of Trump’s problems. And he’s not getting any closer to working out a solution with his fellow Republicans, causing a legislative deadlock.

On a more serious tone, Trump is the subject of investigation by a special counsel looking into allegations of collusion between Trump’s presidential campaign organization and Russia.

Recently, the investigation expanded its coverage to include alleged illegal financial dealings between Trump and some Russian banks associated with oligarchs close to Russian President Vladimir Putin. As a result, special counsel Robert Mueller asked the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to provide information on Trump’s financial dealings.

Nixon impeachment

But while it might take sometime for Mueller to build a legal case against Trump, the U.S. Congress seems like it might take the same route that it did when former president Richard Nixon was investigated during the Watergate scandal.

On February 6, 1974, the House of Representatives passed a resolution, H.R. 803, giving its Judiciary Committee authority to investigate whether sufficient grounds existed to impeach Nixon of high crimes and misdemeanors primarily related to the Watergate scandal. This investigation was undertaken to investigate the 1972 break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate office complex in Washington, DC. The Nixon administration attempted to cover up its involvement. The Judiciary Committee approved three articles of impeachment against Nixon, for obstruction of justice, abuse of power, and contempt of Congress. But before the House of Representatives could vote on the impeachment resolutions, Nixon made public one of the additional conversations, known as the “Smoking Gun Tape,” which made clear his complicity in the cover-up. With his political support completely eroded, Nixon resigned from office on August 9, 1974. [Source: Wikipedia]

It is interesting to note that it was the erosion of Nixon’s political support that led to his resignation. Since impeachment is a political process, not a legal or judicial process, impeachment would be a subjective issue that would take into account political issues. When Nixon lost his base support, he didn’t have much of a chance to “beat the rap.” In which case, resignation becomes the “honorable” thing to do.

Trump impeachment

In the case of Trump, impeachment hinges mainly on whether his fellow Republicans in the House of Representatives would give him the political support he needs to avoid impeachment. The question is: could he muster support from the Republican majority in the House?

To answer this question, one has to look at their constituencies. In a Republican “red state,” their representatives might be bold enough to support Trump while a representative from a Democratic “blue state” would vote for impeachment. But the problem is when a Republican represents a “blue state,” which would most likely vote for impeachment to avoid a Democratic backlash during his reelection. The bottom line is: With Trump’s approval rating sliding below 35%, it would be safer for a representative to distance himself or herself from Trump.

However, if Trump survives an impeachment, another option of removing him from office – temporarily or permanently — is to invoke Section 4 of the 25th Amendment, which empowers the vice president and his cabinet to declare a president “incapacitated.” The vice president would then act as “acting president.”

25th Amendment

The 25th Amendment, Section 4 states: “Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.”

According to the National Constitution Center, “the 25th Amendment was passed to clarify what happens upon the death, removal, or resignation of the President or Vice President and how the Presidency is temporarily filled if the President becomes disabled and cannot fulfill his responsibilities.”

Indeed, with all the chatter that is going on now about Trump’s perceived “mental instability,” – some call him “crazy” — his fitness for the office of the presidency is being questioned.

But the question is: Would Vice President Mike Pence go along with the invocation of the 25th Amendment? While it would be a grand opportunity for Pence to ascend to the presidency without going through the election process, it would have the semblance of betrayal of Trump. However, Pence might accede under pressure from Republican stalwarts to take over the presidency.

If Trump survives any attempt to remove him by way of the 25th Amendment, then the last resort would be to remove him electorally during the 2020 presidential elections. While it has been done before in 1992 when George H.W. Bush lost in his reelection campaign in a three-way battle royale, an entry of another Republican in the presidential derby could be devastating for Trump.

Three-way contest

If the elections were held today, there would be at least one other Republican running for president. And like in 1992, the Democratic presidential candidate would win, just like what Democratic Bill Clinton did against the incumbent Bush and the third-party candidate, H. Ross Perot.

But a three-way contest could be avoided if Trump loses in the Republican primaries. And this is where he would be fighting for his political life. To win in the primaries, he has to rely on his “base,” which had given him the victory in the 2016 presidential elections. He knows it and it is for this reason that he’s been going to his base in a campaign-style fashion. But lately, three swing states – Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin – that gave him combined 46 electoral votes, which helped him win in 2016, are now teetering. In recent polls, majorities in these three states disapprove of his job performance.

With three years and four months remaining in his first term, it would give Donald Trump a chance to salvage his presidency and gain a razor-thin victory in the Republican primaries in 2020. But first, he has to avoid impeachment, which begs the question: Can Donald duck impeachment?