Speaker Nancy Pelosi after the impeachment debate yesterday.Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times
Donald Trump has become the first U.S. president to be impeached twice.
Even during a scandal, a president’s own party members usually defend him. Decades later, people tend to forget how overwhelming the partisan support was and exaggerate the degree of conscience among politicians of the past.
In 1999, no Senate Democrats voted to convict Bill Clinton during his impeachment trial. Many Democrats made excuses for his affair with a 22-year-old White House intern, and some went so far as to smear her.
In the 1970s, Republican leaders spent months casting the investigations into the Nixon administration as partisan overreach. Gerald Ford, while still the Republicans’ House leader, called the Watergate investigation a “political witch hunt.” Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush defended both Nixon and his bribetaking vice president, Spiro Agnew.
In the 1860s, Andrew Johnson’s fellow Democrats stood solidly by him during his impeachment and kept him from conviction.
All of which helps puts yesterday’s second impeachment of President Trump into perspective: It was both a strikingly partisan affair — and an unusually bipartisan one.
On the one hand, dozens of members of Congress refused to break with a president who tried to overturn an election result and incited a mob that attacked Congress, killing a police officer. Only 10 House Republicans voted for impeachment, and the final tally was 232 to 197.
“The political penalties for encouraging extremism and attacking democratic norms are dangerously weak,”
the political scientist Brendan Nyhan wrote yesterday.
On the other hand, Trump has suffered more defections from his party than any previous president besides Nixon, who ultimately lost Republican support and resigned before the House could impeach him.
Yesterday’s vote, was
“the most bipartisan impeachment of a president in U.S. history.”
By comparison, only five House Democrats voted to impeach Clinton, The Times’s Carl Hulse noted — three of whom later became Republicans, while a fourth joined the George W. Bush administration. In 2019, not a single House Republican voted to impeach Trump.
Only one Republican senator, Mitt Romney, voted to convict, and other Republicans disdained the process from the start.
This time, they are sending a more nuanced message. Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate leader, has put out word that he is glad impeachment is happening, and he issued a statement yesterday saying he had “not made a final decision on how I will vote” in the Senate trial.
Of course, McConnell is a crafty politician who would like both to be rid of Trump and to prevent President-elect Joe Biden from passing much legislation. So McConnell also signaled yesterday that he would not start a Senate trial before Biden took office, effectively forcing Democrats to choose between trying Trump and focusing on Biden’s agenda.
The delay seems to make conviction less likely.
“People’s outrage levels recede. Memories fade. And I do wonder if there will be as much Senate Republican anger next month as there is now.”
my colleague Maggie Haberman wrote yesterday.
Still, the existence of that anger underscores the historic nature of yesterday. Trump became the first president in U.S. history to be impeached twice — and only the second to have a meaningful number of his party members in Congress deem him unfit to be president.
The 10 Republicans who voted for impeachment included Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the No. 3 ranking Republican in the House; four others from safely Republican seats; and five from more competitive districts.
“I’m not afraid of losing my job, but I am afraid that my country will fail. My vote to impeach our sitting president is not a fear-based decision. I am not choosing a side. I’m choosing truth.”
Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington, who’s in her sixth term, said.
John Katko of New York, one of the Republicans who voted to impeach. Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times