Does the House of Representatives have the power to rewrite history? That’s one of the questions under discussion at the moment.
With the President’s approval rating continuing to creep upward and some analysts beginning to suspect that he might actually win a second term, House Republicans are now daring to wonder whether or not they might take back the Speaker’s gavel after the elections in November. And if they manage that feat, one thing on Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s agenda may be wiping Donald Trump’s impeachment off the books.
As the Senate is set to vote on the removal from office of President Trump Wednesday — with acquittal all but assured — Republicans are already plotting to expunge his impeachment if they retake the House.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi may have taunted that “impeachment lasts forever,” but McCarthy, in line to be speaker if Republicans retake the majority in the November election, doesn’t agree.
“This is the fastest, weakest, most political impeachment in history,” McCarthy said Wednesday. “I don’t think it should stay on the books.”
That certainly does put a new spin on Nancy Pelosi’s “impeachment is forever” comment. But can it be done?
Turns out there’s some precedent for it… sort of. As we discussed here previously when the subject of censuring the President instead of removing him came up, Andrew Jackson was censured in 1834. But the tidbit from that story that I missed was that the censure was expunged by a House vote in 1837. So if you can expunge a censure or other rebuke, I suppose you could hold a vote to expunge an impeachment. It’s also interesting to note, as the Post points out, that Congressman Chaka Fattah (D-Pa.) submitted a bill to expunge the impeachment of Bill Clinton, but that never went anywhere. And Fattah wound up in prison for bribery, money laundering, and fraud, anyway.
But what would it mean in reality? Let’s think about this in terms of some hypothetical alternate reality where the Senate voted to remove Trump from office today. As soon as he was out, Mike Pence would be sworn in as the 46th president. Now let’s imagine that Pence wins a full term of his own in November and the GOP takes back the House. When they convene in January, they could then hold a vote to expunge Trump’s impeachment. But that doesn’t mean he’s invited back to be President again and Pence is booted back to the Veep’s office. Does it? My head is starting to hurt.
Also, when people are referencing Jackson’s censure, it may have been expunged three years later, but it’s still on the books. All the records show that Jackson was the only president to be censured. It’s a thing that happened, even if a later Congress decided they didn’t like it. It seems to me that the same thing would apply to this impeachment. It’s already in the books.
The problem for me is that this entire process is so unique compared to the normal business taken care of in the legislative branch. If one Congress passes a new law, a later one (or even the same one if they’re in a rush) can turn around and repeal the law. That takes if off the books, but it doesn’t change the fact that it had been on the books for a time and prosecutions for violating that law (if applicable) would still be valid.
Beats me, honestly. But if Donald Trump does wind up winning a second term, voting to expunge his impeachment would certainly keep the new GOP majority on his good side. As to the long term effects, history will be the judge, I suppose.