Impeachment and censure looking more and more the same

In my young and naïve days — about a couple of weeks ago — I thought a snap impeachment and trial was absurd. What about the fact-finding? The committee hearings? The right of the president to present a defense? Etc., etc.

Now, I realize this was all misbegotten. For the third time in the last three impeachments, the House has sent articles of impeachment over on an almost entirely partisan vote with no hope of gaining a conviction in the Senate. It’s time to accept that this is just how it works. Impeachment is the way for the majority in the House to express its formal disapproval of abuses of power by the president of the opposing party.

The bells and whistles are just that. You can have fewer of them or more of them (the chief justice presiding or not, witnesses testifying or not), but at the end of day it doesn’t matter much. No minds were changed by the Clinton or Trump I trials, and none will be changed by this week’s trial. About five Republicans seemed likely to vote to convict three weeks ago and about five seem likely to convict today.

A past barrier to impeachment was how momentous it seemed. But if the House can vote out a sloppily written article in an afternoon and the Senate can hold an abbreviated trial without interfering much with its other business, the barrier to entry isn’t high.

Impeachment is probably inherently a more partisan exercise than a censure, because the president’s party can point to the theoretical stakes involved in removal or disqualification as a reason not to impeach or convict, but the two forms of disapproval — impeachment and censure — are looking less and less distinguishable.