Congress’ efforts to impeach President Donald Trump and his statement that he can “do whatever I want,” represents a challenge to the United States’ democratic government, former Congressman Lee Hamilton said.
The House Judiciary Committee passed two articles of impeachment against Trump on Friday morning after more than 14 hours of debate Thursday and weeks of closed-door and public hearings. The articles accuse Trump of obstruction of Congress and abuse of power. The full House of Representatives will vote on the charges this week.
“The whole process is a means of overturning election results,” said Hamilton, who is now an IU professor. “That’s a serious challenge to the system.”
IU students and faculty weighed in on the fourth formal impeachment inquiry against a president in history. If the House passes a vote this week, triggering a Senate trial in January, Trump would follow former Presidents Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton to be the third impeached president.
Political Science professor Gerald Wright said the process is only the latest show of an increasingly polarized political environment, which began before Trump entered office.
Impeachment will likely worsen divides between Democrats and Republicans, he said, drawing each side closer to their bases and making it more difficult for Congress to legislate.
“It’s going to be a very bitter 2020 election,” Wright said.
According to a Dec. 9-10 Reuters/Ipsos poll, 45% of Americans support the impeachment inquiry and 41% oppose. By party, 80% of Democratic registered voters think Trump should be impeached, while 13% of Republican registered voters do.
Freshman Brett Abbott, press secretary for College Republicans at IU, echoed arguments of Republican lawmakers opposing the articles of impeachment, saying Democrats have been trying to impeach Trump since his first day in office.
“I think it’s dangerous,” Abbott said.
Since many politicians act for political gain, Abbott said, the abuse of power charge is baseless. He called the obstruction of Congress charge ridiculous because courts have not yet ruled on whether executive privilege excuses complying with Congressional subpoenas.
The impeachment inquiry would not have been possible without Democrats regaining a majority in the House in the 2018 election, said sophomore Alessia Modjarrad, president of College Democrats at IU.
She said she thinks Congress is carrying out a fair impeachment process, but the contents of the charges are “disheartening.”
Modjarrad said as a student, it’s interesting to watch how processes she’s learned about in classes play out in real time.
“I’m 19 years old, and this is happening before my eyes,” Modjarrad said.
For senior Matt Stein, student body vice president, impeachment detracts national attention from other issues Congress could address relating to students — Title IX, college tuition and Deferred Action For Childhood Arrivals, for example.
“There’s a lot of other things I wish we could be talking about,” he said.
That doesn’t mean he thinks the impeachment process should wrap up sooner.
Hamilton said he hopes the Senate will conduct an open, free trial with evidence from both sides. Over his more than three decades in Congress, Hamilton said he never encountered a president withholding information save for national security concerns.
This administration's refusal to cooperate is new, he said.
“It’s very important for us to have a means of holding a president to account,” he said. “And I’m saying we do not have sufficient means to do so today.”