The impeachment drama has shown how broken Congress is, and Trump is taking full advantage
- Congress is fundamentally broken, and President Donald Trump is taking full advantage amid the impeachment proceedings.
- Hyper-partisanship has ensured that the allegations against Trump, including that he solicited foreign election interference, will not be taken seriously.
- Trump, whose approval numbers have remained remarkably steady, could conceivably be the first president in US history to be both impeached and subsequently reelected.
- Historians and political scientists are concerned about the future of American democracy when Congress refuses to take seriously its role of holding a president accountable.
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The impeachment proceedings into President Donald Trump have revealed how fundamentally broken Congress is, and Trump is taking full advantage while live-tweeting the final stages of the drama.
Though Trump's legacy will be forever tarnished by impeachment, partisanship has ensured that the charges against him will not be given serious examination as the GOP has essentially pushed Congress into abdicating its historic role in holding the president accountable.
Republicans in Congress have steadfastly stood by Trump throughout the impeachment process, fervently defending him as he fundamentally rejected the principle of congressional oversight and refused to comply with any aspects of the inquiry.
Trump is poised to be the third president in US history to be impeached. But even before the House Judiciary Committee approved articles of impeachment against the president, the top Republican in the Senate publicly declared there was "zero chance" Trump would be removed via an expected trial.
Historians and political scientists are concerned about the future of American democracy when an entire branch of government is rendered impotent by partisan-leanings, with one telling Insider that the US is entering the "uncharted territory" of potentially having a president reelected after impeachment.
In the House's debate on articles of impeachment against Trump on Wednesday, one Republican lawmaker literally compared the president to Jesus.
'A signal of the decline of the Republic'
Jeffrey A. Engel, director of the Southern Methodist University Center for Presidential History, told Insider that if congressional lawmakers want to be true to the Constitution they should be "up in arms about the fact that the president of the US is defying congressional subpoenas and congressional inquiries."
Engel said that the Founding Fathers imagined the three branches of government as being engaged in not so much of a separation of powers but a competition, and what the country is witnessing is "exactly the kind of breakdown of the competition of powers that the Founders would've thought would be a signal of the decline of the Republic."
The Founders believed "impeachment should be incredibly difficult, but they also believed that senators should not think of themselves as the president's minions - they should think of themselves as a co-equal branch," Engel said.
He added: "Once you start erasing the co-equal branch idea, then all bets are off."
Some might question whether Trump has proved impeachment to be an ineffective check on executive power when it seems predetermined the president will be acquitted in the Senate, and could conceivably go on to win reelection in 2020 even after being impeached.
Engel said that impeachment is "still a critical tool for the Congress employ," but what Trump has done is "made Congress irrelevant."
The lesson gleaned from this is not necessarily that a president "can do whatever the heck they want and retain office," Engel said, but rather that "a president, including Trump, needs to really focus on their partisan support - not building across the aisle - if they want to do nefarious things."
Trump's approval rating has remained remarkably steady, and it's possible he could be reelected after impeachment
Trump is accused of freezing roughly $400 million in congressionally-approved military aid to Ukraine as part of a scheme to pressure it into launching investigations that could aid his 2020 reelection campaign.
No president before Trump has faced impeachment over accusations of jeopardizing national security by soliciting foreign interference in an election.
But Republicans have declined to engage with the substance of the allegations against Trump, instead attacking the process while accusing Democrats of trying to undermine the results of the 2016 election - even as they guarantee he won't be removed.
Meanwhile, Trump has refused to offer a formal defense as he's essentially accused of trying to a bully a vulnerable ally, which is at war with Russia, into helping him dig up dirt on his political rivals.
Polling points to a deep divide across the country on whether Trump should be impeached and removed, with roughly half of Americans leaning one way or another. Meanwhile, Trump's approval rating is currently at 45%, according to Gallup's latest polling. To put this into context: Trump won the 2016 election with 46% of the popular vote.
Trump's reelection campaign has raised money off of the impeachment battle, and was set to hold a rally in Michigan on Wednesday night in concert with the House voting on his impeachment. With Republicans behind him in Congress, and certain of his acquittal, Trump is using impeachment to rile up his base.
'Uncharted territory for American democracy'
Brian Klaas, a political scientist at University College London, is concerned about the democratic implications of Trump potentially being reelected and committing further impeachable offenses.
"Trump's political instincts are to see what he can get away with, push the limit, set a new limit, and then start the process over," Klaas told Insider. "If he's impeached but not removed from office over what is quite clearly an egregious attempted abuse of public power for private gain, then his track record suggests that he will see his Senate acquittal as vindication and an endorsement that he can do it again."
The US could find itself in the "extraordinary situation" in which the House votes to impeach a president more than once, Klaas said, which "would truly be uncharted territory for American democracy."
Klaas went on to say that the threat of impeachment is "nullified" when Congress is "populated by people who are driven by personal interest rather than national interest."
"All of this speculation is scary for the future of American democracy," Klaas said. "If the Department of Justice says that sitting presidents cannot be indicted, and Congress functionally abandons its oversight role because partisanship overrides principle, then what can be done about a corrupt president? The answer - pretty much nothing - is disturbing."
Klaas said the situation raises the question of "how democracy can function when accountability is lifted from the president and he or she can effectively rule with impunity, even in ways that affect the outcome of their bid to be reelected."
Ruth Ben-Ghiat, a historian at New York University and an expert on authoritarianism, told Insider that if Trump is reelected in 2020 after "having been impeached for election interference, that does say something about the weakening of democratic institutions."
But Ben-Ghiat also said this scenario could "spark more resistance to his rule." Based on what we've seen in the impeachment drama, this resistance is unlikely to emanate from congressional Republicans.
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.@RepLoudermilk: "When Jesus was falsely accused of treason, Pontius Pilate gave Jesus the opportunity to face his accusers. During that sham trial, Pontius Pilate afforded more rights to Jesus than the Democrats have afforded this president in this process." pic.twitter.com/t5z6ExlHDb- CSPAN (@cspan) December 18, 2019
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