U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver was one of 126 Democrats who declined this week to endorse the impeachment of President Donald Trump.
It was the right decision. For now.
“I realize that Trump’s presidency generates anger,” the Missouri Democrat said in a statement. “I will remind folk that there is only one letter of the alphabet that separates anger from danger. My vote … was an issue of fairness.”
Cleaver said he would re-examine his position once Special Counsel Robert Mueller completes his investigation of the president and his associates.
Like many Americans, we have been repeatedly disappointed by President Trump. That disappointment is partly about policy — the president is wrong about tax reform, the Affordable Care Act, trade, immigration, the list goes on — but it’s also about his repeated insults to democratic norms.
He lies habitually and without apology. His ill-informed tweets may be moving the nation closer to war. He continually demonstrates his lack of understanding of even the most basic functions of government. He may be profiting privately from his public service.
And we still don’t understand the full extent of the president’s involvement with Russia, both before the election and after.
At the same time, impeachment and removal from office are an extraordinary remedy for these concerns. Asking legislators to overturn the vote of the Electoral College that put Trump in the White House is serious business.
America doesn’t have a parliamentary system, where the head of the government depends on majority support in the legislative branch to hold his or her seat. In this country, the president’s service is designed to be independent of the legislative branch.
If the impeachment process becomes routine, or overly politicized, all presidents would be subject to the transient whims of legislators. That isn’t what the nation’s founders had in mind.
Only two U.S. presidents have been impeached: Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton. Both were acquitted by the Senate and kept their jobs.
Richard Nixon resigned the office before the impeachment process was finished.
We want to be clear. There may yet be evidence that Trump has committed “high crimes and misdemeanors,” the constitutional requirement for impeachment.
But Mueller should be given the chance to finish his work and present his findings. Then Congress — and all Americans — can decide if action against the president is warranted.
Impeachment and removal must be pursued calmly and solemnly. Any such effort must be based on facts.
This week’s impeachment resolution did not meet that standard. We think that’s what Cleaver was trying to say with his vote and with his statement.
Not everyone will agree with his decision or our point of view. They worry that Trump is too dangerous to leave in office until his term expires.
But elections matter — a lesson America learns on a daily basis. Overturning the election of Donald Trump is absolutely a last resort, and we don’t think the country has reached that point.