Scott Williams: Checks and balances on full display

(Susan Walsh | AP file photo) President Donald Trump, first lady Melania Trump, French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte Macron pose for a photo in front of Mount Vernon, the home of President George Washington, in Mount Vernon, Va., Monday, April 23, 2018.

Recently, while guiding a visitor around Mount Vernon, George Washington’s superb home and museum in Virginia, one felt different from all previous visits.

Gazing upon George and Martha’s modest tomb, you could feel the words and sentiment of our Founding Father in the fall wind off the Potomac, reassuring the republic of its roots in these turbulent political times.

Washington and his Constitution-crafting colleagues had one fear, unchecked power. They had been subjected to the hand of a king, and were well-read and understood the history of man’s selfishness. What emerged was a brilliant new design for self-government, with power separated into three equal branches — executive, legislative, and judicial — to protect from tyranny the will of the people.

While some may call the current impeachment debate a partisan exercise, it really is an expression of the fundamental checks and balances. That may be a difficult presumption, given the partisan vote to move forward with the inquiry, but the process is a reflection of the necessary counterpoint to the exercise of power set forth in the Constitution.

Through the last congressional elections, a check was set in the the House of Representatives, reflecting millions of votes over 435 congressional districts that reverted the chamber to Democratic control. The Senate remains under Republican leadership, another level of checks and balances built into the Congress.

The separate but equal powers of the legislative branch can and should be an important tool for the branches of government to provide guidance to each other, and thus do a better job governing. In our hyper-partisan world, this fundamental benefit of separate-but-equal has been been ignored; both Democratic and Republican administrations have expected the legislative branch to behave more like an extension of the White House staff rather than an equal partner in government.

Had there been a stronger sense of constitutional duty on the Hill, perhaps the president wouldn’t be facing the challenge he is facing today. GOP leaders might have put a stop through hearings or communications around the disarray of the Ukrainian policy. The check-and-balance role of Congress not only ensures an administration cannot run amok, it also provides a critical tool to help an administration and commander in chief do better job.

But a line was crossed, and the process we are witnessing is an inevitable outcome of what our Founding Fathers had in mind, with the legislative branch exercising its constitutional duty as a check against the executive.

Impeachment, a political not a legal process, must move through an intense forcefield of political balances and public review. No matter what evidence, transcript or presidential pronouncement is thrown into the mix, the fundamental check and balance process will proceed pretty much as the framers intended. The votes represented by the 535 members of the House and Senate convey legitimate political authority as set forth in the Constitution; no one party will undo an election. Every citizen in the country has skin in the game through their duly elected representatives.

In the end, voters will have the final say. Either through their representatives, or at the ballot box in November 2020. The framers were not trying to check and balance partisanship, they were looking to protect the people from unbridled authority by the government, be it the president or the Congress.

Take away the political labels, and the process underway makes sense and needs to run its course, open, and for all to see.

The Constitution is impervious to tweets, and really doesn’t care about wild machinations of politicians. It cares about power, and maintaining the steady evenness of American authority over time.

That is why the world has looked to America for leadership. And that is why the words that echo across Mount Vernon today are so important.

A native of Utah, Scott Williams is a communications consultant in Washington, D.C.

Scott Williams, a Utah native, is a communications consultant in Washington, D.C.