Tribune Editorial: Stewart gets the Constitution all wrong

(Photo courtesy of the White House) Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, posted this photo on Twitter on Nov. 5, 2019, saying he had recently met with President Donald Trump. He said they talked about the nation's "most pressing issues." He declined to elaborate when asked by The Tribune for more information.

“The House of Representatives shall chuse their Speaker and other Officers; and shall have the soul Power of Impeachment.”

The Constitution of the United States, Article I, Section 2

If Chris Stewart really thinks the impeachment process now moving through Congress is a “coup,” then he doesn’t understand what the word means.

Or what the Constitution of the United States calls for.

Utah’s 2nd District congressman joined with other Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee last week in belittling the process, the witnesses and the seriousness of the allegations against the president by describing it all as some kind of illegal and unconstitutional revolt against the president.

But impeachment is clearly laid out in the Constitution as a means, clearly thought necessary by the founders, of keeping a rogue chief executive in check.

Yes, the process is unavoidably partisan, as it was when it was invoked against Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton. But a coup? An illegal overthrow of a constitutionally anchored government? Hardly.

If anything, it is the argument that this president, or any president, has the unreviewable right to exercise his power in any way he wishes that would be a coup, an overthrow of our constitutional structure.

Those opposing impeachment, of any president, can be counted upon to describe it as the undoing of a democratic election. Which, in a way, it is.

But the authors of the Constitution were very deliberate in their intent to include provisions that did exactly that. That would, in extraordinary circumstances, revoke the decisions of the electorate, or the Electoral College, or the president with the advice and consent of the Senate, when found to have been foolish or deceived.

The Constitution allows Congress to impeach and remove, not only the president, but also all other executive branch officers and all judges, up to and including members of the Supreme Court. It also allows for either house of Congress to judge the qualifications of each of its own members and, with a two-thirds vote, expel a senator or representative, substituting their own judgment for that of the legally constituted voters of the states.

(Note that Congress has the power to reach into the other two branches of government to disqualify any official. But only Congress can unseat a member of Congress. Clearly, the intent was to make Congress, the branch closest to the people, the most powerful on that score.)

The Constitution was written and approved by people who realized that voters can make poor decisions, or that their judgement is not enough to ensure that those they elect will later turn out to be as qualified and as observant of the Constitution and the laws as they should. Just as presidents can appoint Cabinet members and judges who later prove to be unequal to their high office.

The genius of our system is its series of checks and balances, sometimes rickety or unpredictable, sometimes more honored in the breach than the observance.

The power of impeachment, like all political power, can be misused. But it cannot be denied.