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Impeachment Ad Absurdum

For Trump supporters, it happened when Trump was first impeached for his “perfect” telephone call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky on July 25, 2019, where he  suggested that $400 million in military aid to Ukraine would be conditioned on Zelensky alleging that Joe Biden and his son Hunter were under investigation for corruption. Not only did they believe the conspiracy theory against Biden, but they believed that Trump did nothing wrong by using foreign aid to get to what they believed to be the truth.

The difference was that Trump was both exceeding his authority, as the aid had already been approved by Congress, and extorting Zelensky and Ukraine for his political benefit, regardless of whether his conspiracy theories were true, which they were not. Is abuse of authority and extortion a “high crime and misdemeanor”? At the very least, it was plausibly criminal. While impeachment may have been a stretch too far for Trump’s supporters, at least it related to the purpose for which impeachment exists.

With Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, there isn’t even a pretense of an impeachable offense.

(1) Alejandro N. Mayorkas willfully refused to comply with the detention mandate set forth in section 235(b)(2)(A) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, requiring that all applicants for admission who are ‘‘not clearly and beyond a doubt entitled to be admitted…shall be detained for a [removal] proceeding…’’. Instead of complying with this requirement, Alejandro N. Mayorkas implemented a catch and release scheme, whereby such aliens are unlawfully released, even without effective mechanisms to ensure appearances before the immigration courts for removal proceedings or to ensure removal in the case of aliens ordered removed.

It’s entirely fair to disapprove of Mayorkas’ performance, to think him incompetent and to believe that he is responsible for the Biden administration’s failure to control unlawful entry at the border, It’s also fair to believe that he was doing his job as well as possible given the president’s border policies and the conditions they created for asylum seekers, who are not “illegal aliens” under the law. No matter, because either way, there is nothing here that would constitute an impeachable offense.

This was the vote that failed a week ago after three brave Republicans stood up to their party and said Mayorkas had done nothing worthy of impeachment. That constitutional provision is reserved for treason, bribery and high crimes and misdemeanors, they said, and was never intended to make a crime out of a policy disagreement.

Those three Republicans once again did the right thing on Tuesday, but the impeachment vote succeeded this time only because one member who was absent last week, Steve Scalise of Louisiana, showed up.

When you have to game the impeachment vote, even against your own party, it speaks volumes about the cynicism of the move. Republicans wanted to impeach somebody, and if they couldn’t come up with anything about Biden, they would use whatever they could find. Republican Congressman Ken Buck of Colorado refused to put on his Trump kneepads and suck.

“To say that someone was incompetent — we wouldn’t have anybody in Congress, if the standard was competence,” Mr. Buck added.

Others, however, had no qualms about scraping their knees in supplication, with Steve Scalise breaking the stalemate even as the George Santos seat was flipped to Democrat Tom Suozzi, whose vote would ended the second attempt at impeachment in failure.

This isn’t about Mayorkas, who you can love or hate, blame or just use as a scapegoat. This is about the mechanism of impeachment.

This impeachment was an utterly partisan and deeply dishonest act that debases the House’s role in the structure of the Constitution. It forever shatters a barrier that was considered sacred by previous Houses, which took their responsibility seriously and did not use impeachment for political purposes.

David Firestone is right, that this pathetic act of cynicism “forever shatters a barrier” that is critical to our constitutional structure. The weapon of impeachment is critical, as it’s the primary mechanism to thwart any impulse of using political office, and the power and authority it holds, to commit “treason, bribery and high crimes and misdemeanors.” Whether it’s sending Seal Team 6 to assassinate your political rival or threatening to withhold military aid to a foreign nation unless it lies for personal political benefit, impeachment was to be of such a degree of seriousness that its use would mean something. It would mean something very serious because it was sacred.

It’s unsurprising in an age where so many things are taken to their extreme, whether it’s calling your enemies Hitler or racist, or whether it’s justifiable to use “any means necessary” to accomplish a political goal, even if it means raping, beheading, burning, kidnapping and murdering women, children and the elderly.

But up until now, the line of impeachment had not been crossed. It was one tool, one weapon, held in reserve. No more.

The Senate will likely make swift work of the impeachment, so it’s purely a performance piece by House Republicans, like refusing to fund Ukraine and Israel because it lacks the very border reforms of which they charge Mayorkas, and then refusing to put the bipartisan bill to a vote that includes it because it would make Trump sad. There is nothing left to take seriously about House Republicans, or the very scared speaker whose tenure hangs by a hair.

But for all their infantile shenanigans up to now, at least they didn’t besmirch impeachment as part of their “let’s put on a play for Trump” performance. Alas, that’s now done and not even a shred of constitutional integrity remains untainted.

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