Nancy Pelosi seems to be getting her wish. Mrs. Pelosi’s tutorials to her girls gone wild about how the world works, and in particular how the world of Washington works, may be having an effect. The tutorial required a lot of remedial readin,’ writin’ and ‘rithmetic. The impeachment fever is clearly subsiding. Trump Derangement Syndrome is reasserting itself as the preferred narcotic in the Democratic congressional salons.
The Democratic kids in Congress have discovered something new to chatter about. It’s “the emoluments clause” in Article 1, Section 9, Clause 8 in the Constitution, “which prohibits the federal government from granting titles of nobility and restricts members of the government from receiving gifts, emoluments, offices or titles from foreign states and monarchies without the consent of Congress.” If the king of Saudi Arabia wants to make President Trump a Knight of the Royal Beheading Scimitar, the king can do it. But unless Congress says it’s OK, the president can’t accept it unless Congress approves, and let’s see the Donald get that one past Nancy, Maxine and the angry ladies of the House of Representatives.
The emoluments clause was tweaked into the Constitution to protect federal officeholders against “corrupting influences.” Joe Biden boasted the other day that “heads of 45 countries” had called to cry on his shoulder about President Trump, but those “corrupting foreign influences” don’t count because Joe, legally speaking, is a nobody without consequences. He’s in the same position as Hillary Clinton was when she and the mister collected hundreds of millions of dollars — paid through their foundation — in anticipation of making lovely deals with a Clinton administration.
The emoluments clause was largely unknown until the Democrats had to come up with new “high crimes and misdemeanors” as first one charge and then another were dropped from the list of crimes of Donald Trump. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez thinks she remembers hearing a couple of her patrons talking about it at the end of the bar, back in the day, but she’s not sure.
“I think what’s tough is impeachment in principle is something I openly support,” she told National Review the other day. “But it’s also just the reality of having the votes in the Senate to pursue that. And that’s something we have to take into consideration. I think there’s grounds for impeachment even independent of the Mueller Report, particularly the emoluments clause.”
Rep. Rashida Tlaib, who famously vowed to “impeach that mother,” has pivoted away from the Russian collusion fantasy and wants a robust investigation into whether the president violated the emoluments clause.
Certain semi-learned commentators have described the impeachment talk as the last gasp of a dying movement to show the Donald to the door, emoluments and all, and that may seem so, but other gasps are coming. The Democrats have given up on 2020, and want to concentrate on 2016. One eminent commentator at The Washington Post suggests the mob, having been cheated of impeachment, might be satisfied with a formal vote of censure of the president. There’s a precedent for doing that to a president. The Senate censured Andrew Jackson for his banking schemes in 1834.
A vote of censure by Congress is something like non-alcoholic beer at a Sunday-school picnic. Censure is symbolic but harmless, like a snort of the right stuff behind the barn. The House has already received two House resolutions aimed at censuring the president, introduced with the glee of children shaming each other on the schoolyard, stroking a pointed index finger and chanting, “ah, ummm, shame on you!” One resolution to shame him for his much-distorted remarks about the pull-down-Robert E. Lee riot at Charlottesville and the other for his vulgar but accurate description of certain [doo-doo] countries in Africa. Neither resolution went to a vote and President Trump didn’t suffer a lick.
All the talk about impeachment has taught a new generation a lesson in American history, even if history taught through the veil of the politically correct distorts the real thing. Even Rolling Stone, the bible of amplified noise sold as music, took a shot at defining what the Founding Fathers meant by “high crimes and misdemeanors,” a catch-all term once common in the 18th-century England whence America sprang. “The framers of the Constitution made it clear that although they didn’t want presidents to be fired every time Congress got antsy, they did want to leave an escape hatch in case the chief resident of the White House went bad.”
Scholars of the law and history still aren’t sure of what the words mean. In the absence of precision, the term has come to mean what President Gerald Ford said it means: “An impeachable offense is whatever a majority of the House of Representatives considers it to be at a given moment of history.”
That sounds about right. But despite the Democratic racket and ruin noise machine, we aren’t there yet.
• Wesley Pruden is editor in chief emeritus of The Times.
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