ANTIGONISH - When it comes to the possible impeachment of President Donald Trump, Donald Abelson said “we need to pay attention.”
The Brian Mulroney Institute of Government founding director and Steven K. Hudson Chair in Canada-U.S. Relations offered that thought, when asked why the ongoing process should be important to Canadians.
Because we are “so linked to the U.S.,” Abelson said the impeachment process “should be of interest to us.”
“It should be very much on our radar,” he added.
Noting they are “our closest ally,” when it comes to myriad areas – such as trade, security and foreign policy – the direction the United States takes in the coming months, no matter how the impeachment process concludes, will affect Canada in “profound ways.”
Reflecting on the 2016 presidential election south of the border, Abelson suggested there was a preference of Canada’s federal government for Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton over Trump.
Abelson touched on issues such as NAFTA – which has been negotiated, but not ratified – along with the Paris Accord, border security and foreign policy, as areas where Canada has been at odds with the Trump administration.
“There are also the attacks on the multinationals,” he noted, when it comes to organizations such as the United Nations and NATO.
‘Interesting and disturbing’
As for the impeachment process, Abelson called it “interesting and disturbing.”
He explained what has unfolded in recent weeks – both publicly and privately – is a “political process and not a legal one.”
After the U.S. House of Representatives brought forward articles of impeachment related to high crimes and misdemeanors, its intelligence committee conducted private and, now, public hearings.
Abelson said a report then goes to the house judiciary committee, which starts “sifting through it.”
The articles of impeachment that could be put forward, for instance, include abuse of power and obstruction of justice.
Abelson said next there is a “mark-up” process, where members decide to add, delete or refine aspects of the report.
And then, the House of Representatives takes a “full vote.”
Abelson predicted the result, one that he expects before Christmas, “in all likelihood” will be to impeach.
The next step
With that expected decision, the process moves to the Senate, where Republican majority leader Mitch McConnell will be tasked with initiating the trial process.
The 100 senators will be sworn in as jurors and a United States Supreme Court Justice will be appointed to preside over proceedings.
Abelson noted the process is much the same, except for one glaring difference; the Democrats control the House, while the Republicans hold majority power in the Senate.
“Unless several [Republican senators] jump ship – put country ahead of party – that is not going to happen,” Abelson said of Trump’s possible removal from office.
There needs to be a two-thirds majority vote in the Senate in favour of making such a move, which would be a first in U.S. history.
Presidents Bill Clinton and Andrew Johnson were impeached, but not removed from office, while Richard Nixon resigned before the impeachment process concluded.
When all is said and done, Abelson predicted the decision on Trump’s future, including a second term, will be made by American voters in the 2020 presidential election.
“The Democrats have put it in the hands of the American people,” he said.
If it is “highly unlikely” that Trump will be removed from office, Abelson added many are asking why the Democrats in the House decided to initiate the process.
He explained the House has the constitutional responsibility to hold the executive branch accountable.
“They want to send a clear message to the American people,” Abelson said.
One that Trump’s dealings with Ukraine warrant the charge of high crimes and misdemeanors.
“It is not going to affect Trump’s base negatively; it will strengthen it,”
Abelson said of the 40 or so per cent of Americans that remain devoted to him.
“They will be even more emboldened,” he added.
Abelson said one thing to watch is whether or not the impeachment process will mobilize the millions of Americans who didn’t vote in 2016 that came out to support Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 presidential elections.
“Will they decide to get off the couch and engage more in the political discourse?”
Regardless of the result in the 2020 presidential election, Abelson said the United States will remain “very polarized.”