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You might be surprised how not co-equal the branches of the U.S. government were supposed to be

Yes, there are some checks and balances across the branches, but — at least as the framers envisioned it — Congress was meant to be, by far, the dominant player. 

U.S. Capitol Building
U.S. Capitol Building
REUTERS/Jason Reed

It is endlessly debatable what “high crimes and misdemeanors” might justify impeachment of a president, but, luckily for the current incumbent, ignorance of (and perhaps disrespect for) the Constitution is probably not an impeachable offense. 

Still, I found it amusing to read in a recent very smart Garry Wills piece in the New York Review of Books that the president had (by tweet, of course, in October) called for Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff to be “immediately impeached.”

If he was a little better informed about the fundamental laws, rules, norms etc. of the system of government over which he presides, Trump would have known that the members of Congress are not susceptible to the impeachment process.

I find this latest demonstration of the current incumbent’s ignorance of the constitutional system mostly amusing and not terribly surprising, but since Wills brought it to light, I thought I would share it with you. 

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The impeachment provisions appear in Article II of the Constitution, which is the section on the Executive Branch. It says (in Section 4) that “The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”

By contrast, each house of Congress has the sole power to expel a member, on its own, for misconduct. And each has done so. This difference has been clearly established and accepted since fairly early in constitutional history. If Trump had known how it works, he should have tweeted that the House should expel Pelosi and Schiff, and I’m sure the House, controlled by a Democratic majority that elected Pelsosi as its speaker, would have taken his views into account.

By the way, the bigger argument in the Wills piece is that the whole idea of three “co-equal” branches of the federal government is somewhere between an error and an exaggeration. Yes, there are some checks and balances across the branches, but, at least as the framers envisioned it, Congress was meant to be, by far, the dominant element, and if you looked at the actual powers assigned by the Constitution itself, you’d see what he means.

Other than the power to veto a bill (which Congress can override), the Constitution gives the president no power over lawmaking. He’s commander in chief in time of war (constitutionally speaking), but he doesn’t get the job unless Congress declares a war.

Over the course of history, presidents have acquired quite a few additional powers, of course, mostly just by grabbing them and getting away with it. But if you were to actually take the Constitution seriously, actually read it and count up the powers and which branch wields which ones, you’d be surprised how NOT coequal the benches were supposed to be.