On April 18, 2021, The New York Post published an editorial titled Impeach and remove Maxine Waters. For those not in the know, Ms. Waters is a long-time United States Congresswoman from California. Congresswoman is significant here.
I found part of the editorial disagreeable.
Not the sentiment. The focus of this article is not the sentiment. But I submit for the record that I take no issue with the sentiment – soaked in irony as it is – lest one mistake the purposes here.
What I found disagreeable was the misuse of the word impeachment.
Who Can Be Impeached?
Article I, Section 2, Clause 5 of the United States Constitution provides:
The House of Representatives … shall have the sole Power of Impeachment.
Who is amenable to impeachment? We turn to Article II, Section 4:
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.
Article III judges have also been impeached (and convicted), despite the fact that Article III does not have the word “impeachment.” That is another matter – we need not delve into it here.
What are members of the United States House of Representatives not?
A Congressman or woman is not the President, the Vice President, or a civil officer of the United States. Certainly not in this context. The jury is still out on the line of presidential succession. At last check, members of Congress are not Article III judges. They are also not Article I or Article IV judges.
But I digress.
No one, at any time, has suggested that members of Congress are amenable to impeachment. Wait. I should not say no one.
There are many journalism school graduates and social media users in our midst.
How Does One Remove a Member of Congress?
If members of Congress cannot be impeached, what should the New York Post have recommended for Ms. Waters? Sure enough, the Constitution provides a remedy for misbehaving legislators. See Article I, Section 5, Clause 2:
Each House [of Congress] may … with the Concurrence of two-thirds, expel a member.
Leave it to the founders to have left a potential remedy for situations such as the one the New York Post describes. Thus, for example, if a member of Congress travels to a state in which she does not reside to encourage people in the midst of riots to be “more confrontational” with law enforcement in said state she does not reside in, the founders gave Congress the option to expel that member under the rules that said member had expressed support for.
The founders did not, however, give the U.S. House the ability to impeach one of its members. What sense would that make? Why would the United States House need to send one of its own members to the Senate for a trial? I suggest confidently that the founders never contemplated such a remedy. They never contemplated many things that would not make sense.
Why Did the New York Post Use “Impeach and Remove”?
I was not invited to The New York Post’s editorial meeting, so I cannot say for certain why the Board called for the impeachment and removal of Ms. Waters. There are two options.
First, The New York Post did note that Ms. Waters has been liberal in calling for the impeachment and removal of other persons. It noted, not inaccurately, that her conduct in Minnesota was very much in line with what she has described as being an impeachable offense. In the conclusion of the editorial, the Post called for the Speaker to move for a vote to remove Ms. Waters from office, which suggests expulsion more than impeachment.
Reading charitably, we may understand the Post deliberately used the “impeach and remove” to charge Ms. Waters with hypocrisy. This is reading the headline seriously, but not literally.
Second, we have the darker scenario. What if whoever was on headline duty was unaware that members of Congress cannot be impeached? That would be depressing. I have praised New York Post headlines here before.
The New York Post Should Have Used “Expel”
Taking the article in its full context, I think that it is more likely than not that whoever wrote the article itself was aware that members of Congress cannot be impeached. The call for a vote to “remove” at the end does suggest the expulsion procedure rather than the two-step procedure of an impeachment vote followed by a Senate trial.
Furthermore, the likelihood that Ms. Waters will be expelled from Congress is roughly the same as the likelihood that she will be impeached. The situation is ripe for rhetorical points.
However, even if we grant the charitable reading of the headline and article, I fault The New York Post for using the headline.
Because way too many people misuse “impeachment” un-ironically. What percentage of people think that impeachment is the same thing as removal? How many people actually think that members of Congress can be impeached? I shudder. Please do not run that poll.
Things like this bother me. Much like “like” as a verbal tic and the abuse of said tic. I have told that story before. Let me tell you a different story.
Roy Hibbert’s Untucked NBA Jersey
Years ago, I was at a friend’s apartment. We had some sport or another on the television. One of the athlete’s uniforms was not tucked in properly. A person present complained about that. He said it was one of those things that just bothered him. I could not disagree.
I used to watch basketball. In 2013, I was watching the Eastern Conference Finals between the Miami Heat and the Indiana Pacers. The Heat, led by their “big three” consisting of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh, were being tormented by Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert. Mr. Hibbert was tall (7’2″) and good at deterring players from attacking the rim through his use of “verticality.” His relative lack of mobility would contribute to his obsolescence a few years later, but he had his moment. The Heat struggled to figure out what to do with Mr. Hibbert’s rim defense, and Mr. Hibbert, a serviceable offensive player, looked like Wilt Chamberlain on occasion against the small Heat front-court.
But I digress.
Mr. Hibbert never tucked his jersey in properly. At best it would be half-way between being tucked in properly and coming undone. It would always come undone.
I remember watching and asking myself why he could never tuck his jersey in. He could deter Mr. James from attacking the basket and push smaller Heat defenders around on offense.
But he could not tuck his jersey in.
I thought about this when I considered how I feel about people suggesting that members of Congress can be impeached. Or how I feel in other cases where people conflate “impeachment” and “conviction.”
I suppose that I am asking the Post to tuck its jersey in.