Approximately 100 people received a primer on impeachment Friday from Oregon State University faculty and a local legislator.
OSU’s School of History, Philosophy and Religion organized the “flash panel,” which was designed to inform students and others about how impeachment works while an actual impeachment inquiry plays out in Washington, D.C.
Participating in the panel were state Sen. Sara Gelser and OSU faculty members Rorie Solberg (School of Public Policy), Steve Shay (School of History, Philosophy and Religion) and Chris Nichols (School of History, Philosophy and Religion).
Amy Koehlinger of OSU’s School of History, Philosophy and Religion moderated the session, while Larry Rogders, dean of the College of Liberal Arts offered some opening thoughts.
Panelists focused on different aspects of impeachment in their remarks. A short question-and-answer period took place toward the end of the 90-minute session.
Solberg handled the nuts and bolts of impeachment; Shay spoke on its history, particularly the case of impeached President Andrew Johnson; Nichols tackled foreign policy aspects and Gelser looked at the modern politics associated with the tool.
Solberg noted that the Constitution provides limited help for those hoping to understand impeachment.
“The Constitution sets no rules,” Solberg said. ”How the procedure is used mainly stems from historical precedent and the inclination of current members of Congress.”
Solberg also said that the “high crimes and misdemeanors” language on impeachment in the Constitution “really is more about abuse of power or of the public trust” rather than actions that usually are associated with criminal offenses.
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The Johnson impeachment, Shay said, occurred amid the chaos of attempts to stitch the country back together after the Civil War and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, which came just six days after the end of hostilities.
The key issue was the 1867 Tenure of Office Act, which Congress passed over Johnson’s veto. The act required Senate approval for removal of Cabinet officials. Johnson chose to test the act by firing Secretary of War Edwin Stanton and installing war hero Ulysses Grant in his place.
Johnson was impeached, but narrowly survived the Senate vote. The act ultimately was amended and later repealed. Johnson, a Democrat received support from 10 Republican senators at the impeachment trial. Shay concluded his remarks by noting that none of the 10 served in elective office again.
Nichols emphasized the “foreign meddling” issue that has been at the center of the previous — and current — investigations of President Donald Trump. Nichols’ foundation was the writing of Founding Fathers James Madison and Alexander Hamilton in the Federalist Papers, documents published to support ratification of the Constitution.
Nichols’ cited Madison’s writing in Federalist No. 65, which framed impeachment as “related to an injury to the society itself … a violation of the public trust.”
“The Framers’ biggest worry was meddling in American elections,” Nichols said, noting that Hamilton wrote in support of the Electoral College in Federalist No. 68 because he said it would be useful as a “buffer” against foreign involvement.
Gelser, a Democrat whose district includes Albany and Corvallis, tackled the issue from the point of view of modern politics. She noted that Democratic U.S. Rep Kurt Schrader of Salem, who serves in the House district that is most evenly split among Democrats and Republicans, was the final Democrat to lend his support to the Trump impeachment inquiry.
Gelser said that his action likely will mean challenges from both sides — some Democrats might think he acted too late, while Republicans will judge him harshly for backing the move to oust Trump.
Gelser also said that the rise of social media and the 24-hour news cycle means that no matter what happens in Washington or Salem by the next morning, “you will find a barrel full of tweets has landed from both sides.”