Coming off a dialogue with students and alumni in Washington, D.C., a few weeks ago, Hamilton’s Common Ground series returned to campus on Feb. 12 with a reprise of “Impeachment Pro and Con.” The conversation focused on the recent impeachment proceedings of President Donald Trump.
Leading the discussion were Phil Klinkner, the James S. Sherman Professor of Government, and attorney John Vecchione ’86, principal and member of John J. Vecchione, PLLC. They began by offering their views on the impeachment process as a constitutional framework, as well as their understanding of how Trump’s case was affected by specific constitutional interpretations.
Klinkner spoke of the many reasons used to disagree with the choice of impeachment. In response, he made clear that there was consensus of Trump’s wrongdoings, also discussing the probable intentions behind the president’s decisions. While Klinkner took a pro-impeachment stance, he also acknowledged the mismatched intentions behind the impeachment process implemented by the Framers’ Constitution compared to its current execution.
“I think we need to acknowledge that impeachment is a pretty ineffective check on the executive branch due to the strength of partisanship,” Klinkner commented, noting the Mitt Romney exception and the difficulty in achieving the votes needed to impeach.
Vecchione provided insight into the constitutional language used to call the need for impeachment. He made transparent his stance, agreeing with Trump’s wrongdoings, but arguing against his impeachment.
“I do think the standard has to be something like bribery or treason, but I also think that it has to be clear, and I don’t think it’s that clear in this case for a number of reasons,” Vecchione said. Such reasons include the lack of clarity on whether or not there was a government purpose behind Trump’s actions. He also alluded to the potential societal rift an impeachment would cause especially prior to an election season.
Both Klinkner and Vecchione provided analyses on a variety of issues, continuing the conversation with a respectful discourse. They discussed their opinions on political polarization, changes in previous politic thought, and the overall rationales that led to their differing stances.
Audience members — which included students, faculty, and local community members — also had the opportunity to ask questions, which focused on themes such as why different parties may have voted a certain way, the differences between current and past impeachments, as well as implications for future impeachments.
Among attendees was Daniel Koobatian ’21, who was a student on Hamilton’s Washington, D.C., program last semester. He noted the different ways that political conversation may play out in different social environments, such as between D.C. and Hamilton’s campus.
“When I was in D.C., [we students] had a very Washingtonian view of how things were run because of the influence of our internships and the people we were surrounded by. I think the questions here from the audience were actually quite different from the way it would have been in D.C.,” Koobatian said, observing how some questions related to something on more of a partisan ground, differing from an examination of the legal implications that may be discussed in D.C. “I think it’s a vital issue wherever it is, but it means different things depending on the context of where you are.”
Melanie Geller ’22 also commented, “When I saw the notice that it was happening in D.C., I was upset that I was going to miss that opportunity to get involved in the discussion — until I realized it was being brought over here. That decision to include those in the Hamilton community made it feel even more important and more relevant.”