Should Representative Amodei support impeaching President Trump?

From a procedural standpoint, as Rep. Amodei went to great pains to explain in his uniquely circuitous way, it’s a little early for that. Congress first needs to decide what they’ll impeach President Trump for and that will require people to focus on a specific Trump action for longer than the average lifespan of a fruit fly.

From a political standpoint, Danny Tarkanian relocated to Northern Nevada months ago, undoubtedly hoping that, for once in his life, he can stay in the loving embrace of a Trump-adoring base without losing a general election. It hasn’t happened yet — his political record more closely resembles the winless 1998 UNLV football team than the national champion 1990 Runnin’ Rebs his father coached — but hope springs eternal, especially now that some Republicans are already building up the narrative that Amodei might be vulnerable. Additionally, Nevada’s second-most popular Laxalt-bred gubernatorial candidate (or, if you prefer, the least popular one) recently replaced Amodei as Trump’s Nevada campaign chair.

From a moral and ethical standpoint, I thought the previous president should have been impeached, I think this president should be impeached, and I already support impeaching the next one. There’s a reason most countries never copied and pasted our political systems into theirs, opting for parliamentary systems instead — presidents are just too powerful everywhere they’ve been tried. Most presidents, like Vladimir Putin or Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, inevitably turn into unaccountable tyrants, removable only through civil war or death. 

The United States has avoided that fate thus far due to cultural and political norms that encourage presidents to use far less power than they actually possess. Donald Trump isn’t the first president to ignore those norms — Thomas Jefferson famously bought the Louisiana Purchase despite there being no explicit permission in the Constitution for him to do so — but he is the first to refuse to apologize or feel remorse for it. Even Nixon, for all his faults, felt accountable enough to something beyond himself to resign. Even Nixon’s conscience eventually told him that, whether he went too far or not in his own mind, the consequences of his actions had gone far enough and should go no further. 

I’m not personally convinced that President Trump is a better man than Richard Nixon and I don’t think you should be, either. 

However, as fun as it is to rant about the impeachibility of Donald Trump and presidents in general, there are more than enough columns, both on and off the internet, about that. There are far fewer columns, however, about how past representatives from Nevada faced impeachment. By my count, there is so far only one, courtesy of the Nevada Current, which published theirs before mine was published (but, I will carefully add, not before mine was written). It’s a good piece and worth reading. 

Unlike the Nevada Current, however, I prefer to start at the beginning — and that means starting only a few years after the very first Nevada Day.

As fortune would have it, Nevada achieved statehood before America’s very first impeachment. Andrew Johnson was a Tennessee Democrat chosen by Lincoln to be his vice-president to help unify the country toward the end of the Civil War (imagine Trump choosing Hillary Clinton as his vice-president, or vice-versa, to understand how magnanimous this was). Unfortunately, the pool of pro-Union Democrats from former Confederate states was, shall we say, a little shallow, in much the same way the pool of anti-Trump Republicans from former Confederate states is. Under ordinary circumstances, this wouldn’t be a major issue — Andrew Johnson certainly would not have been the first vice-president to be ignored by everyone around him. 

Lincoln’s assassination made circumstances substantially less ordinary. 

Even if Andrew Johnson were a competent, patient statesman, he had his work cut out for him. The Republican Party was the party of Lincoln, the party that supported and won the Civil War; the Democratic Party, on the other hand, was the party of Jefferson Davis, the former president of the Confederacy. Both Congresses in Johnson’s term reflected the outcome of the Civil War, with the Republican Party enjoying unprecedented supermajorities in both houses; the Senate, for example, was nearly 90 percent Republican during the final two years of Johnson’s term. Consequently, as long as the Republicans in Congress maintained party unity, Johnson couldn’t even hope to sustain a veto.

Andrew Johnson was not a competent, patient statesman. 

In 1866, Andrew Johnson started a speaking tour to push for more lenient policies against the defeated South — this being the way to get the word out in the era preceding Twitter, television, or radio. His plan was to highlight the divisions between the moderate and radical wings of the Republican Party to advance his preferred policies to allow previously pro-Confederate voters and politicians to control Southern states once again. Though morally reprehensible in hindsight, it made political sense — northern voters were largely more interested in getting things back to normal than they were in advancing black enfranchisement or permanently disenfranchising the previously Confederate-supporting political class. 

Luckily, in a rare moment of fortune for southern black people, Andrew Johnson’s speaking tour was uniquely disastrous. Instead of advancing his policies of hasty reconciliation, he single-handedly discredited them by, among other things, angrily arguing with his crowds and suggesting that notable abolitionists, including some Republican congressmen, should be hanged. His ineptness arguably may have delayed the implementation of Jim Crow by a decade. 

Congress, meanwhile, had to decide what to do with a president touring the country and demanding some of their members should be lynched. Representing Nevada in Congress at this time was Delos Ashley, a Republican attorney that moved to Nevada from California. 

Like many of Nevada’s past and present political figures, Republican Rep. Ashley’s past was at least mildly checkered. 

After the Mexican-American War, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo required the United States to honor land titles previously granted by Mexico; this, however, required landowners to reassert their titles to the new American authorities governing their lands. One of these landowners was the City of Monterey. According to Carmel-By-The-Sea, The Early Years (1903-1913), Delos Ashley successfully represented Monterey, California as it reasserted its Mexican title to roughly 46 square miles surrounding the city. In return, he billed $991.50, roughly equivalent to $33,000 today. 

Unfortunately, despite being the former territorial capital of Alta California and, briefly, the capital of the California Republic, Monterey in the 1850s was in steep decline. The Gold Rush encouraged most of Monterey’s residents to relocate to San Francisco or Sacramento, depending on whether their interests lay more in shipping or mining. As a result, Monterey became a largely abandoned backwater and was consequently never in a position to pay for Delos’ services. 

Demonstrating that there is no force on Earth as patient nor as vengeful as an attorney with an outstanding invoice, Delos Ashley proceeded to get himself elected first to the California Assembly and then to the California Senate. While serving in California’s legislature, he helped pass laws that allowed Monterey to sell its lands to settle its public debts (like the city’s debt to him) via public auction. The law required the city to post a notice in a newspaper; fortuitously, Delos Ashley co-founded the newspaper the city sent the notice to. Consequently, when Monterey submitted the auction announcement to Delos’ newspaper, it was printed as a minor column toward the back. It’s perhaps unsurprising, then, that Delos Ashley and his friend, David Jacks, were the only people who attended the auction, and even less surprising that the two bought all 29,698 acres for the amount of Delos Ashley’s outstanding bill plus the $11 the city spent conducting the auction, a little more than $0.03 per acre. 

Seriously — pay your attorney.

After serving in California politics, Delos moved to Nevada in 1864. A year later, he was elected to succeed Henry G. Worthington, Nevada’s first congressman. During his second term in Congress, President Johnson’s articles of impeachment were put to vote. Rep. Ashley voted in favor, along with 125 other representatives. Only 47 representatives voted against impeachment, thus making President Johnson the first president to be successfully impeached. His removal was narrowly averted in the Senate by only one vote; none of those votes against removal, however, came from Nevada as Sens. William Stewart and James Nye both voted in favor.

It would take more than a century for another president to face impeachment. Yet again, and somewhat improbably, Nevada was represented in Congress by a Republican. David Towell was the first Republican congressman to represent Nevada in nearly two decades, succeeding longtime Democratic Congressman William Baring, who had lost his most recent primary to eventual state Sen. and, yes, Congressman James Bilbray. President Nixon never formally faced impeachment as he resigned before the House voted on his articles, but Rep. Towell did get to vote in favor of House Resolution 803, which authorized the House Judiciary Committee to investigate President Nixon for eventual impeachment. 

After voting to authorize the start of the impeachment process, Rep. Towell was handily defeated in his re-election campaign by Democrat Jim Santini, the last congressman to represent the entire state of Nevada. Two years later, he and the Libertarian Party of Nevada’s first Senate candidate, Dan Becan, lost handily to Howard Cannon (admittedly, Becan lost a bit more handily than Towell). Afterwards, David Towell went back to working in real estate in Douglas County. Near the end of his life, he wrote and published two books. His first, Conversations with the Captain in Washington, D.C., is about a talking cat (named after his actual cat) that wants to be a meteorologist badly enough to secure a grant from Congress. His second, From Jennys to Jets, was a fictionalized account of an aviator he interviewed, starting with the aviator’s service toward the end of World War 1 and continuing through the second World War. 

It wouldn’t take another century for another president to face impeachment. In fact, the next impeachment happened well within Rep. Towell’s lifetime. In 1998, President Bill Clinton earned the ire of Republicans, among others, due to his unwillingness to tell the truth under oath about his sex life. This time, Nevada had more than one congressman. Yet again, however, Nevada’s representation in Congress was uniformly Republican with Rep. John Ensign and Rep. Jim Gibbons representing our state. 

Unlike President Johnson’s 11 articles of impeachment, which were voted on as a whole, President Clinton’s articles of impeachment were considered article by article. Reps. Ensign and Gibbons voted in favor of the two articles of impeachment that ultimately made it to the Senate — Article 1, which charged President Clinton with lying to the grand jury, and Article 3, which charged President Clinton for obstructing justice. Both representatives, however voted against impeaching President Clinton for a second count of perjury, and only Rep. Gibbons voted in favor of impeaching President Clinton for abuse of power

Unlike President Johnson’s impeachment, Nevada was not represented by Republicans in the Senate during President Clinton’s impeachment. Instead Nevada was represented by two senators, at least one of whom you almost certainly remember: Sen. Harry Reid and Sen. Richard Bryan. Additionally, unlike Andrew Johnson and Richard Nixon, President Clinton wasn’t particularly unpopular with the American public. When the Republican Party attempted to run explicitly on impeachment in 1998, instead of picking up 30 seats in the House as some anticipated, it lost five; this result ultimately convinced House Speaker Newt Gingrich to resign. Consequently, Nevada’s senatorial delegation, along with every other Democrat in the Senate, felt quite safe voting party line against removing their fellow Democrat from the White House, and did so

Today, for the first time in Nevada’s history, we won’t be represented exclusively by Republicans in Congress during a presidential impeachment. On the contrary, Republican representatives from Nevada are an endangered species. Unsurprisingly, Nevada’s Democratic congressional delegation has already spoken out in favor of impeachment — Reps. Susie Lee and Steven Horsford announced their support for impeachment in late September, and Rep. Dina Titus has been calling for impeachment since at least July. Rep. Amodei, being a Republican, has been considerably more reticent about the subject. 

Even so, if Rep. Amodei votes against even beginning impeachment, he would become the first Nevadan congressman — the first Republican congressman from Nevada, no less — to vote against a presidential impeachment. 

At the risk of sounding almost conservative, perhaps some traditions are made to be kept. 

David Colborne has been active in the Libertarian Party for two decades. During that time, he has blogged intermittently on his personal blog, as well as the Libertarian Party of Nevada blog, and ran for office twice as a Libertarian candidate. He serves on the Executive Committee for both his state and county Libertarian Party chapters. He is the father of two sons and an IT professional. You can follow him on Twitter @DavidColborne or email him at david.colborne@lpnevada.org