Impeachment Inquiry Into Trump Proceeds

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi announced a formal impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump on Sept. 24, involving alleged abuses of power. The inquiry has resulted in intense backlash from President Trump and has incited a formal investigation into the events surrounding a phone conversation between Trump and Ukranian President Vladimry Zelenski.

“The actions of the Trump presidency revealed the dishonorable fact of the president’s betrayal of his oath of office, betrayal of our national security and betrayal of integrity of our elections,” Pelosi said as she announced the impeachment inquiry to the nation on Sept. 24. The issue under investigation is a phone conversation between Trump and Zelenski. In the conversation, a redacted transcript of which was released by the Trump administration shortly after Pelosi’s announcement, Trump asks Zelenski to look into information regarding a potential past offense of Joe Biden, the former Vice President and current democratic frontrunner for the 2020 presidential election.

Specifically, he says in the call “There’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great. Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it … It sounds horrible to me.” The prosecution referred to was the Ukranian prosecution of the oil company Burisma Holdings in 2016, of which Biden’s son Hunter was on the Board of Directors. The company was under investigation for corruption by Viktor Shokin, the former Ukranian Prosecutor General who unsuccessfully attempted to tackle Ukranian corruption. On a Vice-Presidential anti-corruption visit to Ukraine, Biden pressured the Ukranian government to dismiss Shokin on account of his failure to meaningfully tackle corruption, an action complicated by his son’s position in the under-investigation Burisma Holdings. In the phone call, Trump asked Zelenski to look into Biden’s role in ending this prosecution.

The phone-call was brought to government attention by an anonymous whistle-blower, who filed a formal complaint against what they perceived as illegal or questionable activity, using the transcript as evidence for what they viewed as wider manipulation and illegal influence with Ukraine.   

The inquiry progresses with Rep. Adam Schiff, D-CA, the House Intelligence Committee Chairman, at the helm.  As the aggressive investigation continues, tension between the Democratic-led House and the White House is apparent. On Oct. 4, the House subpoenaed the White House for documents related to the impeachment inquiry, following through with a threat made earlier in the week through Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-MD, Head of the Oversight Committee

In response to the impeachment inquiry, Trump accused the whistleblower, Pelosi, and Schiff of various allegations. Chief among these is an allegation that Schiff aided the whistleblower in writing the filed complaint, an allegation based loosely upon the fact that the whistleblower did meet with House Intelligence Committee Staff before submitting the report. Schiff denies any direct involvement with the whistleblower or knowledge of the exact complaint before he became a part of the inquiry.

Since Pelosi’s announcement, Trump has spoken out avidly on Twitter in response to the inquiry, calling it the “Greatest Witch Hunt in the history of our Country!” and saying “All the Do Nothing Democrats are focused on is Impeaching the President for having a very good conversation with the Ukrainian President.” He has further targeted Pelosi and Schiff. His anger was evident in a news conference with visiting Finnish President Sauli Väinämö, on Oct. 2, in which he called Schiff “treasonous” and said Pelosi “Hands out subpoenas like cookies.” 

According to Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution, a removal from office due to impeachment requires “Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other High Crimes and Misdemeanors.” If the impeachment inquiry succeeds, it will be brought to the House of Representatives, in which a majority vote will result in formal impeachment. The decision will then be shifted to the Senate, where a two-thirds majority vote will result in the removal of the president from office. 

Briana Urbina Brings Her Campaign to St. Mary’s

Briana Urbina is the thirty-five year-old former lawyer and teacher looking to unseat Rep. Steny Hoyer to represent members of Maryland’s fifth district. Urbina and her now-wife initially moved from New York to Maryland six years ago in search of a state with marriage equality and a diverse community. After living here for six years and adopting her son, Urbina cannot think of another place that she would rather live.

Urbina expressed that her experiences “teaching in a broken school system” and “practicing law in a broken legal system” prepared her for Congress. Urbina stated that her time as a lawyer led her to better understand the inequities in the criminal justice system and the need for prison to be a place of rehabilitation instead of punishment. Additionally, Urbina’s experience as a school teacher and the primary caretaker of her disabled brother informed her view on childhood and college education.

Elaborating on her platform, Urbina, who identifies herself as a left-wing Democrat, supports single-payer healthcare, free preschool,college with debt forgiveness, the Green New Deal (a bill that would place a moratorium on the closure of public housing), a $15 federal minimum wage and a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, to name a few positions. 

When it comes to foreign policy, Urbina is critical of the government’s role in the Middle East. Urbina acknowledged that Israelis face real violence and that at this point Palestine will not go back to its 1946 borders, but claimed the US “can’t be a broker of peace when we back Israel.” Urbina stated that “Palestinians live in apartheid-like conditions” and proposed a one-state solution, in which Israel and Palestine are governed by a secular democracy. More broadly Urbina criticized the government’s tendency to condemn the human rights violations of countries that America does not get resources from while downplaying the actions of allies, like Saudi Arabia, that also have poor practices.

Refocusing to policies that directly affect St. Mary’s students, Urbina said that students should vote for her because she is “the only candidate who has served my community every day I live.” Urbina emphasized that she taught in schools that nobody wanted to teach in, represented immigrants in court, organized to support transgender rights in 2008 when gay marriage was still controversial among Democrats. As previously mentioned, Urbina supports college free at the point of service and favors further consumer protection against predatory for-profit college. Urbina emphasized that she personally experienced exploitation by a for-profit college and now holds over $300,000 in college debt which gives her a unique perspective into the problems that college students face. 

In the face of the recent gun scare on camps, Urbina also laid out her positions on gun control. Urbina stated that she has not seen gun control legislation that she does not support. To combat the gun violence epidemic Urbina, at a minimum, supports an assault weapons ban, a national gun registry, and de-escalation training in schools to stop school shooters from getting to the point where they would pull the trigger. To further combat the root causes of gun violence, Urbina called for more community initiatives to reduce isolation and depression among potential shooters as well as greater funding for mental health services.

Despite all of her plans, Urbina has a long road to unseating the fifth district’s incumbent, Rep. Steny Hoyer. Hoyer is the chair of the Democratic Caucus and has served in Congress since 1981. According to Open Secrets, Hoyer has around one million dollars on hand and has plenty of connections that will help him in his reelection bid. When asked how she plans to beat the seemingly insurmountable opposition of Hoyer and become the first woman of color to represent the fifth district Urbina hinted that Hoyer is a paper tiger. 

Making comparisons to Alexandria Ocasio Cortez unseating former Rep. Joe Crowly, NY-D, Urbina stated that she will better serve the fifth district by speaking out instead of collecting corporate money. Building on that point Urbina stated that “it’s not about the money or the metrics. It’s about the movement.” 

Constitution Day Celebrated at St. Mary's

Law Professor Garrett Epps of the University of Baltimore spoke to students on the meaning of the Constitution, in his lecture entitled “What Does the Constitution Really Say?” honoring this year’s Constitution Day.

The lecture, held on September 15 in the Glendenning Annex, was co-sponsored by the The Center for the Study of Democracy and The Political Science Department. It was an alternative perspective into what the Constitution’s original purpose was. It was, as Professor Michael Cain stated, a talk of the “beauty of the Constitution.”

Epps notes that within the debate over the intent of the Constitution, the text of the Constitution is often missing. He states that “Americans love the Constitution, but have barely read it.” Thus he elaborated the literal meaning of the work and the parallels he draws to the modern American interpretation.

As Epps noted, ordinary citizens have little interest in the Constitution, yet “there are a number of ways to read [it.]” His discussion posed questions concerning the time period in which the work was written and how the Framers did not expect the the Constitution to last nearly as long as it has. He engaged the audience by comparing the first story in the Odyssey to the Constitution; it was the first occasion of a governing body. Epps’ critique on American culture and perspective actively opened the debate of the Constitution, noting that we know one thing of the Framers intentions: “they intended to write the words [that are] written on the paper.”

The conclusion of his talk left time for questioning and a signing of Epps’ book, Democracy Reborn: The Fourteenth Amendment and the Fight for Equal Rights in Post-Civil War America. Senior Pamela Schrenk stated that “[it was] nice to get a perspective from someone who is not your professor…it gave me a lot to think about.”

In the future, the Center of Study of Democracy is organizing upwards of 30 more events and speakers to come to campus.

Professor Panel Discusses Status of War

As part of the political science department’s ongoing lecture series, a panel made up SMCM’s very own political science professors Susan Grogan and Todd Eberly discuss what it means to be at war.

They said that in recent years, there has been a widening “disconnect” between what war is and is not.  The U.S. Constitution, Article 1 Section 8, gives the power to declare war to Congress.  However, the United States Congress has not declared war since World War II.  In other words, you could say that since 1945, the United States has been at peace.

Yet, in the past 65 years, the United States has been involved with many “armed conflicts” that include but are not limited to conflicts in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, and now Libya.  This leads to the central questions of the talk: what counts as a war and who determines what it is?

According to Grogan, who gave a brief history of war in the United States, Congress has on several occasions deferred the war-making powers to the President without declaring war. For example, Congress authorized President John Adams to use privateers against the French government, and President Thomas Jefferson had Congress authorize military actions against the Barbary Pirates.

The most impressive authorization without a declaration of war from Congress was the Civil War.  According to Grogan, the Civil War was not a legal war and that the name is actually a misnomer; a better name for the conflict would be “The Great Suppression.”  Eberly seconded this comment by saying that the Civil War should really be called the great “Civil Police Action.”

Eberly then discussed the two opposing views within political science about if the President should have the power to use the military and force without authorization of Congress.  On the one hand, it could be argued that the world has changed and that the country needs a President who can make quick decisions about the use of force without waiting for Congress to debate.  On the other hand, there is the belief that even if times have changed, one can not run around the Constitution.

“If we like the [President having more war-making powers], we have to change the Constitution,” Eberly said, “the Constitution is the law.”

Even though the Congress in the past has authorized the use of force, in the present case of Libya, President Obama has not asked for authorization from Congress, thereby skipping the branch entirely.   There is now questions whether this was the legal move.

Eberly continued by saying that he is, “hung up on if American force in Libya is legal or constitutional.”

After the discussion ended, several members of the audience asked questions. One concerned student asked, “can we fix this problem by defining what ‘war’ means?” Grogan answered by pointing to the War Powers Act.  This act was Congress’ attempt to regulate the President’s power after Vietnam; however, it did not work.  This act has opened the door to a greater increase of power, since the President is allowed to send troops for a set period of time before he must ask for re-authorization.

Grogan ended the talk by saying that in the end, if Congress wants the power, it must fight for it.  “Congress doesn’t call the President out,” concluded Grogan.

Sophomore and former student in Eberly’s American Politics class Kristen Diehl said she “found [the talk] very interesting, including the question whether its right or legal for the President to send troops into conflict without Congress’ approval.”