It is an iconic moment in modern American history, the day in 1974 when the leaders of the Republican Party in Congress went to the White House to tell a Republican president he was through — that facing all but certain impeachment in a Democrat-controlled Congress, he couldn’t rely on support from his fellow Republicans. The day after that visit from Sen. Barry Goldwater of Arizona, Senate Minority Leader Hugh Scott of Pennsylvania, and House Minority Leader John Rhodes of Arizona, Richard Nixon resigned.
As impeachment proceedings officially began in the House this week, speculation quickly turned to how they might end in the Senate. Articles of impeachment are drafted and voted on in the House, leading to a trial in the Senate. Unlike in 1974, Republicans now have a Senate majority. It would therefore require at least 20 votes from Donald Trump’s own party to reach the 67 necessary to remove him as president, assuming all Democrats and the two independents all vote to convict.
Could it happen? Thus far, Trump’s reputed stranglehold on the Republican base and his threats to support primary challenges to incumbents who oppose him have kept virtually the entire party in his corner. Rep. Justin Amash, the (very conservative) Michigan Republican, became the exception that proves the rule when he came out in favor of impeachment and was essentially thrown out of the party.
But it’s good to remember that in the early days of Watergate it had seemed unlikely that Republican minds would change, either. A year before his final trip to the Nixon White House, Goldwater had told Time magazine: “Watergate is the concern of every Republican I talk to. But both conservatives and liberals in the party are ready to stand behind the president.”
History similarly records as an act of courage and conscience the question posed in June 1973 in the Senate by Howard Baker Jr. of Tennessee: “What did the president know and when did he know it?” In fact, Baker was less interested in getting to the truth than in setting up a defense of Nixon. The question was directed at White House lawyer John Dean, aiming to get Dean to confirm that Nixon did not play a role in either the break-in at Democratic campaign headquarters or the subsequent cover-up. Instead, Dean testified to three dozen discussions with Nixon about that cover-up. READ MORE