US needs third way out of this mess

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THERE'S good advice in the old saying one should avoid talking about politics or religion over Thanksgiving dinner.

Now that the turkey is settled, though, let's consider the effort to impeach President Trump.

Washington politics customarily is not my beat - we focus our attention on the Stateline Area and the states of Wisconsin and Illinois - but few issues involve every American to the extent this one does. It's hard to find anybody who is not paying attention, or, for that matter, anybody who hasn't already made up his or her mind. One thing is certain about this president: Few Americans are ambivalent. They either lionize him or can't stand him.

So what about impeachment?

NO ONE requires a crystal ball or a doctoral degree in political science to see where this is going.

After a few more weeks of committee meetings and pontificating, the House Judiciary Committee will report out one or more articles of impeachment against Trump. It appears likely one article will accuse the president of abuse of power over the Ukraine gambit pushing an investigation of political rival Joe Biden. Another will charge Trump with obstruction of Congress for defying subpoenas and refusing to allow witnesses to testify or documents to be disclosed. There may be more articles, but those two look certain to be brought forward.

Then the articles will advance to a full House vote. If a simple majority approves in the Democrat-controlled body, President Trump will be impeached and the matter will be referred to the Senate.

There can be some confusion over how the process works, so here's the outline. The Constitution gives the authority for impeachment to the House. That's the equivalent of an indictment - an accusation, or a charge. The Senate has sole authority to conduct a trial - presided over by the chief justice of the Supreme Court - to acquit or convict. A two-thirds vote is required for conviction and removal. Anything less is an acquittal. There is no appeal.

IT IS not surprising, in these harshly partisan times, the entire process is moving toward a strictly party-line decision.

Democrats firmly control the House and it is all but certain articles of impeachment will be reported out and sent to the Republican-controlled Senate.

Once it gets there?

Well, consider this: A few days ago leading Republican senators went to the White House to meet with administration planners to hash out strategy.

Think about that. Under the Constitution, all 100 senators will sit as jurors in any impeachment trial. Would it raise eyebrows if, for example, jurors for a trial at the Rock County Courthouse set up a private meeting to discuss strategies with defense counsel?

Impeachment is a political, more than a legal, process constitutionally, but the meeting still is cringe-worthy. The implication, though, is in keeping with the obvious. There's no way 20 or more Republican senators will cross lines to produce a two-thirds vote to convict and remove Trump. So here's the question: Why go through this?

IN POLITICS today, the partisan divide presents everything as a binary choice. Either this or that. No in-between. Impeach Trump and throw him out. Or acquit him so he can claim total vindication.

In my Heartland born-and-raised view, this situation screams for a third way.

Look, there's not much doubt Trump did it. He relied on an outside-normal-channels posse led by his private lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, to make it known to Ukraine's government he expected a public announcement that rival Joe Biden and his son were under corruption investigation. There's ample evidence to support that conclusion against Trump, and even Republican die-hards have stumbled and tried to change the subject rather than outright defend what was attempted. Remember: The Founders minced no words in making clear their adamant objections to courting any foreign influence in U.S. domestic politics.

Yet any conclusions based on the evidence run smack into Washington reality. Democrats want the political equivalent of the death penalty. Republicans will stop that in its tracks. The end result will be more division and anger in the country. And a failure to reach any kind of right or wrong conclusion on the merits. And a tweetstorm describing the partisan stalemate as evidence everything that was done was "perfect."

IT WASN'T, but the current path provides no opportunity for America's leaders to find reasonable middle ground and say so.

There is a way out, if the partisan warriors could lay down their arms long enough to consider it.

First, forget impeachment. It's destined to fail anyway, so why put the country through it?

Instead, lay out the evidence and propose a congressional censure of President Trump. Essentially, that would be a statement from Congress that what the president did was out of line and deserves a public reprimand. Trump stays in office, as he will anyway, and the record suggests he would follow by lashing out at anyone - Democrat or Republican - who dares tell him he went too far. So be it. Members would be standing up for the authority of Congress as a co-equal branch of government, making clear no executive can do whatever he wants without risking consequences.

Maybe that middle ground - a way to push back without seeking the death penalty - would even tempt some Republicans to follow their consciences and say, no, what happened is not "perfect."

Then America can move on, setting this episode aside, to the correct business of 2020 when voters fulfill their role and deliver the final verdict at the polls. He stays or he goes. Trust the people.

William Barth is the Editor of the Beloit Daily News.

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