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      •  Saturday Q&A, Impeachment Edition

Saturday Q&A, Impeachment Edition

As promised, today's Q&A is all about the big story of the week, namely Whistleblowergate and the move toward a possible impeachment. We got so many good questions, there's a chance we may have to devote part or all of next week's Q&A to the same subject.

Also, we try our best to make the site as accessible to as many people as is possible. We have had some messages advising us that using color to distinguish questions from answers may not be enough for people who are consuming the site through a text-to-speech reader, or those who have color blindness. So, we've added leading Q's and A's to give an additional separator for those folks.

Q: Please discuss the logic of going ahead with impeachment when there do not appear to be the necessary votes in the Senate to convict? My impression is that without a seismic shift in loyalty on the red side of the aisle, a trial in the Senate would only result in an embarrassing acquittal, typical of Bill Clinton's, one more fact for the Donald to gloat about and a diminished position for the Dems going into 2020. D.R., Omaha, NE

A: If we assume that the Democrats are being motivated by politics, then there are two answers to your question, we think. The first is that we have probably reached a point where many Democratic members of the House would be hurt with their voters if the Democratic caucus did not pursue impeachment. Some might be so disappointed in the party that they could keep their wallets in their pockets when it comes time for fundraising, could be unavailable for volunteer work, and could stay home or vote third party on Election Day. There's also a segment who could say, "Clearly, both parties are the same, and are both equally corrupt. Why vote for either?" This was the basic pitch of Ralph Nader, Ross Perot, and Jill Stein, among others.

The second "political" motivation goes like this: Because of what happened with Bill Clinton, there is a belief that impeachment could "help" Trump and the GOP. However, while Clinton was (slightly) rewarded during the 1998 midterm elections, that was when his impeachment was still getting underway. The trial itself took place in early 1999, and after a fair bit of Bill Clinton's dirty laundry had been aired, the Democrats suffered some pretty serious reverses at the polls in the next election. Most obviously, Al Gore could not hug Clinton and his economy close, and we ended up with an election decided by a narrow enough margin to put George W. Bush in the White House (after some chicanery).

On top of all this, the allegations against Donald Trump are far more serious than the ones against Clinton were, and the dirty laundry would be aired much closer to Election Day. Point is: the Clinton impeachment is a shaky precedent, at best, and there is a very good chance that even if Trump is "exonerated" by the Senate, he takes a bunch of damage, and some of the Senators who vote with him take some damage as well. In fact, some have argued that an impeachment without conviction is the single best scenario for the Democrats to regain both chambers and the White House, since that is the only sequence of events in which numerous GOP senators could be seriously injured by this whole situation.

Also not to be forgotten, the Democrats are going to try to get witnesses to testify in public. Some might refuse or clam up, but some might be willing to say devastating things about Trump. If that happens, public opinion could change on a dime and Republican senators might decide Trump was more of a liability than an asset and vote "guilty" in the Senate trial.

All of that said, we think it is likely that some (or all) Democrats are motivated by a higher purpose. You may be familiar with what Abraham Lincoln said when it was proposed that the Election of 1864 be postponed: "[I]f the War could force us to forego or postpone a national election it might fairly claim to have already conquered and ruled us." His point was that he would prefer to be defeated, as opposed to allowing a foundational aspect of American democracy to be besmirched so that he might remain in power. If Abe was alive today, he would likely judge the current situation to be similar. America's system of government is built on the notions that the president obeys the rule of law, places the nation's needs above his own, and is checked and balanced by the other two branches of government. If Trump is not formally called out on his actions, at least in some way, then it will do damage that goes far beyond a single election or officeholder. At a certain point, it becomes necessary to do the right thing, whether or not it is the politic thing.

Q: Why are no Democrats worried about a President Pence getting the Republican nomination and winning next year? J.T., Seattle, WA

A: If you accept what we wrote above, then there are bigger issues in play. With that said, to the extent that they have considered the matter, there are a number of reasons they are not worried. First, while it is now more likely than not that Trump will be impeached, conviction is still unlikely. Second, if Pence somehow did become president and he was the GOP candidate in 2020, he's an unusually weak presidential nominee. Not only would he be tainted by association with the impeached and convicted Trump in this scenario, but he's also got some very strange and/or offensive ideas (gay conversion, won't dine with a woman unless his wife is present, etc.). He wasn't especially popular in Indiana, and accepted the VP spot in part because his reelection as governor was in serious doubt, despite the Hoosier State being very red. If he tried to run a national campaign, well, he would make Barry Goldwater in 1964 and Walter Mondale in 1984 look like electoral powerhouses by comparison.

Also, depending on the timing, Pence is no shoo-in. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and former Ohio governor John Kasich might decide they want the nomination and Pence might get a nasty primary on his hands. For the Democrats, a bitter Republican primary would be a godsend.

Q: Suppose that Donald Trump is impeached, convicted by the Senate, and removed from office. Could Trump still run for President in 2020 and potentially be elected to another term, or would he be disqualified from running again? C.J., Honolulu, HI

A: This was one of the two most popular questions of the week, which is understandable because there's a lot of unclear or incorrect information out there. In fact, two of the Washington Post's politics reporters held an impeachment chat on Friday, and they gave an answer that was incorrect.

Anyhow, Article I, Section 3 of the Constitution is very clear on this point:

Judgment in Cases of Impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from Office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States.

So, if Trump is impeached by the House, and then is tried and convicted by the Senate, it will be time for the Senate to make a determination about the penalty for conviction. The clause above gives them three options, in theory: (1) removal from office, (2) removal from office and disqualification from future officeholding, and (3) disqualification from future officeholding. The third one would make little sense, however, so it's really just the first two options that are on the table. And, in the past, the Senate has sometimes chosen option #1, and sometimes has chosen option #2. For example, Judge Alcee Hastings was removed from his judicial office in 1989 but not barred from future officeholding, and was eventually elected to Congress, where he serves to this day. On the other hand, Judge Thomas Porteous was removed from office in 2010 and barred from future officeholding.

That means that Trump could indeed run in 2020, even if impeached and convicted, as long as the Senate does not bar him from future officeholding. In fact, some editorialists, such as Ohio State law professor Edward B. Foley, argue that this would be the single-best option available. That way, he says, the Congress would be able to express their opinion on what happened, and then the American public would get a chance to express their opinion.

Q: Are the penalties for any of Trump's behaviors codified? If he was convicted by the Senate (not likely), how would a penalty be determined? E.S., Santa Fe, NM

A: Well, per the passage from the Constitution we quote above, they are codified. After impeachment and conviction, he can be removed from office and/or barred from future officeholding. That's it.

Impeachment is not a criminal proceeding. If Trump is to be punished for something like obstruction of justice or influence peddling, then that would be a matter for the courts, and not the Congress. Those crimes (mostly) have codified penalties, too, but we're not going to list them all because there are a lot of things he might plausibly be charged with, he could be charged multiple times for breaking the same law (e.g., multiple counts of money laundering), and the statutory penalty sometimes varies depending on where the charges are filed (e.g., New York vs. D.C.). It is enough to say that Trump, as a man in his seventies, could plausibly be looking at spending the rest of his life in prison.

It may be that, for some folks, the distinction between an impeachment and a criminal trial has become blurry because Richard Nixon was pardoned by Gerald Ford. In Nixon's case, his resignation brought an end to impeachment proceedings, since there was no longer an office to remove him from, and since he surely was never going to run for office again. The pardon that Ford issued kept Nixon from being put on trial, in federal court, for his misdeeds.

Q: You have written on numerous occasions that Trump has a coating of Teflon on him so that no dirt seems to stick to him with a large segment of the population. I agree, and I believe the main cause of this is because he has very effectively undermined trust in the press. Like Vladimir Putin, he has relentlessly attacked press that isn't deferential to him as "fake news." His supporters have consistently denied the reality of damaging revelations as "nothingburgers" and that strategy has worked so far to keep him out of hot water.

Now that Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is forging ahead with impeachment hearings, do you think this strategy will continue to work? Trump may be able to dismiss bad press, but I don't see how that will work against Pelosi. She has real power to confront people in the Trump administration through subpoenas. The inquiries will require Trump's defenders to rebut damaging evidence and testimony presented to them face-to-face, and denying reality by yelling "fake news" doesn't seem like it will work as a legal strategy in an impeachment hearing.
R.M.S., Lebanon, CT

A: This might be the single most important part of the puzzle, and it's really not getting enough attention. Trump has done an excellent job of cutting some of America's best newspapers and websites off at the knees, such that the 45% of the American public who still approves of him is basically paying no attention to what those outlets have to say. We're talking the New York Times, Washington Post, Politico, CNN, MSNBC, etc.

What the President should be worried about, however, are two things: (1) visual media, and (2) right-leaning media. By the first, we mean television in particular, but also things like YouTube. People tend to trust what they see vastly more than what they read. If people see the testimony of a White House insider on the evening news, and that person is saying things like "Yeah, this sort of thing happened all the time—you wouldn't believe how many world leaders he tried to blackmail in order to get Hillary Clinton's alleged e-mails," that would be very damaging. Pelosi, of course, knows this.

The loss of the right-wing media would arguably be even worse. Before working on today's Q&A, (Z) perused some of those outlets, and found that many remain in lockstep with Trump. For example, the Daily Wire's Ben Shapiro—who had a run as a "principled" Never Trumper that lasted at least a week or two—spent all day Friday tweeting that there is nothing to see here. The lead piece on The Federalist on Friday, by former Rick Perry staffer Sean Davis, argues that the whistleblower has no credibility because their testimony is secondhand. Over at Fox News, Sean Hannity toted Trump's water, as usual, taking great pains to explain why the administration's decision to try to hide the Ukraine phone call (and others) was no big deal. In short, the basic lines of attack—this is nothing, you can't believe the whistleblower, there's nothing wrong with burying presidential phone calls in an ultra-secure NSA system—are already crystallizing.

That said, there are already a few cracks in the armor. Most obviously, Matt Drudge, who was the #1 Internet cheerleader for Bill Clinton's impeachment, has been taking a stance that is generally supportive of the Democrats' inquiry. Some outlets—not only the Daily Wire and the Federalist, but also Breitbart, InfoWars, and the Daily Caller—are basically just propagandists, and are unlikely to ever turn. But some outlets, most obviously Fox and the Wall Street Journal, employ some real reporters, and could end up taking a stance that is adversarial to Trump.

Q: Given the well-established reality that the Republican Party outside of a few governors in the Northeast is a wholly-owned Trump subsidiary, could there truly be a straw that breaks the proverbial camel's back, in terms of impeachment and conviction? And if so, is there any inkling of which Republican senator or congressman has enough spine to start that break? J.R., Atlanta, GA

A: Absolutely. Our hypothetical above—some really devastating testimony from a White House insider—is one possibility. If the actual transcript of the Ukraine phone call is produced, and it becomes clear that the three ellipses were used to hide some really ugly stuff, that's another. If other phone calls that were buried in the NSA's server come to light, and they are just as bad, that's a third. And all of these are just the known unknowns. There could also be unknown unknowns out there. After all, nobody knew 10 days ago that a phone call to Ukraine would be the greatest crisis of the crisis-ridden Trump presidency.

The thing to watch, of course, is the polling. For any Republican senator, there are a certain percentage of voters who will stick with them regardless, because of the (R) next to their name. There are also a certain percentage who will turn against them if they turn against Trump, and a certain percentage who will turn against them if they do not turn against Trump. At the moment, the latter group is much smaller than the former group. Polls will let us know if the balance is changing.

As to a senator whose defection might be the tipping point, that is a very interesting question. Presumably, that person would have to be willing to defect and their defection would have to send a message to the rest of the caucus. There are several senators that we could see defecting, but whose doing so would be dismissed for one reason or another: Mitt Romney (hates Trump), Susan Collins (too liberal), Rand Paul (too mavericky). There are also some senators who simply will never defect, like Mike Lee or Richard Shelby.

Anyhow, with those two constraints in mind, we will propose the names of three senators who could be the "tipping point" senator. The first, and most obvious, is Mitch McConnell. He values his own hide above all others, and is more than willing to turn on a dime if he believes it serves his needs. Naturally, if he flips, it's big trouble for the President, given his parliamentary powers. The second is Chuck Grassley. He is an old-school Republican at heart, and is none-too-happy about things like the trade war. He also commands enormous respect among his colleagues. The third is Lindsey Graham. He's been outspokenly anti-Trump and outspokenly pro-Trump, and would really benefit from one of those artificial spines that they sell on Amazon. Anyhow, his point of view is so thoroughly shaped by whatever way the political winds are blowing that anyone inside of Washington or out would take it as a major sign if the Senator announced that he was voting for impeachment.

Q: So, is there any indication that calls to Vladimir Putin are on the super secret computer? Clearly, they would be a gold mine! E.S., Maine, NY

A: There is every indication that this is the case. Indeed, one of the main stories on Friday was the report that administration insiders went to extreme lengths to keep Trump's phone calls with Putin and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman secret, even from others within the White House. Under those circumstances, it is inconceivable that the secret computer wasn't used for the transcripts. The problem here for the Democrats is that it is hard to subpoena something you don't even know exists for sure and which is classified "Only for the commander in chief" to boot.

Q: What are the chances we will ever actually hear a full audio or written transcript of the now infamous phone call, and any others that have been put into the highly classified computer? N.P., Ames, IA

A: There are conflicting reports as to whether or not a recording was made and, if so, if it still exists. However, the verbatim transcript definitely does exist. It seems impossible that document can be kept from House Democrats forever. And unless it contains sensitive national security information—and those who are in the know say it does not—then it will be made public, one way or another. So, we think the smart bet is that we will eventually read the full phone call, whether or not we hear it.

As to other phone calls, our guess is that some of those could become public too, following the same basic reasoning. Maybe a little less likely than the Ukraine call, just because there is so much attention being paid to them.

Q: How do these hearings compare to the Benghazi hearings and Hillary Clinton? Did the Obama administration obstruct that investigation? Stonewalling questioning, not sending documents to Congress, etc.? Is this just partisan politics as usual or is the White House behaving unprecedentedly? L.M., Chapel Hill, NC

A: It is not easy to compare them. First of all, the current phase of impeachment is only a few days old, while there were actually a dozen rounds of Benghazi hearings that lasted many years. Second, the Trump hearings are already supported with ample evidence, whereas the Benghazi hearings were much more of a fishing expedition.

That said, it is certainly possible to compare the response of the two administrations, at least thus far. Obviously, the Obama administration did not give Congressional Republicans everything they asked for, particularly on first request. There were even some things where the courts got involved. In the end, however, Team Obama gave up quite a lot, including tens of thousands of e-mails, and tens of thousands of pages of documents. Members of the administration sat for over 100 hours of interviews, and many of them appeared before Congress to testify. Most famously, Hillary Clinton presented herself for grilling on October 22, 2015, and spent 11 hours answering questions without restrictions from the President.

There has been no matter where the Trump administration has cooperated at anything close to this level, and there's no reason to think that is going to change during the impeachment inquiry. The extent of their stonewalling, from ignoring subpoenas, to refusing to submit documents, to making a mockery of hearings when folks do show up, is certainly unprecedented. That said, the Nixon administration was at least in the same ballpark, particularly in 1972 and 1973.

Q: Do you think that a successful impeachment and subsequent conviction by the Senate of President Trump could tarnish the larger populist movement? And might others making this projection lead to the Senatorial tide turning against the President much faster than typically forecast, as a swath of heretofore reluctantly Trumpy GOP congressmen seize the opportunity to take a mulligan on Trumpism? And further afield, do you think that a Trump impeachment could have a chilling effect on even the populist movement in the U.K., possibly influencing (or reversing) the Brexit movement? E.D., Tempe, AZ

A: The forces that create populist movements, including the original one of the 1890s, are things like economic privation, social change, and anger. Politicians do not invent these things, they merely harness them to their own benefit, as Trump did.

Whatever happens to the President, it's not going to change the underlying forces that give rise to populist sentiment. Nor is it going to shame those who are a part of such movements, as they do not really perceive themselves as an identity group. What we do believe, however, is that there is no politician in the country who is capable of harnessing populist fervor the way Trump did, and still does. Someone like Ted Cruz or Mike Pence or Tucker Carlson might try, but they will fail. There was only one William Jennings Bryan 120 years ago, and there's only one Donald John Trump today. And so, the day Trump exits the stage, whether by impeachment and conviction, or by being defeated at the ballot box, or by reaching his term limit, American populism will be significantly weakened because it will have lost its only politically viable leader (and remember, even he got elected by only the barest of margins). And once the populists have no viable leader, it will no longer be practicable to wield them as a weapon against non-populist members of Congress, so those folks will indeed try to take a mulligan.

If British populism declines, it won't be because of events in the U.S., it will be because it too loses its leader. Although it's at least plausible that BoJo could be replaced by Nigel Farage, we suppose.

Q: I understand that if the House impeaches the President, the Senate then holds a trial with the Chief Justice presiding to determine if, by a two-thirds majority, the President will be removed from office. My question is, how much power does Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) have over this process? We know McConnell often changes Senate rules when he perceives things won't go his way. Can he actually change the rules on the trial procedures or can he actually stop a trial completely? M.S., Los Angeles, CA

A: This was the other most popular question of the week, along with "can Trump run in 2020?" To start, there is no historical precedent to rely upon here. The first time a president was impeached (Andrew Johnson), the position of majority leader did not exist. The second time (Bill Clinton), the majority leader (Trent Lott) was a member of the other party. There is therefore no instance of a majority leader putting a president from his own party on trial. So, any answer to your question is, at best, an educated guess.

To start with, here is what the Constitution has to say about impeachment trials:

The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments. When sitting for that Purpose, they shall be on Oath or Affirmation. When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside: And no Person shall be convicted without the Concurrence of two thirds of the Members present.

Beyond that, impeachment trials are governed by the rules of the Senate. If you would like to read the rules for yourself, here they are, starting on page 223. The executive summary is that there is supposed to be a real trial, with a prosecution and a defense, which is supposed to start promptly upon receipt of the articles impeachment from the House (i.e., within a matter of days).

Needless to say, McConnell has a well-deserved reputation for ignoring rules, bending rules, rewriting rules, and flat out dragging his feet. It is certainly possible that he could pull a Merrick Garland, and stop the trial from happening, or could turn the trial into a sham. That would not be out of character, and would certainly be within his expansive powers. You can find lots of op-eds right now that warn about or predict this outcome; for example, here is one from Henry Olsen, a lawyer who works at think tanks, and has also served as a Republican consultant.

With that said, there are three things that will make it very difficult for McConnell to take liberties with the process. The first is that he would be significantly risking his own neck to protect Trump's. The "Moscow Mitch" nickname has seriously rattled the Majority Leader, in our view. How much worse would things get if he presented Trump with a "Get out of Impeachment Free" card?

Second, even if McConnell is willing to take chances with his political fortunes, he would need the votes of a majority of his caucus to change the rules, specifically the rule calling for a quick trial. He may not be able to find 49 other votes from Senators willing to bend or rewrite the rules to protect Trump.

Third, John Roberts may be a conservative, but he also appears to be a straight shooter who believes in the Constitution. He may not be happy presiding over a sham trial and, if he ends up butting heads with McConnell, may point out that the Chief Justice's role in the trial is constitutionally mandated, while the position of senate majority leader has no constitutional basis at all. Should Roberts require a court ruling in support of his views, we suspect he may know someone who can fast-track a Supreme Court hearing.

Our prediction, then, is that if the House adopts articles of impeachment, the Senate will have to hold a real trial. McConnell and his colleagues may take steps to limit the length and scope of the trial, but they'll still have to hold it, and in a timely manner.

Q: Now that impeachment has been given a shot in the arm, what will likely happen to those states that canceled their Republican primaries if Trump is seriously wounded or ousted? P.G.F., Baltimore, MD

A: In the short term, nothing. The folks who made those decisions did so because they really like Trump. Changing their minds now would not only be embarrassing, it would also be tantamount to announcing that they think the President is in deep trouble. They do not wish to communicate that sentiment.

If it becomes clear, at some point, that Trump cannot or will not be the candidate, then it depends on when that becomes clear. Obviously, if given enough warning, the primaries could be rescheduled. More likely, however, the delegates would have to be selected by the annual meeting of the state parties, which usually happens a month or so before the Republican National Convention.

Q: Can you explain "executive privilege" and how/why the president and all his family/associates seem to be able to use it as a Get out of Jail Free card? Can you frame executive privilege in a historical context? D.M., Granite Bay, CA

A: The legal and philosophical underpinnings of the doctrine predate the Constitution, and even the United States. For many centuries, English common law recognized that portions of the British government (say, the Parliament) could not universally compel cooperation from other portions (say, the Crown). The Founding Parents, having built a government based on separation of powers, took this basic notion as a given. George Washington was not only the first president, he was also the first president to assert executive privilege. On several occasions, he declined to provide documents related to diplomatic negotiations with which his administration was involved.

Most of the presidents who followed Washington also availed themselves of the executive privilege, on occasion, but it was not until Nixon that the doctrine was really fleshed out and put to the test. In what was, and still is, the most significant court ruling on the subject, the Supreme Court ruled in United States v. Nixon that there are clear limits to executive privilege and that (in this case) the President could not keep the Watergate tapes a secret. Nixon was out of office less than three weeks after that ruling.

These days, it is generally understood that there are two types of privilege. The first, "presidential communications privilege," covers certain kinds of communications between the president and the rest of the executive branch. The second, "deliberative process privilege," covers executive branch decision-making. The general notion is that there are certain circumstances where the president (and his or her underlings) are entitled to privacy and to being free from interference from the other branches.

That said, executive privilege is not all-encompassing, and is certainly not a Get out of Jail Free card. If an invocation of executive privilege is challenged in court, then the administration has to make a compelling argument for why privacy is necessary and appropriate. And even if they do that effectively, they may still lose if their opponent (say, Congress) can make a case that there is a compelling national interest that outweighs the executive branch's right to privacy.

In short, Trump might buy himself some time by exerting executive privilege, but he's going to lose a whole bunch of lawsuits once they get before the courts.

Q: Undoubtedly Trump will try to claim executive privilege many times over the next few months. My question is, if a person REALLY wants to spill her guts about what she's seen in the White House, and the President declares privilege, what recourse does the White House have? M.C., Lincoln, NE

A: Not much. A witness cannot publicly reveal classified information, but that would not likely come into play here, and even if it did, a committee (or the whole House) could go into closed session. Trump also made his underlings sign confidentiality agreements, but those are almost certainly not enforceable, and even if they were, it would be a civil matter (money) not a criminal one.

Most importantly, executive privilege—as a doctrine rooted in precedent and common law, and not in statute (see above)—protects people (in some circumstances) who refuse to share information. However, there is no basis for it to work in the opposite direction—there is no punishment for those who choose to share information. In other words, a person cannot be sentenced to 5-10 years in Leavenworth because they violated executive privilege.

On top of all of this, there is also immunity. Should it be decided that a witness is taking a risk by testifying, a Congressional committee can vote to grant them partial or total immunity from prosecution. It takes a 2/3 vote of the committee members, and it has to be sent to a judge for their signature (who is legally required to sign), but the option is on the table. That said, the purpose for doing this would not be to protect the witness from recrimination from Trump, it would be to cause them to tell the truth about incidents where they may have committed illegal acts.

Q: Whenever the presidency becomes vacant, whether by resignation, death, or impeachment, one of the new president's necessary acts is to select a new vice president to fill out the remainder of the term before the next election. The selection must be approved by both the House and the Senate. Should the vice presidency be vacated in the next year, say by Trump being removed and Mike Pence being elevated, do you think the hyperpartisanship these days makes it possible we'll be without VP until the elections, since no candidate will be able to get a majority in the House AND Senate? J.S., Rijswijk, Netherlands

A: It's certainly very possible. After all, Congress regularly fails to pass a budget these days. If they're unable to keep the machine running at all times, why wouldn't they be willing to allow one relatively small cog in the machine to be missing for a few months?

If a new VP was to be appointed, it would presumably have to be a left-leaning Republican (Susan Collins? Lisa Murkowski?) or a right-leaning Democrat (Dan Lipinski? Joe Manchin?). It's also possible that Congress could go with an elder-statesman type to serve as a placeholder. For example, Sam Nunn was well respected by both parties, and obviously has no long-term political ambitions at 81 years of age. Or, if you prefer someone from the other side of the aisle, maybe Elizabeth Dole, who is 83.

The real problem is this: If Donald Trump is booted out of office, Republicans are going to be in no mood to compromise on a Democratic replacement for Mike Pence. And Democrats are going to be none-too-willing to compromise on a Republican replacement, since they would know that as long as the VP slot is open, Nancy Pelosi is next in line to be president.

If we were forced to venture a guess, we think the Republicans' fear of a President Pelosi (and all the executive orders she might sign) would eventually get to them and they would be willing to accept Susan Collins as veep. She's a woman, which might get them some female votes in 2020 and with 22 years in the Senate, no one will say she is inexperienced. However, that has a real downside for them (and upside for the Democrats). While Collins would probably never become president, Gov. Janet Mills (D-ME) would immediately get to appoint a Democrat to Collins' seat. And that Democrat would probably be Sara Gideon (47), speaker of the Maine House, who is currently running for Collins' seat. As an incumbent in a bluish state, she would be the heavy favorite for reelection. So the deal would be "In return for not having Pelosi be a heartbeat away from the presidency, you have to give us a Senate seat for the next 40 years."

Q: If Trump were to be removed from office, the vice president would take his place. However (hypothetically), if Pence were to be implicated in the same wrongdoing as Trump and also removed from office, or if the Vice Presidency were otherwise vacant, then we would be left with the unusual scenario where the removal of a Republican president would cause him to be replaced by a member of the opposition (Pelosi). What is your take on how, politically, Pelosi would (or would be expected) to handle such a scenario? Head a strictly caretaker administration? Appoint a Republican vice president and resign? Step aside in favor of the (Republican) Senate President Pro Tempore? Or would she simply become a president like any other, despite having a mandate potentially called into question by being a member of the party that had lost the most recent presidential election? W.S., Berlin, Germany

A: We think this scenario is rather unlikely. It would require not only that Trump be impeached and convicted, but that the same happen to Pence. Pence may well be, and probably is, an enabler of the administration's misdeeds, but he's clever enough not to leave himself exposed. Certainly, he's much cleverer than Trump is in that regard.

That said, if it somehow comes to pass that Pelosi ends up as president for a few months, her primary goal would be to minimize any backlash against her party. It's unlikely she would resign, since the Constitution says what it says. But she would certainly make a reach-across-the-aisle VP pick. She might also point out that she would be delighted to sign legislation on infrastructure, health care, the dreamers, etc., should the Senate care to send her a bill. That would not happen, of course, so she would spend most of her time campaigning, and doing interviews and photo ops.

Don't forget, tomorrow we plan to run some reader mail, with your thoughts on impeachment. Please send 'em along, if you've got 'em, and make sure to include your initials and city.

If you have a question about politics, civics, history, etc. you would like us to answer on the site, please send it to, and include your initials and city of residence. If you have a comment about the site or one of the items therein, please send it to and include your initials and city of residence in case we decide to publish it. If you spot any typos or other errors on the site that we should fix, please let us know at
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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Sep27 Thar She Blows!
Sep27 Maguire Speaks Much, Says Little in Testimony before House Intelligence Committee
Sep27 Support for Impeachment Is Growing
Sep27 Wanna Bet Trump Gets Impeached?
Sep27 While You Weren't Looking
Sep27 Issa to Challenge Hunter in California
Sep27 Tom Price May Be Back
Sep26 Is This a Smoking Gun?
Sep26 The Historian's Perspective
Sep26 Whistleblower Complaint Sent to Congress
Sep26 Senate Republicans Express Disdain for Impeachment Articles
Sep26 Is This 1974 or 1998?
Sep26 Warren Leads Nationally
Sep26 Warren Leads in California
Sep26 Progressive Candidates Announce Progress
Sep25 An Im-Peachy Day in Washington
Sep25 Trump Distractions Aren't Very Distracting
Sep25 Democratic Debates Lurch Forward
Sep25 The State of the State Polls
Sep25 Bevin Hires New Campaign Manager
Sep24 Whistleblowergate Picks up Steam
Sep23 Ann Selzer: Warren Leads in Iowa
Sep23 Trump Admits That He Discussed Biden with Ukrainian Leader
Sep23 Pennsylvania and Wisconsin Have Lost Factory Jobs This Year
Sep23 Democrats Will Target 26,000 Local Races
Sep23 Alaska Cancels Republican Primary
Sep23 What Are the Candidates Worth?
Sep23 Bill de Blasio Calls It Quits
Sep23 Booker Is Close to Calling It Quits
Sep23 Rand Paul Tries to Block Liz Cheney's Senate Ambitions
Sep21 Saturday Q&A
Sep20 The ?-gate Plot Thickens
Sep20 McConnell Now Wants $250 Million for Election Security
Sep20 Trump's Tax Returns Are Keeping the Courts Busy
Sep20 Withdrawn FEMA Nominee's Issue: He Got into a Bar Fight
Sep20 Harris All-in on Iowa
Sep20 National Polls Say the Democratic Race Is as Easy as 1, 2, 3
Sep20 DNC Has Lots of Oppo Research on Trump
Sep19 Polls: Warren and Biden are Neck and Neck in Iowa
Sep19 Poll: Biden Leads in Florida
Sep19 Trump's FEMA Nominee Is a Disaster
Sep19 Whistleblower Targeted Trump
Sep19 NSA #3 Blasts Trump
Sep19 Trump Picks Robert O'Brien as NSA #4
Sep19 Trump May Face a Domestic Crisis: A General Motors Strike
Sep19 Americans Are Not Keen on Impeaching Trump
Sep19 Fed Lowers Interest Rates Again
Sep19 Sanders Unveils "Housing for All" Plan
Sep19 Warren Took 4,000 Selfies in New York
Sep19 Nine Democrats Will Take Part in an LGBTQ Town Hall on CNN