Earlier this week, Vice President Mike Pence was formally implicated in the scandal revealed by the whistle-blower complaint related to President Donald Trump’s July 25th phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Welcome to Trump World, Mr. Vice President. No, the stench will not ever wear off.
Seriously, is there anyone in the world, other than his own children, who can make the argument that their life is better, their future brighter, for having in any way interacted with Donald Trump? The irony is staggering. Trump equates gold with opulence, and with success. He fancies himself a modern day King Midas. Except for Trump, it is alchemy in reverse. Every good thing he touches turns to crap.
On September 1, Vice President Pence traveled to the Ukraine to meet with President Zelensky. Pence had originally planned to attend Zelensky’s inauguration in May, but President Trump nixed that, sending Energy Secretary Rick Perry instead, a choice that made Perry the latest to be entangled in the Trump / Ukraine web. Pence delivered a clear message when he finally did meet Zelensky this month:
The nearly $400 million in aid promised to Ukraine (and allocated by Congress) was not being released, and would not be released until concerns were addressed about Ukraine’s lagging efforts to combat corruption.
To any reasonable person, and President Zelensky seems like a reasonable person even if new to political brinkmanship, the quid pro quo was clear: the only corruption President Trump had asked him to have investigated on the July 25th call was the long-disproved right-wing conspiracy theory about Joe and Hunter Biden. Now, Vice President Pence was making a direct link between undertaking that investigation and the release of the aid funds.
The Trump-Whistleblower Battle, The Five D’s of Trump’s Defense Strategy, and How This Is All Bill Clinton’s Fault.
Vice President Pence’s team scrambled to explain the seemingly damning evidence. They claim he was “unaware of Trump’s efforts to press Zelensky for damaging information about Biden and his son.” When confronted with the fact that the details of Trump’s efforts were clearly explained in the Vice President’s briefing book, they claimed Pence, “traveled to Warsaw for a meeting with Zelensky on September 1 probably without having read—or at least fully registered—the transcript of Trump’s July 25 call with the leader of Ukraine.” It was later reported that an aide to Vice President Pence was one of many listening-in on the call, making the claims of ignorance even less believable. But when confronted with the notion that Pence would have flown all the way to Ukraine to deliver a message to Zelensky without having prepared properly for that meeting, Pence’s staff “disputed the notion that the vice president was poorly prepared for his meeting with Zelensky.”
Try as they might, they cannot have it both ways.
Either Vice President Pence knew the content of the July 25th call and knew that President Trump had explicitly demanded an investigation of a political rival in exchange for United States taxpayer dollars (based on a long-debunked conspiracy theory circulated by junk media sites) as alleged in the current impeachment inquiry, OR Pence is the most incompetent and bumbling Vice President in America’s history and this event should end his political career?
What does the Vice President have to say about all this?
He now claims he delivered the exact message President Trump had delivered five weeks earlier, with no threats and no quid pro quo. To be clear, the first defense was that he could not have been executing Phase 2 of the extortion plan as he was not aware Phase 1 even existed. The new defense is that there was no Phase 2 of the extortion plan and that all Pence did was reiterate everything Donald Trump said on the July 25th call. You know, the one Pence did not listen to, and did not read the briefing book on, that he had no understanding of before travelling to Ukraine.
While it is an interesting strategy the Vice President has chosen, it places him in a precarious position. By confirming he did exactly what Trump did, by clarifying that the September 1 meeting was an exact replay of the July 25th call (just with a different executive delivering the message), Pence has linked his future to Trump’s. Either they both survive impeachment, or neither does.
No sooner did the Trump / Pence link become clear, Twitter exploded with dreams of Speaker Nancy Pelosi ascending to the presidency, with the hashtag #PresidentPelosi trending.
Could the current impeachment circumstances play out in a way that leaves Speaker Nancy Pelosi as the last woman standing?
In theory, yes.
But the more likely scenario is a repeat of what happened in the 1970’s, although the circumstances are a little different this time around.
In 1973, Vice President Spiro Agnew was investigated by the United States Attorney for the District of Maryland on suspicion of criminal conspiracy, bribery, extortion and tax fraud. These charges related to Agnew’s years as Baltimore County Executive and Governor of Maryland. This is similar to the investigation undertaken by the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, investigating Donald Trump’s behavior prior to becoming president. Though Agnew pleaded no contest to felony tax evasion, the Department of Justice would later issue guidance (designed to protect President Nixon and currently protecting President Trump) that a sitting president cannot be charged with a crime. Agnew resigned and President Nixon selected House Minority leader Gerald Ford to be Vice President.
It would seem likely, even with the current scandal engulfing both the President and Vice President, that a similar progression would occur. The Vice President would resign first. A new Vice president would be nominated and confirmed. The President would either resign (not likely) or be impeached and removed (also, not likely, but not implausible).
There is no way Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (who faces re-election in 2020) would willingly allow Speaker Pelosi to become President, right?
Over his dead body, perhaps?
No one is wishing anything bad happens to the Majority Leader. The 2020 election will be his political funeral, and that will be sufficient.
But a dead body could lead to Nancy Pelosi taking the oath of office.
So could some good old fashioned obstruction and refusal to even bring a nominee up for a hearing. That would be fitting justice for the McConnell, wouldn’t it?
Spiro Agnew fought for months, denying his crimes, professing his innocence. But still, President Nixon and the GOP had to know the scandal was likely to take down the Vice President and that a new one would need to be selected and confirmed, so it was likely there was a plan of action ready. Spiro Agnew resigned October 10, 1973. Gerald Ford was confirmed on December 6th. Had President Nixon died, or been forced from office, during those 7 weeks, Democratic Speaker of the House Carl Albert would have assumed the presidency. The same would have been true during the 3 and a half months between Gerald Ford assuming the presidency on August 9, 1974 and Nelson Rockefeller being confirmed as Vice President on December 19th.
The current impeachment inquiry could create a unique Constitutional conflict should Republicans seek to follow the Watergate blueprint. The Presidency is currently in Republican control, as is the Senate. The House is controlled by the Democrats. Should Vice President Mike Pence resign, Donald Trump would nominate a new Vice President. That nominee would require confirmation by both the Senate and House.
The need for confirmation by a Democratic House provides significant leverage for Speaker Pelosi. In 1973, Speaker Albert (a Democrat) famously noted, Nixon “sought advice from senior Congressional leaders about a replacement. We gave Nixon no choice but Ford.”
Fans of The West Wing will recall this is exactly how Bob “Bingo Bob” Russell came to replace John Hoynes as President Josiah Bartlet’s Vice President.
Could Speaker Pelosi multi-task, conducting an impeachment inquiry which could lead to the President’s removal while simultaneously throwing-up roadblocks to the confirmation of a Vice President? She would effectively be leading the charge to remove the President and maintaining her place as next in the line of succession.
Another critical question is, “How long could the process drag on?”
Ask yourself this, “Would Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell REALLY have confirmed Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court if Hillary Clinton had prevailed in 2016 instead of Donald Trump?” If you believe the answer is “no” then you believe that McConnell would have held that seat open (or forced President Clinton to nominate someone Republicans suggested) for as long as the power dynamic held, likely through 2020.
Pelosi would not have that option. While President Trump could not fill the Vice Presidential vacancy without Congressional approval, voters could. Were Trump (with his new running mate) re-elected, the issue of Congressional approval would be moot.
In 1973, Speaker Carl Albert concluded that, as a Democrat, he had no right to inherit a presidency that had been won by a Republican, and that if he were to become Acting President simply by his place in the line of succession, it would be in the national interest for him to resign the office immediately once the House and Senate had both confirmed a Republican Vice President.
Would Nancy Pelosi feel that same obligation given that Republicans (with Russian help) stole the 2016? They did, you know? Empirical evidence proves it. Even former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper agrees. And would Pelosi be swayed if both the President and Vice President Russia helped elect were summarily impeached for crimes and influence-selling like those the executives stand accused of in the impeachment inquiry? And after Merrick Garland?
Would President Pelosi and a new Democratic Speaker really allow Mitch McConnell to put a Republican back in the White House just in time for an election deciding not only control of the presidency and Leader McConnell’s future but which party will control redistricting after the 2020 census and which party will nominate and confirm a potential replacement for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg should she retire?
Forget would she. SHOULD she? Would a Republican? Nope.
If Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats have the chance to seize control, to strangle the GOP right out of office, they should do so and never look back.