According to WASHINGTON — The second season of impeachment had ended less than a day earlier, but Republicans were already talking about next season. It sounded ominous.
“I don’t know how Kamala Harris doesn’t get impeached if the Republicans take over the House,” Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, said Sunday morning on Fox News.
Mr. Graham seemed to be suggesting that the vice president might be punished because she had expressed support for a bail fund for Black Lives Matter protesters in Minnesota last summer. “She actually bailed out rioters,” Mr. Graham charged. That statement was false, but his threat was plain: Republicans can impeach, too.
In recent days, former President Donald J. Trump’s defenders have darkly accused Democrats of opening a “Pandora’s box” of partisan retribution — leading to a kind of anything-goes future in politics, where impeachments get volleyed back and forth between the two parties like a tennis match, depending on which side controls Congress. “Partisan impeachments will become commonplace,” said Bruce L. Castor Jr., one of Mr. Trump’s lawyers, as he argued the former president’s case before the Senate during the week
There’s an element of plausibility here, given the hyperpartisan fervor that’s gripped American politics. But in the ensuing environment, Republicans seem to be saying that even the most outlandish accusations against a president — such as those hurled at President Biden by Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Republican of Georgia in her first days in Congress — should be treated the same as what Democrats impeached Mr. Trump over.
In a broader sense, officials of both parties have suggested that regular impeachments may just become one of several regular features of a new and bitter normal in our politics. Previously rare or unthinkable measures could simply start happening all the time
Democrats argue that, in fact, Republicans have opened several Pandora’s boxes in recent years. They have taken unprecedented actions, led by Mr. Trump, that have abused certain norms to a degree that has destabilized a set of once-reliable government traditions. Senate Republicans’ blockade of President Barack Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick B. Garland to the Supreme Court in 2016, for instance, cast doubt on any future president’s ability to fill a Supreme Court vacancy when the opposing party controlled the Senate.
By refusing to concede an election he clearly lost, and then maintaining repeatedly it had been stolen from him, Mr. Trump shattered what had been an undisturbed American custom ensuring a peaceful transfer of power between administrations.
It was the deadly assault on the Capitol, of course, that set into motion Mr. Trump’s second impeachment proceeding. His lawyers attributed the rebuke not to their client’s actions on Jan. 6 but rather to his opponents’ irrational “hatred of President Trump.” They implied impeachment was a vindictive and frivolous maneuver.
Democrats bristle at such notions — that they have overused and thus cheapened the power of impeachment, a tool that has been employed only four times in 244 years, but twice in the last 14 months. They agreed that impeachment should be reserved for extraordinary circumstances, but argued that Mr. Trump had engaged in an extraordinary degree of derelictions
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