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EDITORIAL: House Democrats chart unprecedented course

After House Democrats on Thursday voted to move ahead with their effort to overturn the 2016 presidential election, Speaker Nancy Pelosi gave up the game. Attempting to convey the gravity of their predicament, Ms. Pelosi intoned with a straight face that, “It’s a sad day because nobody comes to Congress to impeach the president.”

In fact, Democrats — including many new House members who did indeed campaign on removing President Donald Trump — have been planning for this day from the moment Hillary Clinton faced the stunning realization in the wee hours of Nov. 9, 2016, that her coronation had been canceled. This wholly partisan course of action was further cemented when Democrats regained control of the House after the 2018 balloting.

It’s now a virtual certainty that House Democrats will impeach the president. The charges remain a moving target, and Democrats have lurched from outrage to outrage — faux Russian collusion, Stormy Daniels, “Access Hollywood,” obstruction of justice, the emoluments clause, the president’s impertinent comments — before now apparently settling on Ukraine in their latest effort to justify this unprecedented act.

And unprecedented it is. Three previous times, the House has moved to open an impeachment inquiry into a sitting president. All three times, members of both parties were on board.

In 1998, the lower chamber, in GOP control, passed such a resolution against Democrat Bill Clinton, with 31 Democrats voting in favor. In 1973, a Democratic House began the process against Republican Richard Nixon with almost complete support from minority Republicans. Finally, in 1868, a Republican House, by a 3-to-1 margin and with bipartisan support, brought articles of impeachment against Democrat Andrew Johnson.

Yet on Thursday, not a single Republican sided with Ms. Pelosi on impeachment — and two Democrats defected. For the first time in the nation’s history, impeachment will be used as a purely partisan instrument with which to bludgeon a duly elected president — and all less than a year before a national election.

To make matters worse, Democrats have made clear that they intend to ignore pesky details such as due process and transparency. Nothing in the Constitution prevents the House majority from crafting its own guardrails for impeachment proceedings, but Democrats seem intent on denying the president even basic legal protections. Thursday’s resolution only codifies the injustices.

The process so far, Wall Street Journal columnist Kimberley A. Strassel noted on Friday, has included “secret hearings, the refusal to let Republicans call witnesses or obtain answers (and) the exclusion of Mr. Trump’s legal counsel from the proceedings.” It has also entailed keeping the transcripts of hearings confidential. This whole charade has so far been an insult to credibility and accountability.

Let’s also remember that Democrats maintained two decades ago that lying under oath during a legal proceeding and suborning perjury was not an impeachable offense. There was no dispute about Mr. Clinton’s actions. Today, however, they argue that Mr. Trump deserves to be ousted from the Oval Office for an ambiguous phone call to a foreign leader, citing the nexus between a corruption investigation that never occurred and U.S. aid that was never withheld.

Rep. Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey, one of the two Democrats to oppose the impeachment effort, identified the dangers of the House’s current course. “Without bipartisan support,” he noted, “I believe this inquiry will further divide the country, tearing it apart at the seams, and it will ultimately fail in the Senate.”

It was just eight months ago that Ms. Pelosi sounded like Rep. Van Drew. “Impeachment is so divisive to the country,” she told The Washington Post Magazine in March, “that unless there’s something so compelling and overwhelming and bipartisan, I don’t think we should go down that path because it divides the country.” In 2018, she made a similar remark. “Impeachment is a very serious matter,” she said. “If it happens, it has to be a bipartisan initiative.”

The country will survive this overtly partisan and extraordinary attempt to remove Mr. Trump from office. The greater danger resides in House Democrats sneering at precedent and transforming the momentous act of impeachment into a casual weapon of convenience used to sate vindictive progressive special interests still cuddling in their safe spaces while raging over Mr. Trump’s 2016 victory.

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