AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine’s two Democratic U.S. representatives have committed to voting to impeach President Donald Trump, but it will be the first time in three such proceedings that the state’s House delegation will break on one article.
U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree of the reliably liberal 1st District has committed to voting for two articles alleging the Republican president abused his power when urging the Ukrainian leader to investigate a political rival and obstructed a congressional investigation, while Rep. Jared Golden of the 2nd District said Tuesday that he will back the first article and not the second.
Only two presidents have been impeached by the House — Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998. But both presidents were acquitted after Senate trials. Trump’s fate will almost certainly be similar as a two-thirds vote is required in the Republican-led upper chamber.
Maine’s House delegations were united in both of those cases. Here’s what they argued before the chamber then.
Five Maine Republicans voted to impeach Johnson. The biggest name among the group regretted his vote later on. Johnson, the Democratic vice president who took office after the 1865 assassination of Abraham Lincoln, a Republican, took a conciliatory position toward southern states after the Civil War, arguing they should re-admitted into the Union with no protections for freedmen. This led to conflict with Radical Republicans who argued for civil rights with no compromise.
Their fight came to a head when Johnson continued to try to dismiss a secretary of war whom Republicans passed a law to protect. The House drafted 11 articles of impeachment, three of which passed and went to the Senate for a trial. Three of the five U.S. representatives Maine had at the time — all Republicans — spoke in favor of impeaching Johnson on the House floor.
Rep. Frederick Pike delineated Johnson’s actions from common crimes, saying it was “indictable to steal a chicken, but not to usurp the powers of a State.” Rep. Sidney Perham said proponents of impeachment were “asking to be relieved from the rule of a bad man, accidentally in the presidential chair.” Rep. John Lynch said Johnson was willing to “subvert the Constitution for the success of his own schemes and the perpetuation of his own power.”
One of those members was James Blaine, a future House speaker and senator who would be the 1884 Republican presidential nominee. He voted with his party, but Johnson’s acquittal in the Senate set a standard that impeachment should not be used to settle partisan scores.
He regretted the vote in a later memoir, calling the impeachment “not justifiable on the charges made” and saying removing Johnson “would have resulted in greater injury to free institutions than Andrew Johnson in his utmost endeavor was able to inflict.”
The two Democrats in Maine’s delegation were heavily critical of Clinton while saying his conduct didn’t meet a constitutional standard. In 1998, Clinton was impeached by the Republican-led House of Representatives on two articles that accused him of lying under oath and obstructing justice. Both were related to his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
The Clinton proceedings differed from the Trump proceedings in one major way — the former president’s fellow Democrats widely condemned his conduct even as they defended him from Republicans’ inquiry. Maine’s two U.S. representatives — Tom Allen of the 1st District and John Baldacci of the 2nd District — were no exception.
Baldacci argued for a censure, saying Clinton “should be punished” but that his mistakes didn’t warrant removal from office. Allen said Clinton “disgraced himself and diminished the office he holds,” but he hammered Republicans for an intemperate response.
“More than the tawdry behavior admitted by Bill Clinton, today will be remembered for the failure of this Congress to honor our constitutional responsibility to act with fairness and justice before recommending removal of a President elected by the people,” he said.