For the newest edition of their Matrix On Point series Tuesday, UC Berkeley Social Science Matrix hosted campus public policy professor Robert Reich and Berkeley Law dean Erwin Chemerinsky for a discussion centered on the ongoing impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump’s July phone call with Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Reich and Chemerinsky also examined the history of impeachment in the U.S. and the accusations against the current administration. Interim director of Social Science Matrix Michael Watts introduced the discussion as part of a series that draws upon the expertise of the UC Berkeley faculty.
Chemerinsky, constitutional theorist and legal scholar, examined what the Constitution says about impeachment to begin the talk.
“The bottom line is that it doesn’t say very much,” Chemerinsky said.
According to Chemerinsky, impeachment provides that anyone can be removed from office for treason, bribery, high crimes and misdemeanors. He added that the Constitution relies upon Congress to interpret what might qualify as a high crime or misdemeanor.
For both Chemerinsky and Reich, the forthcoming investigation into whether Trump has committed offenses worthy of impeachment will hinge on a debate over exactly how the phrase “high crimes and misdemeanors” should be interpreted.
“When high crimes and misdemeanors were being discussed, there was a lot of discussion about foreign entanglements,” Reich said. “Again and again you have references in The Federalist — beware of these kinds of foreign entanglements, particularly with regard to a president. …that was a central discussion.”
The phrase “high crimes and misdemeanors” is meant to be looked at as a whole, not to be “parsed” over, according to Chemerinsky. He said he believes that the intended effect of this phrase was to connote a serious abuse of power.
During public questions, attendees raised concerns over whether or not this inquiry could be obstructed by Republican leadership who may remain loyal to the president, as well as how the optics of an impeachment hearing could affect the 2020 election.
Both panelists briefly touched on their own forecasts for 2020 and how they think the impeachment inquiry might frame the election. Audience members also voiced their concerns with the nationwide political trends that led so many Americans to vote for Trump in 2016.
Berkeley resident Frank Snitz was most concerned about the underlying causes of Trump voters’ frustrations. He said he believed that Trump was elected because Democrats lost the faith of many working-class Americans.
“The lesson most impactful on me was that the working class feels left behind, they’re not getting raises, cost of living is going up, their dreams … are no longer achievable,” Snitz said.