Sen. Bob Corker said a lot of things about President Trump on Tuesday morning. The Tennessee Republican warned that Trump's itchy Twitter finger could set off another world war. He suggested Trump is a liar. He said Trump's legacy will be “debasing” America. He said Trump is not a role model for children. He declined to say whether Trump should be trusted with the nuclear codes. He said Trump's conduct is “very sad for our nation.” He said Trump has “proven himself unable to rise to the occasion.”
Later on — and perhaps most damningly — he said there were “multiple occasions where [White House] staff has asked me to please intervene; he was getting ready to do something that was really off the tracks.”
Early in this onslaught against Trump, Corker assured us that he considers all of his words carefully. “I don’t make comments I haven’t thought about,” he told ABC News. In other words: He truly believes all this stuff, and he's not just flying off the handle.
Which leads to the next question: If you truly believe all of that, wouldn't you also believe that Trump should be removed from office?
Corker's comments sure seem to be trending in that direction — whether he intends it or not. The senator is describing Trump as an imminent threat to American government and American lives. He's suggesting Trump is damaging American society. He says Trump isn't only failing, but that he's “unable to rise to the occasion." He suggests Trump was ready to do crazy things before Corker intervened and put a stop to it. He's basically arguing that Trump is derelict in his duties as president, or unfit for the office.
Depending upon whom you ask, that could be approaching grounds for impeachment — or the less likely option of removal via the 25th Amendment, in which Trump would be declared unfit by his own Cabinet.
Grounds for impeachment are forever the topic of debate, of course, given that the Constitution requires “high Crimes and Misdemeanors” for removal from office. But those high crimes and misdemeanors need not necessarily be criminal in nature; many scholars believe dereliction of duty is also sufficient, and it's really up to Congress. As Princeton University's Keith E. Wittington wrote on the Monkey Cage back in May:
Even actions that might never be crimes could be impeachable . . . In 1933, Judge Halsted Ritter’s impeachment included the charge that he had continued to practice law in a manner “calculated to bring his office into disrepute,” violating judicial ethics. Associate Justice Samuel Chase was charged with abusive behavior from the bench, and President Andrew Johnson was charged with firing the Secretary of War in a manner inconsistent with a federal statute.
Many impeachment efforts have been prompted by behavior seen as inconsistent with the responsibility and reputation of the office. Some individuals are impeached to get them out of office, when their actions threaten the political system’s functioning, and they can’t be stopped any other way.
Impeachments also serve a broader function. Congress can use it to reinforce or create new political norms. Even when the impeached official is not convicted and removed from office, the impeachment itself sends others the message that those actions were unacceptable and must not be repeated. When a federal official is destabilizing established norms of conduct, Congress may impeach to send a strong signal that such behavior must not become the new normal.
Even lawful actions, or actions within an officer’s authority, can be impeachable offenses. Context is everything. Actions that are ordinary and inoffensive in some circumstances can be extraordinary and threatening in others. Impeachment is not merely for illegal or constitutional actions. It is also a remedy for dereliction of duty and abuse of power.
Some Democrats have argued that previous Trump actions — or inaction — have constituted dereliction of duty, especially when it comes to his reluctance to condemn Russia for its 2016 election interference. Perhaps some of that could be dismissed as overheated partisan rhetoric.
In the case of Corker, though, it's coming from a Republican who was once close to Trump and might be more measured in his comments. Yet he's basically labeling Trump an irredeemable failure who cannot be prevailed upon to perform his job functions. Corker previously said Trump hadn't yet demonstrated the “stability” or “competence” needed to serve; now he's basically saying it's a lost cause.
And whether you think that's a sufficient basis for impeaching and/or removing a president from office, it stands to reason that a politician who believes those things would seek out whatever remedies were available for preventing the things he's warning us about.
It maybe never come to pass — and it likely won't — but Corker's rhetoric here can't help but point in that direction.