During the House Judiciary Committee’s painfully fractious consideration of articles of impeachment against President Trump, the sheer and inflexible partisanship of that body has been hard to miss — particularly the fury of committee Republicans who have devised all sorts of strange conspiracy theories, as they refuse to concede that Donald Trump is capable of serious misconduct. So it was unsurprising to anyone that Friday morning’s final committee vote on impeachment was a strict 23-17 party-line vote on both articles, just like the votes on all those dilatory GOP amendments that were offered during Thursday’s endless markup session.
Before we get too much centrist-pundit hand-wringing about it all, it’s worth remembering that the Judiciary Committee votes on articles of impeachment against Bill Clinton 21 years ago were very nearly just as partisan. Of the four articles (two of which were subsequently rejected by the full House), three were approved by the committee on a strict 21-16 party-line vote. On one article — involving alleged presidential perjury in the Paula Jones civil suit — one Republican crossed the aisle. (As it happens, that was Lindsey Graham, back in his heroic days of independence. He was nonetheless later a House impeachment manager.)
If you go back a few more decades to the House Judiciary Committee consideration of articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon (he resigned before any of them could reach the House floor), there was more crossing of lines. But even then, there was considerable partisan solidarity: Of the three articles approved by the committee, all 21 Democrats voted for two of them, and 19 voted for a third. On the two articles rejected by the committee, all 17 Republicans voted nay. Back then, of course, there were plenty of moderate-to-liberal Republicans and moderate-to-conservative Democrats in the House. The ideological sorting out of the two parties that began in the 1960s (mostly attributable, many say, to the impact of civil-rights legislation) is now complete, so partisan loyalty and ideological points of view are pulling in the same direction.
If there is anything really novel about the atmosphere on the Judiciary Committee this time around, it’s that the admissions of culpability that most Democrats expressed about Clinton (many supported censuring him) and Republicans expressed about Nixon (they eventually convinced him to resign) are entirely lacking in Trump’s GOP — or at least its overwhelmingly dominant faction. It’s his party, and his sins are joyfully theirs.