Impeachment actions: sine qua non

Tagged: MathInTheNews / Politics / R

So. US politics: it seems The Creature is being impeached. Again. What can we do to make sure the impeachment makes a difference this time?

Why it matters

PBS: it's all impeachment news now Normally I love to listen to the news on NPR, or even watch the PBS News Hour. But now, I just can’t: it’s all Trump impeachment, all the time. The Democratic arguments are horrifying memories of a traumatic time; the Republican arguments are delusional, sociopathic, or fascist like the man they’re defending. I just want Trumpism to be irrelevant, and for government to be at least mostly rational.

Still… I can’t ignore it. It matters. 3 reasons:

  1. Without conviction, he will have gotten away not just with 4 years of incompetent buffoonery, but clear crimes: most obviously digging for political dirt by soliciting election interference from Ukraine as in the Mueller report, or the recent incitement to insurrection. If mere resignation ahead of impeachment worked as an escape hatch, we’d see no end of criminality in government at the end of terms.
  2. Without conviction, Republican obstruction of justice will be normalized: acquitting the clearly guilty for political convenience. That level of tribalism and lust for retaining office has to be crushed in order for there to be any sort of rule of law.
  3. Without conviction, Trump cannot be banned from holding federal office ever again. This may also be enforced in a court by appealing to the Constitution’s 14th amendement, section 3: those involved in insurrection cannot hold federal or state office. It’s important that one or both of those paths be taken.

How many Republican senators have to vote for conviction

In order to get conviction, the US constitution requires a 2/3 supermajority of the senators then present (Article 1, section 3, paragraph 6 [1]). There are 2 ways this can happen:

  • 50 Democratic votes + 17 Republican votes = 2/3 of all 100 senators. The 50 Democratic votes seem assured. Maybe 6 Republican votes are likely, as that many voted yesterday that the impeachment trial was constitutional. The next 11 are a problem, since the rest are basically cowards afraid of being primaried on the right by Trump revanchists, and clinging to office is for them more important than democracy.
  • At least 25 Republicans absent themselves from the chamber so the 50 Democratic votes are 2/3 of the 75 senators then present. This could possibly work, giving 25 Republicans up for election a chance to strut for their Trumpy constituents and another 25 to have semi-plausible deniability, or at least ambiguity, due to absence.

(NB: Of course, a mixture of these paths could occur. Say, 50 Democrats + 10 Republicans = 60 senators vote for conviction. Then that’s 2/3 of 90. So only 10 Republicans need to find urgent business out of the chamber, while the rest can be present and vote to acquit.

In general, if you can get 50 Democratic votes and $R$ Republican votes for conviction, that has to be 2/3 of the number $S$ of senators present: $50 + R = 2/3 S$. Solve for the maximum senators present: $S = \lfloor 3/2 (50 + R) \rfloor = 75 + \lfloor 3R/2 \rfloor$. That gives us:

Bipartisan votes for conviction: $50 + R$
Republicans present, voting for acquittal: $S - 50 - R = 25 + \lfloor R/2 \rfloor$
Republicans absent, not voting: $100 - S = 25 - \lfloor 3R/2 \rfloor$

Those 3 groups add up to 100 senators, and the conviction votes are 2/3 of those present. We can easily generate a table with a tiny bit of R to verify this numerically and see all the examples:

> D <- 50; R <- seq(from = 0, to = 17, by = 1)
> ans <- data.frame("D.Convict" = D,
                    "R.Convict" = R,
                    "R.Acquit"  = 25 + floor(R/2),
                    "R.Absent"  = 25 - floor(3*R/2))
> transform(ans, 
            "Senators.Total" = rowSums(ans),
            "Pct.Convict"    = round(100.0 * 
                                       (D.Convict + R.Convict) / (D.Convict + R.Convict + R.Acquit), 
                                     digits = 2))
   D.Convict R.Convict R.Acquit R.Absent Senators.Total Pct.Convict
1         50         0       25       25            100       66.67
2         50         1       25       24            100       67.11
3         50         2       26       22            100       66.67
4         50         3       26       21            100       67.09
5         50         4       27       19            100       66.67
6         50         5       27       18            100       67.07
7         50         6       28       16            100       66.67
8         50         7       28       15            100       67.06
9         50         8       29       13            100       66.67
10        50         9       29       12            100       67.05
11        50        10       30       10            100       66.67
12        50        11       30        9            100       67.03
13        50        12       31        7            100       66.67
14        50        13       31        6            100       67.02
15        50        14       32        4            100       66.67
16        50        15       32        3            100       67.01
17        50        16       33        1            100       66.67
18        50        17       33        0            100       67.00

The currently relevant numbers would lead us to speculate that perhaps 10 Republicans would vote for conviction, 30 Republicans could be present and vote for acquittal to pose for their Trumpy constituents, and 10 Republicans would have to be absent and ambiguously not voting.)

I’m too angry and disgusted with the GOP to see much hope that either of those ways will happen. They both require getting into the heads of Republican senators, knowing what moves them, what drives them, and what persuades them.

What drives them and how you can push a little

What persuades them is constituents. They want to know what the voters in their state think, how likely they are to be primaried or how likely to be re-elected. (There are other influences, like party whip instructions, campaign funding, and so on.)

So: should you find yourself so unfortunate as to be the constituent of a Republican senator (particularly one that is retiring or not immediately up for re-election in 2022 and hence not under immediate political pressure to appear Trumpy), you should call them and politely tell the staffer who answers that you want your senator to vote for conviction in the impeachment trial. It doesn’t matter if you think your senator is a nimrod who won’t listen; the point is that if enough of their own constituents call saying this, it will create a moment of doubt in which the right choice might be made. (But please don’t bother any senator of whom you are not a constituent.)

So the question is: how to contact them, and how to speak effectively so the staffer will start counting up pro-impeachment-conviction constituents?

Coleman: contacting legislators and not getting ignored Emily Coleman, a former Congressional staffer, offered some advice on Twitter a couple years ago:

  • Don’t bother with Twitter or Facebook or texting or even email; that’s uniformly ignored.
  • Writing a letter is pretty good, especially to the district office. A paper letter, not an email.
  • But really the only thing that matters is a phone call where you talk to a staffer. Coleman recommends the district office instead of DC, but see below.

UCS: productive conversations with legislator's staff Similar material from 2008 by the Union of Concerned Scientists [2] (hey, remember my tribe) also suggests calling. But in cases like this where it’s about an imminent vote, definitely call the DC office. Ask to speak to the aide who handles informing your senator about constituent opinions on impeachment. If that’s complicated, just speak with whomever it is that answers the phone, as the call will be logged in the constituent database system either way. Let them know you are a constituent, and are registered to vote. They may ask your name, address, and zip code. Know your facts, and be brief. [3]

So, there it is: if you are a constituent of a Republican senator (especially one retiring or not immediately up for re-election in 2022), call their DC office and tell the aide you are a constituent and a registered voter who wants a vote to convict Trump in the impeachment trial. Or that they absent themselves from the chamber during the vote, to lower the conviction threshold.

They will ignore everything else.

2021-Feb-13 Addendum

Well… that was again unsatisfying, and for about the same reasons. The senate voted 57 guilty, 43 not guilty. The guilty votes included all 50 Democrats and 7 Republicans, for the most bipartisan vote in American history to impeach a president. (Though there are only 4 examples, half of them are Trump.)


Again, best wishes to the prosecutors of the Southern District of New York (for The Creature’s likely tax crimes), the prosecutors in Georgia (for the election overturn attempt), and the prosecutors in DC (for the incitement to insurrection). The last one is the most interesting, as a guilty verdict would, by both statute and the 14th Amendment, trigger a bar from federal or state office. And, of course, prison.

Now there’s a cheerful thought.

Notes & References

1: US Constitution, Article 1, section 3, paragraph 6.

2: Union of Concerned Scientists, “How to Have a Productive Phone Call With Your Legislator’s Office”, UCUSA blog, 2008-Jul-17.

3: A brief email consultation with a current congressional staffer confirms this, at least in broad outline. They also offered a de rigueur cautionary note:

“To change a senator’s mind, though, you need a lot of phone calls. And we know that sometimes the most active constituents do not represent the broader view. But it’s still worth a call, because all calls get logged. And, you know, democracy.”

Written Thu 2021-Feb-11

Gestae Commentaria

Loved the computation - although I am still lost in the hearings procedure.

Also, I am always impressed by the concept of calling your representative’s or senator’s office and telling them how to vote. This is something unheard of in certain eastern parts of Europe.

Hope the impeachment works :).