Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon (D-Pa.) addressed a group of Penn Law students Nov. 26 to discuss the ongoing impeachment process of President Donald Trump at an event, titled "Impeachment: An Update from the Hill."
Scanlon, who now serves as vice chair of the House Judiciary Committee and who graduated from Penn Law School in 1984, argued that Trump has committed impeachable conduct. She also talked about her path to political office and answered questions from the audience, with Penn Law lecturer Neil Makhija fielding questions. The event was put together by the American Constitution Society, National Lawyers Guild, and Democracy Law Project.
Scanlon, who was elected to the United States Congress in 2018, said she and other Democratic members of Congress elected that year came in with a sense that presidential misconduct had occurred. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, however, did not initiate an impeachment inquiry against the president until September 2019.
The impeachment inquiry came after a whistleblower alleged Trump used his power as president to push Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate 2020 Democratic primary candidate Joe Biden and his son in an effort to discredit Biden, his opponent. The White House budget office was also ordered to withhold $250 million of U.S. aid to Ukraine, CNN reported.
Scanlon, who said she has been calling for an impeachment inquiry since early May, argued that Trump's conduct would merit impeachment according to the framers of the Constitution. She explained that the framers outlined a few examples of impeachable conduct that apply to Trump's actions, including an executive cheating to get elected and an executive bribing or being bribed by a foreign country.
“I can disagree with the President’s morals and I can disagree with his policies, and that’s going to be a matter for the electorate,” Scanlon said. “But when the President is doing things that are undermining our government, that are taking away Congress’ power, that is defying the courts — that’s when we’re talking about impeachable territory."
Scanlon also contrasted the current impeachment process with that of then-President Richard Nixon, saying that today, the media plays a greater role in influencing public opinion. Since March, she added, her office has been working to figure out what will sway public opinion towards impeachment.
“During the Nixon impeachment, we still had major networks and everybody was seeing the same news, but we have people now in their silos. We have grossly shortened attention spans,” Scanlon said. “What kind of viral moments are going to stick?”
Scanlon also spoke about how she chose to run for office in the first place. Working as a pro bono attorney at Ballard Spahr, she dealt with matters such as immigration, voting rights, and criminal justice, which gained prominence following Trump's election.
“These things were challenged by the new administration,” Scanlon said. “In the first few months of the Trump administration in the job that I had, I found that I was busier than ever and feeling like I was really able to help make a contribution.”
Scanlon added that her frustration with federal policies ultimately led her to run for Congress.
"It really was anger management issues,” she joked. “I just did not like what I was seeing on the national scale."
Makhija said he believes generally, elected officials should focus on "bread and butter issues" such as health care and education rather than engaging in partisan warfare. However, he said extreme cases such as Trump's actions merit a response from public servants.
"You have this oath of office and a duty to protect the constitution," Makhija said. "Where an official has engaged in treason or bribery or high crimes or misdemeanors, they should be convicted.”