Rep. Steve Cohen's amendments would dismantle the Electoral College and prohibit presidents from pardoning themselves, family members and staff members

By Sam Gillette
January 04, 2019 05:00 PM
Olivier Douliery - Pool/Getty

With a never-more-diverse incoming class, the 116th Congress is already making history — but on opening day earlier this week Democratic Rep. Steve Cohen took it a step further with two proposed Constitutional amendments, both aimed at President Donald Trump.

Cohen’s amendments would dismantle the Electoral College (which Trump won to earn the presidency, despite losing the popular vote) and prohibit presidents from pardoning themselves, family members and staff members.

Neither proposal is likely to come close to passing, given the difficulty of amending the constitution: Each must receive a two-thirds vote in the House and the Senate before being ratified by three-fourths of the states.

Cohen, a vocal Trump critic who represents Memphis, said in a statement that the Electoral College has a “distorting effect,” since it allows the less popular candidate to triumph.

“Americans expect and deserve the winner of the popular vote to win office,” he said. “More than a century ago, we amended our Constitution to provide for the direct election of U.S. Senators. It is past time to directly elect our President and Vice President.”

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Cohen is not alone in his push for reform, though it remains without broad political support: The Electoral College has long been criticized for being outdated and for its unsettling ties to slavery, according to TIME.

The Electoral College gave the South a distinct advantage in the 1787 and 1803 elections by allowing Southern states to count their slaves toward their total count in electoral votes.

Rep. Steve Cohen
Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

In November 2017, in a previous long-shot move, Cohen and five other lawmakers filed articles of impeachment against Trump, according to the Tennessean. Their list of accusations ranged from obstruction of justice, to undercutting the freedom of the press.

“It’s time for Congress to take action to stop this reckless and harmful behavior by removing Mr. Trump from office and to defend and uphold the Constitution of the United States,” Cohen said then, the paper reported.

Not only is Cohen fighting against the system that allowed Trump to become president, he also wants to ensure that the president could not absolve himself, relatives or associates amid multiple ongoing or looming investigations of his administration and personal business.

(Most recently, Michael Cohen, the president‘s former lawyer, was sentenced to three years in prison.)

“Presidents should not pardon themselves, their families, their administration or campaign staff,” Cohen said. “This constitutional amendment would expressly prohibit this and any future president, from abusing the pardon power.”

On Friday morning, the president posted a vehement response to the possibility of impeachment on Twitter, with characteristic self-regard:

“How do you impeach a president who has won perhaps the greatest election of all time, done nothing wrong (no Collusion with Russia, it was the Dems that Colluded), had the most successful first two years of any president, and is the most popular Republican in party history 93%?”

In a recent interview with Sky News, Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani argued that there is “no reason” he should be impeached.

“You could only impeach [the president] for political reasons and the American people would revolt against that,” Giuliani said.