LOWELL — University of Massachusetts President Marty Meehan, who served as Lowell’s congressman when former President Bill Clinton was impeached in 1998, said he has mixed feelings about an impeachment inquiry being launched into President Donald Trump.
“I have a lot of mixed feelings about it,” Meehan said in an interview with Sun Senior Editor Tom Shattuck and Enterprise Editor Christopher Scott on Thursday. “I do understand why they would vote for an impeachment inquiry, and I think now there will be a process of bringing in witnesses to determine what happened.”
While Meehan, who spent years in politics before leaving elected office to take the helm at his alma mater, UMass Lowell, and then the entire UMass system, said he understands why Democrats voted to launch an impeachment inquiry, he has serious questions about where it may lead.
And Meehan is also concerned that a failed impeachment attempt could play into Trump’s hands.
Those concerns stem from an impeachment timeline that could lead to a trial in the Senate in 2020, just as an election is in full swing.
“I’d be worried if I were the Democrats,” Meehan said. “I’d be worried that (Trump) would use an acquittal in the Senate much the same way that President Clinton used his acquittal in the Senate.”
Meehan said that with the election looming so close, he would recommend instead seeking consensus between the parties to make it clear that, if the president did request the Ukraine investigate his political rival, that that was unacceptable.
“If the facts are that the president did this, we ought to make sure that future presidents don’t think it’s O.K.,” Meehan said.
But while Meehan said reaching consensus would make more sense to him in an election year, it also seems highly unlikely in the current political climate.
“It requires something we don’t see in Washington these days,” Meehan said. “It requires reasonable and rational Republicans and Democrats to get together and reach a compromise.”
But at the same time, he also pointed out that at this stage in the impeachment of former President Richard Nixon, many Democrats and most Republicans were not yet supportive of impeachment either, though that soon changed.
So while he understands why Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi resisted pressure to launch an impeachment drive earlier, he does think things could change quickly as a formal impeachment proceeding opens up.
“I would say at this point in the process in the early 70’s, the American public wasn’t in favor of impeaching Richard Nixon, nor were, you know, the Republicans in the Senate, or even the house,” Meehan said. “So this will play out.”
Meehan said he believes Pelosi would likely seek a compromise with Republicans if she were able, especially since she has been through impeachment proceedings before, and spoke highly of the “rational reactions” Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, has had to the developments.
“So I think it’s challenging,” Meehan said. “The Congress has become more and more partisan, and it makes it difficult for Republicans and Democrats to speak to one another, let alone reach a compromise on something so critically important as this.”
Meehan, who voted against impeaching President Clinton even though he said his relationship with Monica Lewinsky was “inappropriate,” said he thinks overly political impeachment efforts are bad for the nation.
“I think when impeachment is partisan it hurts the country,” Meehan said. “And I think that we’ve been on a partisan spiral for quite a few years now, and I worry about the future of the country when Democrats and Republicans can’t find a way to compromise.”
Meehan pointed to the late Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy and former Republican Sen. Bob Dole as an example of legislators who could find common ground despite coming from vastly different political perspectives.