Impeachment also provides a useful example of the differing institutional roles of the House and the Senate.
To the House is given the ability to charge an official, to impeach, by a simple majority vote—and to react to public outrage over wrongdoing by a government agent.
The Senate’s distance from pressures of public opinion—senators may not have to face election for another four or six years—promotes a more judicious action.
Since the Senate is a continuing body, impeachment proceedings can continue from one two-year congress to the next without the need to reissue warrants and summons.
Imagine trying to manage a quasi-judicial proceeding in the large and boisterous House of Representatives. As Hamilton predicted, however, they cannot be removed from the political process.
Impeachment, he commented in Federalist 65, “will seldom fail to agitate the passions of the whole community, and to divide it into parties more or less friendly or inimical to the accused.” An impeachment trial—despite its legal trappings—is a political process, not a legal process.
The stability of the Senate’s election cycles assures that two-thirds of its members will be informed and ready to act on impeachment proceedings, even if an election intervenes.
Having a smaller body has meant that each member’s voice can be heard. 10, James Madison commented that one of the problems to be solved by a new government was “that measures are too often decided, not according to the rules of justice and the rights of the minor party, but by the superior force of an overbearing majority.” As part of the solution, the framers designed a small, deliberative Senate where even a minority of one must be heard. Framers who favored longer terms argued that it would help the Senate check the democratic impulses of the House.
Every two years, one-third of the Senate faces election. Every two years, two-thirds of the Senate continues in office with no break in service.
By 1787, having endured the trauma of revolution and war and the failures of the Articles of Confederation, the framers were very concerned about stability and continuity in the new government.
Unlike the House, the Senate does not have to reelect its officers every two years, nor is it required to re-adopt its official rules with each new congress. Impeachment proceedings can span two congresses without the need to re-adopt impeachment rules or procedures.
Theoretically, every two years the entire House of Representatives could turn over, depriving Congress of knowledge and experience. Treaty negotiations, which often take years to complete, proceed without interruption. Does the Senate often force compromise to gain legislative success?
The “cooling factor” of the teacup story is also evident here.