To Impeach or Not?

Ken AshfordCongress, Democrats, Election 2020, L'Affaire Russe, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

Okay, we have the Muller Report, which — as everyone says — is a roadmap for Congress to start impeachment proceedings, or at least go forward with investigations leading to impeachment proceedings.

Steny Hoyer, the number-two Democrat in the House, even after the long-awaited Mueller report, is not on board. “Based on what we have seen to date, going forward on impeachment is not worthwhile at this point,” he said yesterday to CNN’s Dana Bash. 

Other Democrats are treadling lightly on the subject. “Very frankly, there is an election in 18 months and the American people will make a judgement.” Adam Schiff, the Democratic chairman of the House intelligence committee, said that impeachment would be pointless “barring a bipartisan consensus,” because “you don’t bring a case if you don’t think you’re going to be successful just to try the case.”

Me? I have moved into the “yes” category, even with the understanding that Trump will not be removed from office by Congress.

Democrats who preemptively declare impeachment off the table are mistakenly (or intentionally) conflating one possible end result of the impeachment process for the process itself. The Republican members of Congress who voted to open an impeachment inquiry into Nixon’s conduct didn’t necessarily want it to end in his removal from office; even up until his resignation, it was an open question whether there were enough votes in the Senate to remove him. They were trying to get at the truth about the administration’s actions, and using impeachment to gather evidence. (They didn’t even limit themselves to Watergate. The committee eventually also voted on whether to impeach Nixon for the illegal bombing of Cambodia and for failure to pay taxes.)

As Patrick Blanchfield says, impeachment, even if it “fails” in the Senate, is a chance to take a moral stand against corruption and unaccountable elites. That is something you can run on.

As Jeff Hauser writes, it is a chance to weave the disparate (and quickly forgotten) scandals of the entire Trump presidency into a single narrative that the easily distracted (and even more easily spun) mainstream press can follow.

But for reasons surpassing my understanding, Democrats’ reflexively pursue a mindset whereby fearing potential downsides of action is always deemed wise and passivity is always the outcome.

The Trump era demands better from the opposition if the rule of law is to win out. No more learned helplessness.

The problem is, Hoyer apparently doesn’t want to do those things. What Hoyer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (who ruled out impeachment well before anyone read the Mueller Report) want is to write op-eds about how many bills they are passing, despite the fact that those bills (like, uh, impeachment) will never get through the Senate.

Democratic leadership seemingly believes that the party can’t let its candidates campaign on promises to materially improve the lives of voters while also letting its elected officials carry out the responsibilities of their offices. They also believe, deep in their bones, that the country is not on their side. They believe going after Trump too directly will stir his mighty base, rather than imagining that full and transparent investigations into his various fraudulent and corrupt activities may demoralize his staunchest supporters—just as Trump himself was demoralized at the prospect of Mueller’s investigation—while also persuading those people who aren’t already in the cult of MAGA that this administration, and the party that abets it, need to be soundly defeated.

“We shouldn’t impeach because it isn’t what the voters want” is an extremely blinkered vision of politics that presupposes a world where public opinion cannot be moved and political parties cannot shape the political landscape through coordinated action.

We live in partisan times. We shouldn’t pretend we don’t. This is what the founders created. In my view, looking to 2020, it is better to win the war, rather than avoid it. You can’t run against Trump as an enemy, promise to fight him, and then demur, punting responsibility back to voters: the voters who elected YOU to fight him, NOW.

The Mueller Report is an armory of ammunition. We need to use the Mueller report to launch investigations, send out subpoenas, and hold public hearings. All of that could lead to revelations that tilt the public toward impeachment, it could prove that the public doesn’t consider these revelations important enough to merit impeachment, or it could simply inform the public to help them make a decision in the 2020 election.

Either way, it keeps the focus on Trump’s crimes and his lies, rather than overwhelming that conversation with a debate over removing Trump from office at a time when there’s no prospect of marshaling the votes to actually remove him from office. What’s the downside of that?