Is The American Public Persuadable On Impeachment? Maybe.

Right now, polling indicates that the American public is reluctant to support impeachment of the President but it's possible that could change.

As I have noted in a recent post, polls have shown that the American public is skeptical about the idea of impeaching President Trump, with only self-identified Democrats saying by a large majority that Congress should move forward with impeachment. Other polling has shown the same result, with at least a plurality of Americans saying that they did not think Congress should pursue impeachment at this time. Additionally, House Democrats, who were out of Washington for much of April due to the regularly scheduled Easter break found that even Democratic voters back home aren’t enthusiastic about the idea. Jennifer Rubin, though, argues that the public may be persuadable on the issue:

A new poll suggests opinion on impeachment may be malleable. Reuters reports, “The number of Americans who said President Donald Trump should be impeached rose 5 percentage points to 45 percent since mid-April.”

In the weeks since the redacted report came out, several developments may have affected voters’ thinking. At least voters outside the Fox News bubble know that far from exonerating Trump, special counsel Robert S. Mueller III found substantial evidence of obstruction of justice. Hundreds upon hundreds of prosecutors have weighed in, affirming they would have brought charges if not for the Office of Legal Counsel memo. And Attorney General William P. Barr has performed dreadfully at a pair of hearings, evading and double-talking his way around the actual findings in the report.

Now imagine if Mueller and then former White House counsel Donald McGahn testify, reaffirming the mountain of evidence that Trump tried to influence witnesses, sought to fire Mueller and tried to curtail the investigation. Surely that would be gripping TV.

Moreover, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has said, Trump’s continued conduct blocking Barr and McGahn from testifying adds to the impression that he is obstructing investigation of his wrongdoing and hiding incriminating information.

(…)

If Trump has indeed ordered agencies to do what he has said publicly — oppose all subpoenas — he is engaged in an unprecedented, across-the-board assault on the Constitution. (Lawfare blog notes that “the Trump White House has been refusing, across the board, to comply with requests for information and documents from multiple House committees in connection with multiple oversight investigations.”) If he intends to raise bad faith claims of executive privilege to avoid responding to any subpoenas — even on topics unrelated to Russia — he has gone one step further than Richard M. Nixon. (Pelosi reiterated this at her Thursday news conference: “And now we’re not even talking about isolated situations. We’re talking about a cumulative effect of obstruction that the administration is engaged in and the president declaring that he is not going to honor any subpoenas from the Congress.”)

Perhaps this behavior will impress the public, making the case that he not only has something (or some things) to hide but also is willing to shred the Constitution to stay in power.

In taking Trump to court, pressing methodically ahead, calling key witnesses (e.g., McGahn, Mueller) and obtaining the entire special counsel report Congress is following precisely the same process as it did in Watergate. Just as in Watergate when Sen. Sam Ervin (D-N.C.) led the Watergate committee from May 17, 1973, until its report was issued on June 27, 1974, hearings in the House Judiciary and other House committees can gather facts to determine if the House should proceed to consider impeachment. (The House Judiciary Committee under Rep. Peter Rodino commenced on May 9, 1974, and voted to pass three of five articles of impeachment in late July 1974.)

Pelosi’s determination to take this step by step preserves the House’s option to later institute impeachment hearings, gives the American people a tutorial in Trump’s misconduct and, as it turns out, is pushing Trump to undertake even more outlandish (and more impeachable) actions. Pelosi told reporters, “I think that what we want to do is get the facts. We want to do it in a way that is the least divisive to our country and the most productive. We’re asking in the constitutional way for the administration to comply.” She added, “We still have more opportunities. We’ll see if Mueller will testify, and that will make a big difference in terms of where we go from here.”

There are a lot of “ifs” here, of course. Rubin is assuming, for example, that the American public as a whole, including at least some substantial portion of the Republicans who continue to support the President in record numbers, will turn on the President. By Rubin’s speculation, this will happen in one of two ways. In some respects, she asserts, it will shift because of the Trump Administration stonewalling of Congressional investigations through means such as refusing to abide by subpoenas, blocking witnesses from testifying, and asserting Executive Privilege or because the evidence from the Mueller Report will in time become clear and the necessity of removing the President obvious. The other possibility, she suggests, is that, as more is revealed about the Mueller investigation as well as the investigations still be conducted by the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York and New York State Attorney General, the public will come to see the necessity of impeachment. If and when this happens, she argues, the Democratic “wait and see” strategy on impeachment best exemplified by the position taken by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi who has cautioned her fellow Democrats about being seen as too eager to pursuing impeachment.

Perhaps Rubin is right and we will see a shift in public opinion such that Congress will be compelled to act against the President. As I’ve said before, though, the time to act does not appear to be here just yet and until we do it would be politically imprudent for Congress to act.

I agree that even the redacted Mueller Report in and of itself certainly points in the direction of concluding that the President attempted to obstruct the administration of justice throughout the time the investigation was taking place. Additionally, we know from Michael Cohen that the President conspired with Cohen to violate campaign finance laws, provides a strong argument for at least considering impeachment. Although as I have noted elsewhere given the fact that he is currently serving a prison sentence for, among other things, lying to Federal agents, Michael Cohen’s testimony alone isn’t going to convict anyone of anything in any court anywhere. There needs to be corroborating evidence. Possibly that evidence exists, but we don’t know that. As for the Mueller Report, I would suggest that it is the beginning of the process, not the end and that an impeachment move based solely on that content of that report would be seen as a plainly political move by a House of Representatives controlled by the party opposed to the President.

As things stand now, it’s obvious that any effort to impeach the President will end in failure. Getting a majority of the House of Representatives to approve Articles of Impeachment will be the easy part. As I’ve noted before, though, that’s only one-half of the process. After the articles are approved, the Senate will be required to conduct a trial in which two-thirds of the Senate — 67 Senators — would be required in order to convict the President and remove him from office. In the current Senate, that would mean that, assuming all the Democrats vote to convict, advocates for impeachment would still need at least 20 Republicans to vote that way as well. The odds of that happening, of course, are somewhere between slim and none and that’s where the political risk of pursuing a doomed impeachment comes into play. As the saying goes, if you come after the king, you best not miss.

One possible outcome of such a scenario, of course, is that the impeachment process and the information that is made public in a trial damages Trump to such a degree that he ends up being far too tainted a candidate to win re-election. Based on past experience, though, it seems far more likely that the actual outcome will be that Trump will emerge from an unsuccessful impeachment and trial energized. that his base will be energized, and that Democrats and their supporters will be demoralized. This would be precisely the kind of scenario that Trump would like to see heading into an election where based on polling and job approval numbers, he has a serious fight ahead of him if he’s going to be re-elected.

As I’ve said before, this doesn’t mean that Democrats should let up the pressure on the Trump Administration:

[T]he better strategy for Democrats right now is to proceed forward with investigations into the matters discussed above and to do so in as public a manner as possible. Let all the information that can come out be made public unless it is classified. Let the American people decide at the next election what they want to do with that information. This seems like an even wiser strategy given the fact that it is unlikely that any investigations in the House will be completed until we’re nearly on the eve of the 2020 election. At that point, the question will be whether to proceed with impeachment or take the strategy I have laid out here and let the people decide. Unless the evidence against the President is overwhelming, it seems to me that the decision should lean heavily in favor of putting this matter to the test at the ballot box rather than attempting an impeachment and removal that will not succeed and which could end up energizing Trump and his base when the President is ultimately acquitted in the Senate.

These investigations may ultimately yield information that will lead to overwhelming support for impeachment, or that it might somehow convince 20 Republican Senators that the evidence requires that Trump be removed from office. If that happens, then Democrats should proceed accordingly. Right now, though, they ought to put talk of impeachment to the side, continue with the investigations even if it means fighting with the Administration in court over subpoenas and document requests, and let the evidence that is or may be uncovered speak for itself. Prematurely moving forward with impeachment at this time will only likely energize Trump and his base ahead of 2020, and that’s the last thing Democrats should be doing.

So Rubin is right that it’s possible that Americans could be persuaded that impeachment is the only way to deal with this President. For now, though, it’s clear that Nancy Pelosi is right that Trump “isn’t worth” pursuing against via impeachment at this time. If and when that changes, it will be time to act. In the meantime, Congressional Democrats ought to focus on building the case against Trump and proceeding according to what the evidence uncovers. Getting out in front of public opinion will not help at election time.

FILED UNDER: Congress, Donald Trump, Impeachment, Politicians, US Politics,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. michael reynolds says:

    He should be impeached. It is the responsibility of the House to impeach a corrupt, criminal, unfit president. He is a danger to the republic and despite all the talk of impeachment being political, it’s more than that: it is a duty.

    There is a carrier task force steaming toward Iran. B-52’s have been moved to Qatar. Bolton clearly wants war and Trump lacks the capacity to make reasonable decisions. He says he’s against war, but wittle Trumpy says lots of things. We could quite easily end up in a war caused by Trump for purely political reasons. We cannot and should not tolerate this despicable, unstable, fraud of a man in the White House a minute longer than necessary.

    The fact that 46% of Americans voted for him is a national humiliation, a shameful act that ranks up there with Manzanar as something we cannot hope to explain to our children. Until he is removed we cannot claim to be the leader of the free world, or a mature, functioning democracy. No progress will be possible until he is gone. This country will continue the slide it began in 2016, our power and our prestige waning by the day.

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  2. @michael reynolds:

    How does the fact that the Senate will not have sufficient votes to convict play into all this?

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  3. michael reynolds says:

    The Senate is the Senate, they have their own duty.

    My obligation as a man to do the right thing is not contingent on whether or not it is popular or whether success is ensured. Right and wrong, legal and illegal, true and false are not decisions to be made by poll or even by voting.

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  4. @michael reynolds:

    An impeachment is a political act in the end. At the moment, it seems clear to me that an impeachment process that fails will end up empowering Trump rather than weakening him.

    Is that what you want?

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  5. Kit says:

    Question: Could the House impeach, fail and impeach again? Could they go full Benghazi and just constantly impeach, hoping that the next time will work? If only norms stand in the way of such a strategy, I’m willing to place a small wager that we will live to see it used some day.

    In any case, Trump will never be removed from office by impeachment: the numbers don’t add up now, and he can inoculate himself simply enough for an eventual second term. If a wave election seems likely to wash the Senate blue, Trump need only choose a running mate so toxic that no rational person could ever consider handing over the reins to his #2. The Republican bench is far deeper than I could ever hope to evaluate, but Bolton is the first name springing to mind.

  6. michael reynolds says:

    @Doug Mataconis:
    I don’t think that outcome can be assumed. Jurors go into a trial not knowing whether the accused is guilty. That’s why we have a trial, to convince them. The enemy here isn’t just Trump, it’s the GOP. Let’s make the case to the American people, then let’s have the GOP Senate ignore all the evidence and become part of the cover-up. Sooner or later we are done with Trumpy the Clown, impeachment is a way to indelibly stain the GOP as complicit in criminal and even treasonous acts.

    The millennials and the next generation are watching all this. I see no downside to implicating the GOP as an extension of the #TrumpCrimeFamily because sooner or later the rest of Trump’s crimes will be exposed. I want the GOP to wrap themselves all around money-laundering, tax evasion, obstruction of justice, the subversion of the rule of law and treason. I want everyone under the age of granny to associate the GOP with lies and corruption. That outcome is just fine by me.

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  7. @Kit:

    I honestly don’t know because its never happened before. Theoretically, there could be a Double Jeopardy defense if the House sought to re-impeach based on counts on which the President had been acquited. There is no law on this question that I am aware of, though.

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  8. @michael reynolds:

    You’re making a case for using the evidence against Trump in an election campaign, not for proceeding forward with an impeachment we all know will fail to result in removal.

  9. michael reynolds says:

    @Doug Mataconis:
    We do not all know any such thing. It’s likely, yes, but we don’t know it.

    I’m saying:
    1) Crimes have been committed.
    2) Crimes should be prosecuted and in the case of a sitting president the only available process is impeachment.

    If the outcome is removal, excellent. If the outcome is the discrediting of the GOP, also excellent.

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  10. Scott F. says:

    @michael reynolds:

    I want the GOP to wrap themselves all around money-laundering, tax evasion, obstruction of justice, the subversion of the rule of law and treason. I want everyone under the age of granny to associate the GOP with lies and corruption. That outcome is just fine by me.

    I think I’m with Doug on this. All these things you want (as do I) are achievable through congressional investigations that are impeachment hearings in all but name.

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  11. @Scott F.:

    That’s what I’m saying. Investigate this thoroughly and, if the evidence is there, then it becomes time for the Judiciary Committee, and the House as a whole, to consider whether impeachment is a necessary and viable strategy. Because impeachment is inherently political (rather than simply being the criminal matter that Michael seems to be treating it as), though, part of that calculation has to be political in nature and that includes considering the political ramifications of a failed impeachment on the very eve of the 2020 campaign.

    Democrats also need to be aware of the fact that voters are not on board with impeachment at this point. Therefore, their campaign for 2020 needs to be about more than just Trump.

  12. Davebo says:

    @michael reynolds: The first time I’ve ever down voted you Michael.

    We do know there’s no way the Senate as it’s currently configured would vote to remove Trump. That doesn’t mean that I think the House shouldn’t begin impeachment proceedings. And there could be political blowback from those proceedings as the Senate acquits which they most certainly will.

    In the end, I’m with you. The House shouldn’t let political considerations in what is certainly a political process stop them from doing what at this point is their duty. Force both House Republicans and Senate Republicans to record a vote in support of this mess. Deal with the backfire when it comes.

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  13. JKB says:

    In the current Senate, that would mean that, assuming all the Democrats vote to convict, advocates for impeachment would still need at least 20 Republicans to vote that way as well.

    Interesting that a lawyer does not consider that in a trail the defendant is able to offer a defense, other theories to fit the “evidence”. But you assume that all the Democrat jurors (senators) will enter the process completely biased, but some Republicans may be able to open-mindedly follow the evidence and alternative theories.

    Democrat leaders won’t even go read the minimum the law will allow redacted Mueller report. They know there is no there, there. They want to keep the media “trail” going. But Trump doesn’t shrink from the fake media coverage. Instead, he exposes it. Or at least causes people to question it and therefore think for themselves. DC vacation season is starting, DC will be emptying. Trump will remain. By the time, staff returns after Labor Day, it will be all over.

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  14. Gustopher says:

    @Scott F.:

    I think I’m with Doug on this. All these things you want (as do I) are achievable through congressional investigations that are impeachment hearings in all but name.

    Congressional investigations are background noise. Impeachment is a spectacle.

    It will take a spectacle to break through the bubble for a lot of people.

  15. Gustopher says:

    @Doug Mataconis: There’s no shortage of impeachable offenses, and no requirement to bundle them up into a single set of articles of impeachment.

    Does the Senate have the option of not trying the President? Because I can see McConnell doing that.

  16. Scott F. says:

    @Gustopher: “Spectacle” plays into Trump’s strength. Don’t give it to him. The law is on the Democrats’ side.

    The calendar can be, too. Protracted investigations, accompanied by a steady drumbeat of court findings against the Trump administration, would provide constant reminders that the Republicans in Congress have completely capitulated to a corrupt president. Showcase, right up to the 2020 election, that the political crisis we are in is not just about Trump, but his lickspittle party. Taking the Senate from the GOP is as important, if not more so, than removing Trump before the end of his term. Especially since removing Trump gives us Pence, not a Democrat, in the WH.

  17. @Gustopher:

    The Constitution specifically uses the word “shall” when speaking about the trial in the Senate. There is no option here, although the Senate does have the option of deciding on what type of hearing would be conducted.

    In the most recent impeachment trial held in the Senate, it was decided that the fact-finding would be done by a Select Committee made up of an equal number of members from both parties. That committee then prepared and voted to send to the full Senate a report on the proceedings with its recommendation. Though this is not how things have been done in the past, the Supreme Court ruled that the Senate was free to adopt its own rules.

    That was an impeachment of a Federal Judge, though, not the President. In the case of Presidential impeachment, I would imagine they’d follow the same rules that were used in 1868 and 1998.

  18. Gustopher says:

    @Scott F.:

    “Spectacle” plays into Trump’s strength. Don’t give it to him. The law is on the Democrats’ side.

    Spectacle beats law. I think that this should be clear from the last two years.

    Spectacle is also only Trump’s strength when he isn’t challenged. He’s not some kind of mastermind, he’s just loud and drowns out everything else. He needs to be confronted with something louder than he is.

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  19. EddieInCA says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    The Constitution specifically uses the word “shall” when speaking about the trial in the Senate. There is no option here, although the Senate does have the option of deciding on what type of hearing would be conducted.

    With all due respect, it says the exact same “shall” in regards to releasing Trumps taxes and we see how well that has played out. So I have no confidence whatsoever in this administration or the GOP-led Senate to do the right, or more importantly, the legal thing properly.

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  20. @EddieInCA:

    For the umpteenth time, the Supreme Court has ruled that Congressional investigations and subpoenas, even with authorized by specific statute, must have a “legitimate legislative purpose.” Section 6103 was clearly not intended to allow the Ways & Means Committee to go on fishing expeditions.

    What is your objection to bringing this matter before the courts to determine if Congress is acting within the bounds of the law and the Constitution?

    I’d also add that the paranoia you are displaying here is remarkably similar to the paranoia I saw from Republicans during the Clinton and Obama Administrations. For better or worse, while the Trump Administration has been rebuked in court several times there hasn’t been one example of them ignoring a court ruling. Instead, they have appealed them as they are permitted to do.

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  21. Andy says:

    I think the most important thing is for an impeachment to be seen as legitimate. An attempt at impeachment that is perceived as entirely partisan would just be another ratchet toward a banana republic that would have a lot of potentially severe long-term consequences. Legitimacy doesn’t require getting the GoP base on board, but it at least means getting independents along with a clear and incontrovertible majority of the public.

    The “ends justify the means” arguments among the zealots most opposed to Trump should be resisted for this fact alone. Additionally, their arguments – at present at least – aren’t very convincing to those who would actually need to be convinced.

    Personally, I doubt impeachment will get the necessary support. Obstruction alone won’t be enough and the Russian conspiracy angle clearly lacks sufficient evidence, so Democrats would need to find something else. Many are pinning their hopes on Trump’s tax returns – maybe there is something there, but it seems unlikely.

    Regardless, the process needs to play out more and the Democratic leadership is correct in not pushing for impeachment at this point. And unlike the zealots, they seem cognizant of the bigger issues at play.

  22. @Andy:

    I think the most important thing is for an impeachment to be seen as legitimate. An attempt at impeachment that is perceived as entirely partisan would just be another ratchet toward a banana republic that would have a lot of potentially severe long-term consequences. Legitimacy doesn’t require getting the GoP base on board, but it at least means getting independents along with a clear and incontrovertible majority of the public.

    The “ends justify the means” arguments among the zealots most opposed to Trump should be resisted for this fact alone. Additionally, their arguments – at present at least – aren’t very convincing to those who would actually need to be convinced.

    As someone who has been opposed to Trump since before he was a candidate for President, I agree completely.

  23. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Andy: I’m less likely to agree with you than most people here, but you are spot on for this point. Absolutely correct.

  24. Joe says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    The Constitution specifically uses the word “shall” when speaking about the trial in the Senate. There is no option here, although the Senate does have the option of deciding on what type of hearing would be conducted.

    If only the Constitution said the Senate “shall” give advice and consent on Supreme Court nominees.

  25. @Joe:

    As I said numerous times during the Garland thing, there is nothing in the Constitution that requires the Senate to hold hearings or a vote on a Presidential nomination.

  26. Bob@Youngstown says:

    @Doug Mataconis: OT for this thread (but since you brought it up):
    Link
    Page 4 from the CRS:

    The House Ways and Means Committee appears to have begun laying the groundwork to support a valid legislative purpose for seeking the President’s tax returns. In February, the Committee’s Oversight Subcommittee held a hearing examining the need for legislation that would require the President and Vice President to publicly disclose their tax returns.

  27. Teve says:

    I’m not a lawyer so I’m going to assume there’s some reason why finding out just how bad he’s violating the emoluments clause is not obviously a legitimate legislative purpose.

  28. @Teve:

    That matter is primarily being handled in the Courts, not Congress. Not the least because nobody can say for sure what the Emoluments Clauses actually mean and what, if any, punishment there should be if they are violated. The Constitution is completely silent on the second issue.

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  29. Joe says:

    I am not so much quibbling with you, Doug, just sayin’ that with McConnell at the helm, it was fine for the framers to say “shall” but they forgot to say when. That’s a gap he can walk a herd of turtles through.

  30. @Joe:

    But that is my point, there is no “shall” in the Constitutional provision regarding Senate confirmation of Presidential appointees.

  31. al Ameda says:

    Barr has consistently supported the idea that a (in this case Republican) president cannot be indicted, and Mueller used the existing DOJ policy (not a law, a memorandum) that the president cannot be indicted, so as Barr said Congress has one remedy – impeachment.

    I don’t think a majority of the public saw the Clinton impeachment as legitimate, but that did not matter at all …. Two years later Republicans won the White House.

    Trump and Barr are basically saying, impeach us or STFU. Time for Democrats to do what Republican would have done by now, set dates certain and without a White House response, draft articles, hold the vote, impeach and move on.

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  32. @al Ameda:

    The idea that a sitting President cannot be indicted didn’t originate with the Trump Administration. The Clinton DoJ said the same thing in the 90s

  33. al Ameda says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    The idea that a sitting President cannot be indicted didn’t originate with the Trump Administration. The Clinton DoJ said the same thing in the 90s

    Yes, but now we have two important officials who hold to, adhere to, that DOJ opinion. One, Barr, advocates it strongly, and is in a position to impede further investigation, and the other, Bob Mueller, shaped his final Report with that memorandum/policy in mind.

    It seems to me that if you believe that section of Mueller’s Report where he points to numerous instances of obstruction of justice, you have no choice but to have Mueller testify and explain his reasoning there, then if necessary, draft articles of impeachment.

  34. @al Ameda:

    That may be true but if you know impeachment will not result in removal then what?

  35. Gustopher says:

    @Doug Mataconis: They cannot be indicted, but they can face a civil suit and be deposed. I find this baffling.

    (Also, why have we not found a hundred aggrieved parties to sue him?)

  36. al Ameda says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    That may be true but if you know impeachment will not result in removal then what?

    Back in 1998 Republicans knew that the Senate would not convict Bill Clinton, but they did impeached Clinton anyway. What happened then? They won the presidential election in November 2000.

    The situation is different now to be sure – Trump is an incumbent seeking re-election, so the presidency is not truly open this time, as it was then. Republicans believe they’ve won this episode, and maybe they have; Mueller demurred from emphasizing Trump’s obstruction, and Barr wrote the ‘exoneration’ headlines. Democrats were put on their heels by Barr and a surprisingly reticent Mueller. Right now the messaging is all, ‘it’s over, it was a big hoax.’

    But there’s a real risk that Democrats will dampen turnout if they don’t show their active constituencies that at some point they will stand up to Trump. If they let him ignore their subpoenas, then the Democratic Party will not have the turnout they need to win in 2020.

    It’s hard to see a downside to impeaching Trump.

  37. JohnMcC says:

    @al Ameda: Just for the hell of it, I’ll point out that the election of 2000 was not ‘won’ by GWBush in the way most people would use the word.

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  38. gVOR08 says:

    @JohnMcC: No, but he got close enough for the courts to flip it, which is all the GOPs need next time.