To Impeach Or Not To Impeach? That Is The Question

I continue to be opposed to impeachment of the President, but I'm slowly moving in that direction thanks primary to the Administration's own actions.

Yesterday’s public statement by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, the first such statement he has made during his tenure, which explained some of the basis for what is in his report to the Attorney General has brought the issue of impeachment back to the forefront. While Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi continues to be cautious on the issue, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler said that everything is on the table, including impeachment, in the wake of Mueller’s statement. As a result, the pressure to go down the road toward impeachment is building on a House Speaker trying to balance the calls of what is still a minority of her caucus calling for impeachment and the political risks that such a move would represent. (To put things in perspective, 46 of the 235 Democrats in Congres are calling for impeachment, along with 1 Republican. That represents just 20% of the Democratic Caucus and roughly 11% of the total membership of the House.) Additionally, a number of the 2020 candidates for the Democratic nomination have now formally come out in favor of impeachment. Given all this, it’s apparent that the issue of impeachment and whether the House Democrats should proceed down that road will be a huge issue as we head into the summer.

As I have noted before, I remain skeptical about the idea of proceeding forward with the impeachment of the President at this time. It’s not that I have doubts about the potential charges against the President as laid out in the Mueller report. I also don’t doubt the other evidence of wrongdoing such as violations of the Emoluments Clauses as detailed in the various lawsuits that have been filed against the President, the allegations related to his apparent conspiracy with Michael Cohen to violate campaign finance laws, and the allegations regarding the operation of The Trump Foundation and other matters currently being investigated by the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, the Attorney General of New York, and potentially other law enforcement agencies. In addition to all of this, the stonewalling strategy that the Administration is engaging in with regard to facially valid Congressional requests for documents and access to witnesses mirrors the charges that made up the third Article of Impeachment that was prepared against President Nixon in 1974.

Rather, my doubts lie in the world of the practical and the political.

From the practical side of things, there is the fact that while it’s clear that there would obviously be enough votes to impeach the President it is equally clear that there would not be sufficient votes in the Senate to remove him from office, at least at this time. Indeed, Senate Republicans have already made it clear that their minds are already made up on this issue. Because of this, proceeding forward with an impeachment and trial process where an outcome of acquittal seems inevitable strikes me as being ill-advised.

This gets to the political side of my calculation, which is the fact that an unsuccessful impeachment and trial would be likely to embolden this President and his supporters not only with respect to his re-election but the impact on how he might govern in the wake of such a failed effort. As we sit here today, there is at least a decent chance that the right Democratic nominee could beat the President in November 2020. If we enter the next election year with the President having come off a failed effort to remove him from office, though, that could lead to a reenergized Trump and GOP base that could potentially lead to a repeat of 2016, where Trump manages to win re-election even if he fails to get a majority of the popular vote.

In this respect, it’s also worth noting that polling has indicated that the American public does not want to see Congress pursue impeachment at this time. To be sure. the same polling shows that there is significant support for impeachment among Democrats just as there is significant opposition to it among Republicans. Crucially, though, this same polling currently shows that a majority of self-identified Independents say they are opposed to impeachment at this time. Additionally, Congressional Democrats who have spent the current recess back home attending town halls and other meetings with constituents have found little support for immediate moves to impeach the President even among Democrats. Instead, these voters want to see Congress focused on health care reform and other issues of importance to the average voter. Pursuing this likely the reason behind the recent comments by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that it isn’t worth pursuing impeachment given the fact that there’s no real chance that the Senate will vote to convict and remove the President from office.

Advocates for impeachment may be correct that because of the Mueller Report and other things we already know a lot about President Trump. such as the fact that he conspired with Michael Cohen to violate campaign finance laws, provides a strong argument for at least considering impeachment. However, the fact remains that doing so now with just eighteen months left before the 2020 General Election when it’s obvious that Trump will end up winning would be a huge political gamble by Democrats.

One possible outcome 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.

It’s possible that those investigations will 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.

All that having been said, I must say that I am slowly approaching the point where impeachment is imperative. Primarily, this is due to the Trump Administration’s decision to stonewall all requests for documents and witnesses with respect to the Russia Investigation or any other matter. Just last week, the Administration blocked the House Judiciary Committee from hearing from former White House Counsel Don McGahn. Additionally, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin rejected both a request and a subpoena for President Trump’s tax returns despite the fact that a Federal statute seems to clearly require Congress to comply with the request. While it’s likely that the courts will reject these efforts, as we’ve seen courts in the District of Columbia and New York City do, the fact that the Administration is brazenly refusing to cooperate with Congress is a serious matter. In that regard, it’s worth noting that Article III of the Articles of Impeachment that were approved by the House Judiciary Committee against President Nixon covered the President’s failure “without lawful cause or excuse to produce papers and things as directed by duly authorized subpoenas issued by the Committee on the Judiciary of the House of Representatives on April 11, 1974, May 15, 1974, May 30, 1974, and June 24, 1974, and willfully disobeyed such subpoenas. ” This is the same pattern of behavior that the Trump Administration is engaging in and if it continues then Congress may be left with no other option than to proceed down the impeachment path.

For those of us who oppose the President and recognize the danger that he poses to the country, the goal ought to be to remove him from office. There are only three ways to do this. One is via the 25th Amendment, as James Joyner suggested in a post last week. While it’s true that there is evidence that this President is in some sort of mental decline, it’s highly unlikely that the Vice-President and Cabinet will take any action in this regard. Additionally, as Dave Schuler notes at The Glittering Eye, proceeding via the 25th Amendment under these circumstances has the potential for setting a dangerous precedent. The second option, of course, is impeachment, which I have spoken to in this post. The final means of removing Trump lies in the ballot box, and while this is arguably the most difficult and uncertain of the methods it is also the only viable one at this point. This doesn’t mean that impeachment is off the table, nor does it mean that Congress should hold back in its investigations of the President. Indeed, as I have said before, those investigations need to move forward. It does mean, however, that we need to be realistic about what is politically possible and the risks impeachment button would entail.

For that reason, I continue to believe that Congress should refrain from breaking the glass and pushing the impeachment button. As I said, though, I am slowly moving in favor of the idea and the Administration’s own behavior is the reason for that. If it continues, then impeachment may be the only option left. At that point, I’ll be 100% behind it.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, 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. Not the IT Dept. says:

    1. Impeach Trump in the House.

    2. Send it to the Senate, which refuses to vote on it or rejects it outright or drags out the issue up to 2020 campaign.

    3. Campaign in 2020 on defeating enough Republican Senators and replacing with Democrats to ensure passage through the Senate.

    4. Lather, rinse, repeat.

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  2. Scott F. says:

    Can you imagine Trump re-elected on the basis of an energized base and affirmed by the US Senate that he is above the law? It chills the blood.

    The way Doug details it here, I think it could be time to shift the narrative from “whether” to impeach to “when” and “how” to impeach. The objective has to be the ultimate removal of Trump and a powerful repudiation of the political calculus the Republicans are using to protect him now.

    So shift the message to “impeachment is inevitable” but don’t rush through any of the actions. Slow walk getting started to allow the investigating committees to collect more evidence. Drag out the hearings to the greatest extent possible, so Republicans have to keep going on TV to defend lawlessness. Leave as little time as possible for Senate acquittal to be used to energize the 2020 campaign for both Trump and GOP Senators. Campaign on not only Trump corruption, but Republican enablement of that corruption. “Country over Party” in every stump speech.

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  3. Not the IT Dept. says:

    America cannot afford to “drag things out” much longer. You’re giving politicians too much credit for being able to control things. Dems will look wishy-washy and uncertain. Firm action is the only way to go. Trump doesn’t do well when he’s confronted by strong action from someone.

  4. CSK says:

    Let Pelosi continue to torture Trump and thus drive him into complete gibbering lunacy. He’ll be incapacitated well before the next election rolls around.

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  5. mattbernius says:

    If the Democrats go down this path, the need to follow the Watergate model (actually hold meaningful investigative hearings with primary actors from Mueller’s research) versus the Clinton model (call one key summation witness – Starr).

    Rushing the process would be a disaster and would definitely help Trump in the long run. If the Democrats believe that Mueller’s report makes the case for impeachment, then they need to do the hard work of actually teasing it out through testimony and all the evidence that Mueller preserved through the investigation.

    In this respect Mueller has most likely done the Democrats and the country a service in refusing to be a Ken Starr.

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  6. JohnMcC says:

    Something I have not heard mentioned but seems reasonable to me: Impeach the Attorney General for perjury. In addition to all the other investigations mentioned above, there would be the opportunity of take testimony deep in the administration. There’d be all the theater anyone could ask for if played correctly.

    It would be equivalent to the 1943 decision to use the growing American army to open a ‘2nd front’ in Europe — by invading Morocco. So Michael Reynolds would give his valuable endorsement, eh?

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  7. KM says:

    It’s understandable that you’re hesitant to bring out the big guns, so to speak. Impeachment is a serious issue and should have all the weight and gravitas it deserves – we’re removing the head of the nation due to his wrongdoing, after all. It’s a solemn matter and not to be taken lightly.

    But don’t take this the wrong way, you sound like someone who is arguing against taking the keys from an increasing demented and dangerous Grandpa because it’s not really practical or fair to limit his mobility. You’d rather wait and see how this develops before you act. Who’s gonna take him to his appointments? How’s he going to get his groceries? Who’s responsibility is it to take the keys away and by what authority do they have to deprive him of his right to drive? What happens if other family members start a fight over this and it bleeds into other interactions? Cousin George really wants to stay in the will so he’s gonna back Grandpa to the hilt, to hell with what’s going on. You agree he shouldn’t drive and that it’s a problem if he keeps getting worse or hurts someone but the exact *how* to make it stop is making you uncomfortable. The confrontation, the potential fallout, the backlash and damage it might cause, what it means for the family and future interactions….. all are important details but miss the great point: Grandpa can’t safely drive anymore and dithering about means he’s still out on the road endangering us all. We can have this discussion in the living room or we can have it in the hospital waiting room waiting to see how bad it went. Either way, it’s gonna happen and it’s just a matter of how bad we let things get before we take the uncomfortable action.

    We can be the people who took the keys away early and have a surly Grandpa and cousins who hate us and do their best ruin all holidays….. or we can be the people who let others get killed because we didn’t want to start something by challenging Grandpa’s right to drive like a maniac and *still* have surly Grandpa and cousins who blame us for letting this happen because we’re supposed to be the responsible ones.

  8. Mikey says:

    @mattbernius:

    If the Democrats go down this path, the need to follow the Watergate model (actually hold meaningful investigative hearings with primary actors from Mueller’s research)

    The impact of public, televised hearings can be tremendous.

    In May 1973, Congress began the televised Watergate hearings. Initial polling showed only 19% of Americans supported impeaching Nixon.

    Seven months later, after the hearings–which, according to Gallup’s polling, were viewed in part or whole by 71% of Americans–concluded, Nixon’s approval rating had fallen from 68% to 24%, and support for impeachment had risen to 58%. Nixon, as we all know, then resigned.

  9. Jay L Gischer says:

    @Mikey: I support this. We need to change people’s minds. We need to show them what he’s done, and what his cronies have done. It needs to be onscreen. It needs to be thorough and sober. It needs to push into the media every day.

    This is a long, hard slog. It is worth it. Our country is under attack. Mueller said this. The attack is ongoing. Every citizen should be concerned.

  10. @KM:

    I get what you’re saying but, to use your analogy, what this is really about is recognizing the fact that even if you take the keys away from Grandpa he has a spare set available.

  11. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    Look…just think this thru.
    The House Impeaches, the Senate refuses to follow thru, and Dennison prances around calling it complete exoneration and vindication.
    So take the Senate out of play.
    Proceed with CISOTI; Call It Something Other Than Impeachment.
    SLT, in his post, points out the power of hearing Mueller repeat what anyone who had read the report already knew.
    So have a bunch of hearings whereby the public is educated as to what exactly is in the report. Let them hear it, because they ain’t gonna read it.
    Frankly, given the Dems lackluster performance since the Mueller Report dropped two months ago, I doubt they can pull any of this off. The dog caught the car and now has zero idea what to do with it. The least they can do…for the Republic’s sake…is to try to be smart about strategy, tactics, and the end game.

  12. gVOR08 says:

    @KM:

    you sound like someone who is arguing against taking the keys from an increasing demented and dangerous Grandpa because it’s not really practical or fair to limit his mobility.

    What Doug said in reply to you. He doesn’t want to make an attempt to take away the keys that he knows will fail, and create fallout.

    I’m afraid Doug is right, except that adding a charge of failing to comply with subpoenas doesn’t really change the situation. And when the Senate fails to convict it will set a very bad precedent for future presidents to stonewall. Ds should do everything except formally use the i word. They should investigate and refer Trump’s kids and minions for prosecution if the evidence warrants. Impeaching Barr is as much a waste of effort as impeaching Trump. But referring him to DOJ for prosecution would be entertaining. And they should do what they can to shift the narrative from ‘will the House or won’t the House’ to ‘why are the Senate Rs intransigent without even considering the evidence.’

    I comment some about conservative personality. Arguing Ds should do the morally right thing and impeach, even though it’s doomed to fail, is a very conservative thing to say.

  13. mattbernius says:

    @Mikey:

    The impact of public, televised hearings can be tremendous.

    Correct, if they are investigative.

    If Democrats decide to go the Clinton model and jump to impeachment, then I think they are doing exactly the wrong thing. While much of that was televised it didn’t have as much of an impact.

    My sense is that Pelosi is probably working to get everything (and everyone) in line for the long road versus the short one.

  14. Paine says:

    I’m not too concerned about an impeachment attempt “energizing” his base. It’s already a cult… these people are willing to give up their health, freedoms, and self-respect for Trump. I don’t see how the impeachment hammer would drive anymore deplorables to the polling places who weren’t going to be there anyway.

  15. JKB says:

    “without lawful cause or excuse to produce papers and things”

    Well, “without lawful cause or excuse” is a purely political opinion right now. To substantiate the lawfulness of the request, first you need to go through the adversarial exercise in the courts.

    What I never see considered in these fantasies is the impact upon those Dems in the House who are not from overwhelmingly radical Democrat districts. If impeachment is tried and fails, or the voters become tired of the Dem shenanigans, Trump might win bigly. But at the same time Democrats in Congress may lose bigly. The Electoral College is a reflection of the congressional districts, only House races are not aggregated as EC delegates are.

    It is also rather amusing that many think in this age of a multitude of channels, social media, etc., that any significant portion of the non-political junkie population would even know a “Watergate”-like hearing was going on. There was just a report of viewers responding angrily when the Bachelor was pre-empted for an active tornado warning.

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  16. Mister Bluster says:

    Grandpa Trump’s family are exclusively his GOP cousins in Congress who eagerly chauffeur him around as he drools all over the United States Constitution and shitz on the Republic.
    They already have the keys and are letting this traitor run amok.

  17. dmichael says:

    Missing from this discussion is the current Trump tactic of obstructing all attempts to get information, whether documents or testimony. How is the House going to get the information it has already requested to have meaningful hearings that will be televised and viewed? Trump will challenge and delay as long as possible. Talking to an empty chair won’t excite the viewing audience.

  18. Gustopher says:

    For those of us who oppose the President and recognize the danger that he poses to the country, the goal ought to be to remove him from office. There are only three ways to do this. One is via the 25th Amendment … The second option, of course, is impeachment, which I have spoken to in this post. The final means of removing Trump lies in the ballot box

    We could also introduce him to poutine, and let nature run its course.

    We would probably need to get the Canadians to invite him to a state dinner, whereupon the national delicacy will be served. I suspect that a man of Donald Trump’s physique would find poutine to be irresistible, and have it served at the White House on a regular basis.

    “Would Mr. President care for some bacon bits on his poutine?”

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  19. Pylon says:

    @Gustopher: As a Canadian I object, on several grounds. First, poutine is too good for him – it’s a national treasure. Second, he’d likely foul it with ketchup or something. Third, this implies a visit to Canada. Fourth, if the KFC hasn’t gotten him by now, perhaps nothing will.

  20. David S. says:

    Pence has done an extremely good job of staying out of the limelight in the last year and a half. And strategically, it makes no sense for him to trigger the 25th without an extremely dramatic event that shifts the sentiments of Trump’s cult following enough that he could subvert it for himself.

    For Pence, the best strategic option is to force the Democrats to impeach, take the Oval Office for what remaining time is left, and try to leverage that into an electoral victory on Trump’s coattails. Because at this point, he’s come out completely unscathed by the Mueller report and is in no meaningful danger aside from everything we knew about him already.

  21. gVOR08 says:

    @David S.: Pence can’t do anything about impeachment, or the 25th amendment, without the support of other Republicans. Trump has proven himself the master at firing up the base. There’s no reason why Republicans in general, or Pence’s owner, Charles Koch, would want to replace Trump at the top of the ticket with Pence. As for what Pence wants, I doubt there’s another Republican in the world who cares.

  22. SC_Birdflyte says:

    Well, I notice that the yield curve has inverted again. If there IS a recession in the next year, the public support for the I-word might rise by a considerable amount. I have a dream: I run into Trump on the streets of London and suggest we go for a drink. I take him to “The Hung Drawn and Quartered,” a pub within a couple of blocks of the Tower. While we’re enjoying our drinks, I casually point out to him the noose which hangs over the bar.

  23. gVOR08 says:

    Heard someone comment that Nixon was removed because the public heard audio of him committing crimes, and in the 21st century, we’re not getting rid of Trump without video. I don’t think video of someone talking about Trump will cut it.

    Pelosi’s right, do an impeachment investigation without using the I word. There’s no smoking gun. It’s two bit corruption and a clown act everywhere you turn. Make that the story, along with the unwillingness of Senate GOPs to face reality.

  24. Kathy says:

    Rather than make predictions about the future, I prefer to look at the past.

    there are many difference between Watergate and Dennison. But I think they can be reduced to three essential ones:

    1) Nixon and his campaign had engaged in dirty politics, for which they had then to provide a coverup. So it was all premeditated. Whereas Dennison pretty much stumbled into obstruction, and took advantage of Russian meddling.

    2) America was far less divided, not just politically, but in other important aspects. For example, most people got their news from the same three TV networks and handful of national newspapers. Today each side has their news outlets.

    3) Most important, the Democrats had control of both the House and Senate from the start of Nixon’s second term. They didn’t have to wait over two years to begin investigations in earnest, nor endure two years of a mix of desultory investigation and whitewashing.

    There are other factors, like the personalities involved, the state of the economy, the world situation, etc. And I can’t resist citing Marx (that Marx) and say history repeats itself, first as tragedy and then as farce. The problem is the farce can be just as harmful as the tragedy

  25. Mister Bluster says:

    America was far less divided.

    I find these things difficult to measure:

    Anti Nixon demonstration on Inauguration Day 1973

    Hard Hat Riot 1970 NYC

  26. Liberal Capitalist says:

    … it is equally clear that there would not be sufficient votes in the Senate to remove him from office, at least at this time.

    Ultimately, this is all that matter. But it matters in many ways.

    1) Pelosi knows this, and realizes that she cannot impeach as it will stop dead in the Senate. And the GOP machine will bury her and the Democrats

    2) Elected Republicans no longer care what is right for the country, and their need to pretend that they care has completely fell away with the Trump administration. McConnell has completely gone party-over-country. This is evidenced by the recent statement on his appointing a supreme court justice during an election cycle, and the republicans blocking (for the third time) a domestic emergency response aid bill. Their constituents are the 1%, and the 1% don’t pay for someone else’s tornado damaged home.

    There have been many ideas in this thread of how this could be done, or arguments of why this SHOULD be done.

    But Pelosi knows: the right way is through the 2020 election.

    Yes, Trump could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot someone, and he would not be impeached by Republicans in 2019.

    But the data and the case can be built that it is overwhelming against the Trump administration. Every Democratic candidate (even those without a chance in hell) can repeat the talking points over and over until it is known to every American that Trump is a criminal, has placed his own interests above those of America, has created tax cuts that did nothing but provide the 1% more money (and create even greater inequality). And with today’s news that the Census was to be used to benefit white republicans, the case for a white supremist in the white house is evident.

    Yes, there are some Americans that want a dictator. That is unquestioned.

    However when the majority of Americans are shown that they have been duped into electing a want-to-be dictator, the numbers will turn out to win both the popular and electoral vote.

    Trust Pelosi. Rouse the rabble. Get out the vote.

  27. Kathy says:

    @Liberal Capitalist:

    Yes, there are some Americans that want a dictator.

    Because they’re sure the dictator will oppress the bad people, not them.

  28. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Not the IT Dept.: What happens in the overall Congressional Election if you fail at Step 3? Also, is Pence a better Republican than Trump, and if so, is a better Republican what you really want to secure?

  29. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Kathy: I think it goes something like

    And then they came for me, of course, by that time anyone who would have said anything was already gone.

  30. michael reynolds says:

    I’ve been thinking this over and keep coming back to this: another man’s failure to do his duty does not excuse me failing to do mine. The fact that the Republican senate has abased itself is their problem. The Democratic House should uphold the constitution and do whatever they can to save this country from that thug.

    I have a lot of respect for Nancy Pelosi, and I suspect she just wants more ammo, particularly on Trump’s finances, but I think the boulder is rolling downhill. Impeach the POS.

  31. gVOR08 says:

    I hope you’re right that the boulder is rolling down hill, but I’m not confident. I think Pelosi’s where she’s been all along. If we get a smoking gun, impeach. If not, keep digging dirt and throwing it to the press to try to ensure Trump loses the election. I think, given Senate GOPs who won’t consider any evidence short of video of Trump shooting Charles Koch in the middle of Fifth Avenue, that is “whatever they can to save this country”.