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.