The opinions of major publications are divided as the House prepares for a historic vote Wednesday, and a host of traditionally more-conservative editorial boards have yet to weigh in — including several that snubbed Trump in 2016 by conspicuously breaking from long histories of Republican endorsements.
Many papers backing impeachment have described a slow-building choice amid hearings into whether Trump abused his position to pressure a foreign power for personal political gain.
“With reluctance …” the piece by the Tampa Bay Times begins.
“Until recently,” USA Today writes, “we believed that impeachment proceedings would be unhealthier for an already polarized nation than simply leaving Trump’s fate up to voters next November.”
The Los Angeles Times mulled a call for impeachment for months, said Nicholas Goldberg, the paper’s editorial page editor. Staffers worried the proceedings would just inflame American divisions and probably not result in Trump’s departure, no matter the findings.
They watched House testimonies intently, Goldberg said, as Trump’s defenders accused those pushing for impeachment of jumping at the chance to undermine the president and his agenda. Democrats contend the president withheld important military aid and a coveted White House meeting to get Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Trump’s opponents.
“We don’t want to be part of a rush to judgment,” Goldberg told The Washington Post.
He and his colleagues had listened to a slew of career officials describe their discomfort. They had heard about messages and phone calls documenting mounting pressure on Ukraine. They had noted the concerns of constitutional scholars.
“We’ve seen enough,” they wrote.
As for the concerns that made them “late converts”: Those “must yield to the overwhelming evidence that Trump perverted U.S. foreign policy for his own political gain,” the editorial board said. “That sort of misconduct is outrageous and corrosive of democracy.”
The impeachment inquiry was sparked by a whistleblower complaint over a call between Trump and Zelensky. Trump is accused of pressing the Ukrainian leader to open investigations into Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, as well as into a debunked theory that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 U.S. election.
The inquiry culminated this week in two articles of impeachment, which accuse Trump of abusing his power and obstructing Congress by not cooperating with the investigation. The House Judiciary Committee approved the articles Friday along party lines. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), meanwhile, vowed to acquit Trump if necessary, and the president decried the move as “an embarrassment to this country.” Republicans have called impeachment an effort to overturn the results of the 2016 election.
Editorial boards, too — groups of opinion writers who operate independently from the newsroom — have split on whether Trump should become the third U.S. president to be impeached.
The Wall Street Journal criticized the Democrats’ case as “weak” on Wednesday, arguing “abuse of power” as the president’s critics have outlined it is too vague. Moving ahead on that charge would create a “a new and low standard for impeachment that will come back to haunt future Presidents of all parties,” the paper said.
The Journal joined Republicans in calling impeachment proceedings politically motivated, saying Democrats simply hate Trump and his style of governing.
“There was wide agreement that Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton violated criminal statutes,” the editorial board wrote. “In this case Democrats don’t even try to allege a criminal act.”
But the editorial pages of other national outlets — the New York Times, The Washington Post and USA Today — have put their weight behind impeachment, along with major local papers around the country.
The list includes the Los Angeles Times, the Salt Lake Tribune, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, the Tampa Bay Times, the Orlando Sentinel, the Boston Globe, the New York Daily News, the Chicago Sun-Times, the Philadelphia Inquirer and the San Francisco Chronicle.
“There may be no single, smoking gun, but there’s ample acrid black stuff rising from the White House,” the New York Daily News wrote.
Some papers are waiting to say whether the president should ultimately be kicked out of office. The editorial board of the L.A. Times has made clear it dislikes Trump’s style and policies, Goldberg said Saturday — they’re a “liberal editorial page in the middle of a liberal city” — but he says his colleagues want to hear the proceedings in full.
He said he’s hoping for the same attitude from readers, despite entrenched views.
“Look, we live in very, very partisan times,” he said. “Many are dug in. Many people aren’t listening to arguments on both sides.
“But I certainly hope there are people out there who are still keeping an open mind,” he said.
The Philadelphia Inquirer, on the other hand, says it is already convinced that the president should be removed. It gives significant weight to the second charge of obstruction — the charge “that should have us all frightened,” the Inquirer’s editorial board writes. It added that the House must signal that Congress is on equal footing with the executive branch.
The Post’s editorial board notes that Trump’s refusal to cooperate in any way with Congress’s inquiry sets him apart from past presidents. Trump has blocked the release of documents as well as testimony by a dozen current and former senior officials, and newspapers argue that those missing voices could clarify Trump’s intent in withholding military aid.
Editorial boards favoring impeachment emphasize their fears about a process so deeply divisive, including some Trump critics’ worries that the inquiry will aid the president’s reelection.
“But the House must make its decision based on the facts and merits, setting aside unpredictable second-order effects,” The Post wrote.
A couple editorial boards have called for Trump’s censure rather than impeachment. A formal reprimand by majority vote in Congress, the Detroit News wrote, would convey that Trump has “behaved in a manner ill befitting his office” while acknowledging that the evidence for impeachment is “too much based on hearsay and too conflicting.” The Chicago Tribune agreed that impeachment would be heavy-handed, saying voters should judge Trump’s behavior next year on Election Day.
Then there are the newspapers that have yet to come down on one side or the other. Among the holdouts, as Politico reported this week, are papers such as the Arizona Republic, the Cincinnati Enquirer, the Columbus Dispatch, the Dallas Morning News and the Houston Chronicle, which made headlines in 2016 for ditching their traditional Republican endorsement over distaste for Trump.
That’s not to say they won’t back impeachment in coming days. Michael Lindenberger, deputy opinion editor for the Houston Chronicle, told Politico that his editorial board is still deciding when to speak out and may do so before Wednesday’s House vote.
Papers silent so far on moving impeachment to the Senate have also been willing to criticize Trump and his supporters. The Chronicle argued for an impeachment inquiry even before the Ukraine scandal, pointing to revelations from the investigation by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. Trump is “dangerously reckless,” the Arizona Republic has said. The Columbus Dispatch blasted Republicans who called the impeachment inquiry unconstitutional, saying they are “willing to assault our democracy in order to preserve their places in it."
Still, some question whether impeachment will solve anything.
“The Democratic Congress will impeach,” Phil Boas, the Arizona Republic’s editorial director, told Politico. “The Republican Senate will acquit. And then we’ll have an election. The rest is all posturing.”