The Post reports on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) remarks during an interview about a potential impeachment of President Trump: “Impeachment is so divisive to the country that unless there’s something so compelling and overwhelming and bipartisan, I don’t think we should go down that path, because it divides the country. And he’s just not worth it.”
I’ve always thought that was her position. She avoided making an issue of it during November’s midterm elections, and for very good reason. Impeachment isn’t just divisive; it’s hugely unpopular. In most polling, more than 60 percent of voters disapprove of the idea. There is zero indication so far that Republicans are going to break with him so, even if the House were to impeach him, the Senate wouldn’t reach the two-thirds threshold required (and probably not even a majority) to remove him. Trump would then declare victory and Democrats would look feckless.
Unless there is overwhelming and bipartisan consensus that Trump should be removed, it’s not worth seriously considering, she says. Well, that is a very significant qualifier. Impeachment is a monumental undertaking so you better have reason to do so. This is an appropriate analysis since impeachment, undoing an election via Congress, is contemplated as a political, not legal, process and requires a super majority for removal. The American people must be convinced that he cannot remain in office. If there is some atrocious smoking gun and/or the accumulated evidence is so weighty, then even Republicans’ minds might be changed.
The rub is if the evidence is truly compelling but Republicans remain his obstinate defenders. Constitutional scholar Laurence Tribe argues that in such a case you also have to consider “the danger of NOT impeaching a president whose guilt has become clear just because the Senate seems too beholden to the president to remove him.” The alternative would be to refer the case for prosecution (though Trump’s Justice Department won’t move while the president is in office) and/or consider other sanctions — such as censure. Tribe contends that “unless and until DOJ does rethink its policy on the criminal prosecution of a sitting president who committed serious crimes to win that office — the window that Speaker Pelosi has carefully left open for a possible decision by the House to impeach Trump (rather than just trying to defeat him in the 2020 election) needs to be broadened.”
Former prosecutor Renato Mariotti had a similar reaction. “While I understand why Speaker Pelosi believes that it would not be politically advantageous to impeach Trump if Senate Republicans will not vote to convict, the House has a constitutional duty to uphold the rule of law.” He adds, “Given the Justice Department’s view that a sitting president cannot be indicted, a decision by the House not to impeach unless conviction in the Senate is certain allows a Senate minority to ensure that a president escapes punishment for serious crimes. While her decision may be politically savvy, the American people deserve to know where each Member of Congress and Senator stands, and for the constitutional process to play out.”
Still, Pelosi understands the politics and knows that defeating Trump in 2020 is of the highest priority. If an ultimately ineffective impeachment detracts from that goal, it’s not worth it. It would in fact be a gross political error. Moreover, if a smoking gun does turn up, the possibility of bipartisan consensus remains.
But, you say, this means he’ll “get away” with it! Nonsense. As soon as he is out of office, he can be prosecuted like any American at the federal or state level — and on any number of possible charges including obstruction of justice, campaign finance violations and a host of financial crimes involving his business and/or foundation.
Why bother with congressional hearings? Well, it’s important for the voters to know what Trump has been up to so they can hold him accountable at the polls in 2020. In addition, other people’s crimes or noncriminal wrongdoing may be revealed. The very act of congressional investigation is critical to reestablishing democratic norms and the separation of powers.
Moreover, let’s remember that Congress is supposed to investigate lots of things that aren’t crimes — e.g., a disastrous child-separation policy, conflicts of interest, carelessness in handling security clearances, receipt of foreign emoluments, incompetent foreign policy. That is what we do in a democracy. (I know, it’s difficult to remember after Republicans did nothing.) We insist government be transparent and we hold those responsible to account for their conduct.
Finally, remember that both the special counsel and Congress are investigating a counterintelligence matter — who, if anyone, cooperated/conspired with the Russians. If Trump, members of his family or current officeholders did it, or were negligent in preventing others from doing it, we need to know.
Interestingly, though Pelosi dismisses impeachment, she has no problem pronouncing Trump “unfit."
I mean, ethically unfit. Intellectually unfit. Curiosity-wise unfit. No, I don’t think he’s fit to be president of the United States. And that’s up to us to make the contrast to show that this president — while he may be appealing to you on your insecurity and therefore your xenophobia, whether it’s globalization or immigrants — is fighting clean air for your children to breathe, clean water for them to drink, food safety, every good thing that we should be doing that people can’t do for themselves. You know, I have five kids, and I think I can do everything for them, but I can’t control the air they breathe, the water that they drink. You depend on the public sector to do certain things for the health and well-being of your family, and he is counter to that.
Trump’s fitness for office is a matter for the voters. They made a horrible judgment in that regard in 2016. Next year, they’ll have to consider the past four years and render a different judgment.