It’s tempting to use impeachment to torment Republicans. Former White House press secretary Joe Lockhart, in the New York Times, argues against impeachment: “Allowing [President] Trump to lead the Republican Party, filled with sycophants and weak-willed leaders, into the next election is the greater prize. Democrats have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to realign American politics along progressive lines, very much like Ronald Reagan did for Republicans in the 1980s.” Others argue that impeachment is the best move because it would force Republicans to declare that seeking a foreign adversary’s help, obstructing justice and lying (a lot) are no barriers to the presidency.
It’s not clear where the politics come out, but gaming out 2020 is not how Democrats should proceed. For one thing it’s dangerous; he got elected once and could be reelected. More important, that’s not how things should work when we are considering impeachment and removal of a president.
Too many in the media are so obsessed with the notion that Democrats must now — right now! — decide whether to impeach, they misinterpret statements about process as arguments against impeachment.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Monday made clear that the next step is investigation. “It is also important to know that the facts regarding holding the President accountable can be gained outside of impeachment hearings,” she wrote to her colleagues on Monday. “As we proceed to uncover the truth and present additional needed reforms to protect our democracy, we must show the American people we are proceeding free from passion or prejudice, strictly on the presentation of fact.” She didn’t say Trump would be held accountable outside impeachment; she said Congress must first gain facts in proceedings that do not necessitate the impeachment label. (This is precisely what happened during Watergate; impeachment hearings following the hearings that investigated the coverup.) Pelosi did not rule in or out impeachment.
The speaker accurately pointed out that we don’t even have the full report yet. She also highlighted the appalling reaction by Republicans. “Whether currently indictable or not, it is clear that the President has, at a minimum, engaged in highly unethical and unscrupulous behavior which does not bring honor to the office he holds. It is also clear that the Congressional Republicans have an unlimited appetite for such low standards," she wrote. "The GOP should be ashamed of what the Mueller report has revealed, instead of giving the President their blessings.” And supporting his reelection.
Republicans for the Rule of Law are addressing that precise problem — Republicans’ defense of the indefensible — in a series of ads. The first points to the hypocrisy of their rush to defend Trump:
Another ad debunks Republicans’ claim of exoneration:
This is the conversation that should take place as Democrats fulfill their obligation to investigate wrongdoing, laying the groundwork for possible impeachment: Democrats are laying out the facts for Americans to assess; Republicans don’t care what Trump has done. They’ll back him no matter how heinous his conduct.
Weeks and months of this dichotomy — between a party exploring of the facts that may lead to impeach and the other condoning obstruction and dismissing concerns about foreign interference (with the campaign’s full approval!) — will make clear the moral gulf between the parties. That’s a byproduct, not the purpose of hearings. The sole purpose of hearings must be to illuminate and educate, providing a predicate for possible impeachment if warranted. In this case, the constitutionally appropriate course is also the politically wise one.