President Trump has taken comfort in and Democrats have been tempered by polls showing that impeachment is unpopular with the American people. It’s easy to believe that what is true now will continue, but what if events play a significant role in how Americans perceive impeachment? Might they become convinced that Trump is a menace and that Vice President Pence would be a far superior incumbent who would not, as his boss does, risk dragging them all down to defeat?
A new poll suggests opinion on impeachment may be malleable. Reuters reports, “The number of Americans who said President Donald Trump should be impeached rose 5 percentage points to 45 percent since mid-April.”
In the weeks since the redacted report came out, several developments may have affected voters’ thinking. At least voters outside the Fox News bubble know that far from exonerating Trump, special counsel Robert S. Mueller III found substantial evidence of obstruction of justice. Hundreds upon hundreds of prosecutors have weighed in, affirming they would have brought charges if not for the Office of Legal Counsel memo. And Attorney General William P. Barr has performed dreadfully at a pair of hearings, evading and double-talking his way around the actual findings in the report.
Now imagine if Mueller and then former White House counsel Donald McGahn testify, reaffirming the mountain of evidence that Trump tried to influence witnesses, sought to fire Mueller and tried to curtail the investigation. Surely that would be gripping TV.
Moreover, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has said, Trump’s continued conduct blocking Barr and McGahn from testifying adds to the impression that he is obstructing investigation of his wrongdoing and hiding incriminating information.
Indeed at his news conference following the contempt vote, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) suggested the White House is not stonewalling merely on the Russia probe:
If Trump has indeed ordered agencies to do what he has said publicly — oppose all subpoenas — he is engaged in an unprecedented, across-the-board assault on the Constitution. (Lawfare blog notes that “the Trump White House has been refusing, across the board, to comply with requests for information and documents from multiple House committees in connection with multiple oversight investigations.”) If he intends to raise bad faith claims of executive privilege to avoid responding to any subpoenas — even on topics unrelated to Russia — he has gone one step further than Richard M. Nixon. (Pelosi reiterated this at her Thursday news conference: “And now we’re not even talking about isolated situations. We’re talking about a cumulative effect of obstruction that the administration is engaged in and the president declaring that he is not going to honor any subpoenas from the Congress.”)
Perhaps this behavior will impress the public, making the case that he not only has something (or some things) to hide but also is willing to shred the Constitution to stay in power.
In taking Trump to court, pressing methodically ahead, calling key witnesses (e.g., McGahn, Mueller) and obtaining the entire special counsel report Congress is following precisely the same process as it did in Watergate. Just as in Watergate when Sen. Sam Ervin (D-N.C.) led the Watergate committee from May 17, 1973, until its report was issued on June 27, 1974, hearings in the House Judiciary and other House committees can gather facts to determine if the House should proceed to consider impeachment. (The House Judiciary Committee under Rep. Peter Rodino commenced on May 9, 1974, and voted to pass three of five articles of impeachment in late July 1974.)
Pelosi’s determination to take this step by step preserves the House’s option to later institute impeachment hearings, gives the American people a tutorial in Trump’s misconduct and, as it turns out, is pushing Trump to undertake even more outlandish (and more impeachable) actions. Pelosi told reporters, “I think that what we want to do is get the facts. We want to do it in a way that is the least divisive to our country and the most productive. We’re asking in the constitutional way for the administration to comply.” She added, “We still have more opportunities. We’ll see if Mueller will testify, and that will make a big difference in terms of where we go from here.”
After all of that, we’ll see where public opinion settles. For now, Trump continues to be his own worst enemy.