With the announcement that the House Judiciary Committee will vote this week on a process and procedures for their impeachment inquiry, some Democrats might indeed finally be inching forward on the most important question they face. That’s good, but not enough, because with every passing day, the message from this president is that if Democrats don’t hold him accountable, he’ll continue to move the bar.
Sometimes he moves it in meaningless ways and other times in dangerous ones. But it can come as no surprise that President Trump used a Sharpie to alter an official weather map or that he took $3.6 billion from the military to spend on his wall. He can, so he does.
Congress returns to Washington on Monday to the same challenges it left behind — a renegade president who has no respect for the rule of law or for Congress. While work remains on a range of important issues before the 2020 election season kicks in fully, time is running out on Item No. 1: Will House Democrats impeach the president?
House leadership had hoped to quell the call for impeachment by spreading investigations across multiple committees, crisscrossing subpoenas, engaging in protracted litigation and heading out of town to let the Mueller dust settle. Frankly, this process has served a purpose — it has diluted the top concerns about this president and confused the public. And, even though a clear majority of the Democratic caucus (including a couple of swing-district members) now favor an impeachment inquiry, their leaders still do not.
Some evidently have concluded that accountability for this president will come with the 2020 election, and they want to leave it at that. They could not be more wrong. Losing an election (should that even happen) will not erase Trump’s end run around the Constitution. Democrats have resisted impeachment in part because of a belief (not grounded in history) that impeachment should ensue only if removal is probable in the Senate.
But linking impeachment with removal loses the unique purpose of this constitutional check — spelling out and limiting the unconstitutional behavior of the president, which could serve to inform voters in 2020. That’s what happened to Andrew Johnson, who was impeached but not removed and also not reelected. Impeachment is only a political question insofar as those making the decision are politicians with elections forthcoming. Win or lose in 2020, the long-term damage to our Constitution might well be done if the House fails to act now.
There’s more than enough evidence. Let’s skip the Mueller report for now. Skip the Russian interference; skip at least 10 identifiable acts of obstruction of justice. Even without the report, Democrats have plenty to act on to hold the president accountable for potentially unlawful behavior and abuse of power.
· The president is an unindicted co-conspirator in the Southern District of New York for paying off an adult film actor to keep her quiet during the 2016 campaign in violation of campaign finance laws. His former lawyer (and co-conspirator) sits in federal prison today as a felon in that case.
· The president has received millions of dollars from foreign governments spending money at his properties, something that is directly prohibited in the Constitution. The president’s recent suggestion that the Group of Seven hold its next gathering at a Trump property takes this profiteering to a new level.
· The president has used his office to profit personally from the presidency. Even the president’s attorney general understands the value of cozying up to him by plunking down a cool $30,000 for a holiday party at Trump’s D.C. hotel. In addition to millions of tax dollars that have been spent at Mar-a-Lago and other Trump properties for the president’s entourage on his many golf outings, we can now add to the list the vice president’s spending at a Trump property on his recent trip to Ireland.
· The president has stepped over Article I by ignoring the role of Congress to appropriate funds, instead moving appropriated defense funds for military construction projects to build a wall that Congress expressly refused to fund.
· The president offered up prophylactic pardons to officials to encourage them to break the law to build his wall along the southern border.
And, then, back to the Mueller report, which combined with former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s testimony provides more than sufficient basis on which to impeach the president.
Should House Democrats choose not to act on this laundry list of obstruction, abuse of power and emoluments violations, they alone bear the responsibility of forever changing the lines of demarcation for future presidents. It really is that simple.