Politico has a dispiriting new report on just how chaotic things have gotten inside the House Democratic caucus when it comes to the drive to impeach President Trump. It’s a real mess.
But when you get past all the internal machinations, what it really comes down to this: We still don’t know whether the House Democratic leadership is prepared to ever allow a full House vote on articles of impeachment, no matter what is learned about Trump.
Among the new revelations from the Politico report: Democrats can’t even agree on the question of whether an impeachment inquiry is, in fact, underway. Some interviewed said that there is one; others said there is not.
The answer to this is that the House Judiciary Committee is running an inquiry into whether to bring articles of impeachment. According to legal scholars — see this piece from The Post’s Joshua Matz — this means there actually is an impeachment inquiry underway, if you examine the question in the context of history and the law.
This much, at least, shouldn’t be hard for Democrats to get right: The Judiciary Committee is running an inquiry into whether to bring articles of impeachment. That’s not hard to “message,” flacks.
As it happens, this is a somewhat understandable compromise under the circumstances. Members from a number of moderate districts still don’t want to be associated with an impeachment inquiry; they are feeling little pressure from constituents and have decided they’d pay a political price for supporting one.
I think that position is irresponsible on its substance and probably wrong on the politics. But a compromise in which the Judiciary Committee runs the inquiry, developing the case for possible articles of impeachment, even as moderates continue to talk about health care, is not a wildly absurd solution for leadership to adopt.
For now, anyway. Because here’s the thing: This cannot be sustained forever.
The Politico report gets at why. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) just doesn’t seem to want this to get too far, and that’s creating absurdities such as these:
In a talking-point document to colleagues Tuesday morning, Pelosi’s office described the House’s investigative activity in anodyne terms, characterizing them as typical House oversight of the executive branch. . . .
Pelosi has at times adopted the harsh rhetoric of pro-impeachment lawmakers, most recently accusing Trump of violating the Constitution by allegedly steering government spending to his luxury resorts. She has also accused Trump of “self-impeaching” and privately told colleagues she preferred to see him in prison, rather than impeached. But Pelosi has also repeatedly emphasized the House’s slow, deliberative investigative and legal strategy when pressed on impeachment.
On other occasions, Pelosi has been clear that impeachment — a full House vote on articles of impeachment, should those emerge from Judiciary — cannot happen until it’s bipartisan, and that the public must be brought along.
The first of those will never happen, and setting that bar essentially gives Republicans in lockstep support of Trump veto power over what the House does with its institutional authority. The second looks increasingly as though it isn’t materializing, though one might argue that if the leadership forcefully supported the impeachment inquiry, it might help shift public sentiment toward the idea.
Regardless, what remains unanswered is this: Could anything substantive emerge about Trump that might move the Democratic leadership at this point?
As it debates bringing articles of impeachment, the Judiciary Committee is now looking not just at the special counsel’s findings, but also at other matters — such as the president’s corrupt effort to host the next Group of Seven summit at one of his Florida resorts; Vice President Pence’s stay at another Trump property; Trump’s dangling of pardons; and, possibly, any new information on Trump’s finances that might be gleaned from Deutsche Bank and other sources.
This scrutiny could uncover still more damning information, yet it is still not clear whether anything would be enough at this point.
To be clear, good things can happen from this, regardless. If the existing impeachment inquiry does strengthen Judiciary Democrats’ legal hand, and they win some court battles, forcing the administration to cooperate with their investigations, it could build a public case against Trump whether or not they impeach in the end.
But if Democrats lose these battles, and they end up with very little to show for these efforts — even as the leadership is still equivocating about an impeachment — there will be hell to pay.
Either way, looming in the background is this stark fact: As the Judiciary Committee develops those lines of inquiry, and especially if it ends up voting in favor of articles of impeachment, the case for holding a full House vote on them very well may become stronger. It’s still not clear how this tension will get resolved.
If the leadership has decided that no vote will ever happen no matter what, and is just running out the clock — while leaving the impression a vote could still take place under certain circumstances — that constitutes a very deep incoherence, one that only ensures that this tension will have to come to a head at some point.
If so, that incoherence is itself the problem festering at the core of this whole mess.