House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Adam B. Schiff (Calif.), like many senior House Democrats, has for months expressed skepticism about starting impeachment hearings against President Trump. But in the wake of the revelations about Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Schiff seems to have changed his mind. As he told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Sunday:
Well, Jake ... if the president is essentially withholding military aid, at the same time that he is trying to browbeat a foreign leader into doing something illicit, that is, providing dirt on his opponent during a presidential campaign, then that may be the only remedy that is co-equal to the evil that that conduct represents.
That Schiff finally realizes impeachment “may be the only remedy” is a relief. If only House Democratic leaders, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), would realize this as well.
The president himself has admitted he discussed investigating former vice president Joe Biden and his son Hunter with Zelensky. We know that Ukraine’s former top prosecutor was in fact fired because of his well-documented corruption, not — as Trump would have us believe — because of any investigation into Hunter Biden. We know that starting in August, the Trump administration engaged in an “unprecedented struggle” with Congress, as The Post’s Karoun Demirjian put it, to withhold $250 million in military aid to Ukraine, before mysteriously releasing the hold in mid-September. We know that the White House is refusing to release a whistleblower complaint about the call, in direct violation of the law. Add this to the pile of evidence that the president’s associates colluded with Russia and that the president obstructed justice to hide that, with only Justice Department precedent shielding him from charges.
And we know that the president’s staff has no defense save conspiracy theory. On “Fox News Sunday,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo refused to even answer whether a president tying foreign aid to a political favor would be wrong. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, appearing on CNN’s “State of Union” supposedly to defend the president, repeatedly deflected questions with the excuse “I wasn’t on the call.” The conspiracizing came from Trump’s wild-eyed personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani; he claimed on Fox that “this town protects Joe Biden” and “the press has been covering up” for the former vice president, without a shred of evidence beyond innuendo.
Rank-and-file Democratic representatives like such as Steve Cohen (Tenn.) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.), as well as the party’s presidential candidates, recognize that impeachment hearings are overdue. Yet House Democratic leaders remain passive. There are no GOP votes for it, goes one excuse. By that standard, Democrats might as well never do anything at all. House Democrats have passed dozens of bills that will never make it through the GOP Senate — bills such as the Paycheck Fairness Act and the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act. Pelosi and allies backed those bills expecting that Republicans would not vote for them; there’s no reason the same can’t be true of impeachment. Hearings will get those “no” votes on the record for posterity.
“Voters don’t support impeachment,” goes another excuse. But that was true during Watergate as well, especially before the hearings. As I wrote earlier this year, less than a third of Americans thought the break-in a serious scandal before the televised Watergate hearings began in 1973. Democrats held hearings before a majority of Americans wanted them, and pushed for impeachment before a majority of Americans supported it. They were vindicated both by the public soon after and by history since.
Even if voters remain skeptical of impeachment, Democrats should proceed, not because it would be popular, but because it’s right. Inaction only emboldens the president’s assault on the American democratic system. Consider this paragraph from The Post’s latest Ukraine story:
Trump’s sense of himself as above the law has been reinforced throughout his time in office. As detailed in the Mueller report, he received help from a foreign adversary in 2016 without legal consequence. He sought to thwart the Russia investigation and possibly obstruct justice without consequence. Through the government, he has earned profits for his businesses without consequence. He has blocked Congress’s ability to conduct oversight without consequence.
This is bigger than politics. It’s about upholding the Constitution and the rule of law. “Without consequence” sums up too much of recent American history, as the powerful flout the law and face at most a slap on the wrist. The torturers under the Bush administration. The bankers who broke the economy. The opioid manufacturers who fueled millions’ addictions. And now the ultimate example: A president whose list of high crimes and misdemeanors gets longer by the week.
Start the hearings. Put the fear of God in this president. In the meantime, as my colleague Karen Tumulty suggests, the House can censure Trump. The public evidence is certainly sufficient to prove that this man has disgraced the presidency. Trump may claim he doesn’t care; he may even say he’ll be proud if Democrats censure him. But the egotist who flips out over mean tweets will see public censure as a consequence.
Do not be afraid, Democrats. Do not cower before public opinion. Do not let another powerful man get away with misdeeds. Make Trump face consequences. Begin impeachment hearings now.