With Democrats’ chances of retaking at least the House rising, the talk of the political world has turned to the prospects for impeachment. President Trump tried to rally supporters in Michigan on Saturday by telling them: “We have to keep the House because if we listen to Maxine Waters, she’s going around saying ‘We will impeach him.’ ”
Rep. Waters (D-Calif.) has indeed been saying that Trump should either resign or be impeached, but that is not the message coming from Democratic Party leaders. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) wants to tamp down impeachment talk, calling it “a gift to the Republicans.” Former Senate majority leader Harry M. Reid echoes Pelosi, saying, “The less we talk about impeachment, the better off we are.”
It’s not hard to see what’s behind Trump’s insistence that the Democrats will impeach him and the Democrats’ disavowal of any such design: While more than 70 percent of Democrats have expressed a desire to impeach Trump, Republicans are dead-set against it and, in one recent poll, 47 percent of independents said they would definitely not vote for a candidate who supports impeachment. If the Democrats are seen to be running on an impeachment platform, they could imperil their chances of picking up seats in red districts.
If Democrats do win the House and initiate impeachment proceedings, many strategists think it could backfire, because Trump will paint the whole process as an attempt to undo the will of the voters. The Senate is unlikely to convict, and Trump could emerge stronger than ever. Recall that Bill Clinton received his highest approval ratings — 73 percent — after the House passed articles of impeachment in 1998. The ultimate nightmare for Trump critics is that a failed attempt at impeachment will make it easier for him to win reelection.
So does that mean that Democrats should forget about impeachment and just wait to get rid of Trump in 2020, as former FBI director James B. Comey has suggested? Not if the facts argue otherwise. If there is incontrovertible evidence that the president has committed “high crimes and misdemeanors,” Congress has an obligation to impeach, regardless of what the polls or political strategists say. Democrats don’t need to make impeachment a major campaign issue — but they shouldn’t deny that they may have to act in the near-future.
While evidence of Trump’s wrongdoing is copious, the case is not yet solid enough to compel impeachment. Trump has engaged in a clear pattern of obstruction of justice, beginning with his attempts to extract a loyalty oath from Comey and get him to go easy on fired national security adviser Michael Flynn. When Comey didn’t comply, he was canned. Trump then admitted on TV that he had acted to stop the investigation of the “Russia thing” (even if he now denies it). All of Trump’s attacks on the Justice Department and the FBI — and his disgraceful demands that they prosecute his political enemies — strengthen the case. So do Trump’s aborted attempts to fire special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.
There is also growing evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin that the president sought to cover up — for instance, by claiming that his campaign high command was meeting with an admitted Russian “informant” to discuss “the adoption of Russian children” rather than dirt on Hillary Clinton. Trump’s flouting of ethical norms — his refusal to release his tax returns, divest himself of his business holdings, or stop doing business with partners closely linked to foreign regimes — could add additional articles of impeachment. Even greater misconduct may be uncovered via the investigation into Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen.
But it would be unwise for Democrats to proceed with impeachment unless Mueller issues a damning report. As long as the special counsel is still investigating, Democrats need to hold off, lest they play into Trump’s hands by appearing to be blatantly political. But if Mueller does find serious wrongdoing by the president, then politics should no longer matter. All members of Congress who take seriously their oaths to “support and defend the Constitution” will then be obligated to proceed with impeachment.
Naturally most Republicans will put partisanship above patriotism, as they did during Richard M. Nixon’s impeachment and as most Democrats did during Clinton’s. But that doesn’t mean, as the Trumpian spin already has it, that a decision by Democrats to proceed with impeachment would be an abuse of power. It would simply mean that the Democrats are being faithful to the Constitution and the Republicans aren’t.
It is a mistake to be overly cynical about impeachment — to fall for the tired cliche that “it’s all politics.” That’s what Trump defenders want you to believe. But even in today’s hyperpartisan world, it is still possible to distinguish truth from lies, right from wrong. If Democrats are guided by the facts, they can rest assured they are doing the right thing, whatever the political fallout.
Don’t overthink this, Congress. Just do your damn duty.
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