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Opinion The debate reminds us that the only way to remove Trump from office is at the ballot box

Democratic presidential candidates, from left, Andrew Yang, Pete Buttigieg, Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Amy Klobuchar and Tom Steyer at their debate in Los Angeles on Thursday.
Democratic presidential candidates, from left, Andrew Yang, Pete Buttigieg, Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Amy Klobuchar and Tom Steyer at their debate in Los Angeles on Thursday. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

As Democrats in Congress dicker with Republicans over how long to draw out an impeachment process that is headed to a foregone conclusion, their party’s presidential candidates made a strong argument Thursday night for putting it behind them as soon as they can.

The Democratic-led House has done its constitutional duty. On Wednesday, it impeached President Trump for abusing his power in his dealings with Ukraine and obstructing Congress’s investigation of his actions. But the reality is, the only way Democrats are going to remove him from office is to beat him at the ballot box in November.

While it would be proper and preferable for the articles of impeachment that were passed by the House to get a full airing in the trial that will take place in the Republican-controlled Senate, that is not going to happen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has made that clear.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is threatening to delay the start of the trial in hopes of gaining more leverage over the process. Democrats want to hear from key witnesses that Trump refused to provide to the House — among them, acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and former national security adviser John Bolton.

But the chances that will happen are small, and the costs of these futile tactics could be high. Delaying the Senate trial erodes the Democrats’ argument that impeachment was so urgent that they could not wait for the courts to act on Trump’s aggressive claims of privilege.

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Seven Democratic presidential candidates who gathered on a debate stage in Los Angeles on Thursday represent another argument for moving beyond impeachment.

The partisan warfare around it has largely overshadowed the fact that a vigorous race for the Democratic nomination is underway, and that the first contest in Iowa is less than seven weeks away.

The sixth Democratic debate saw the contenders engage in a substantive discussion of wealth inequality, trade, diversity and U.S.-China relations. They spent about 15 minutes delving into climate change, which was half again as long as they talked about impeachment.

“The issue now is whether we save the planet for our children and our grandchildren,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who has proposed the most sweeping and costly climate plan.

There was also a burst of fireworks over money in politics between South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), both of whom are at the front of the pack.

It helped that this was a smaller group than in earlier debates. More than half of the candidates running did not qualify under the increasingly stringent criteria that the Democratic National Committee is putting into place as the campaign season progresses. But it was also notable, and not in a good way, that all but one of the figures on the stage was white, despite the fact that the overall field is the most diverse ever.

The value of having a long and vigorous election season was also clear. Every one of the contenders who were onstage has gotten sharper and better over the course of this campaign. Former vice president Joe Biden had an especially good moment as he protested that it is not naive to believe that he could work with Republicans, despite the fact that he and his son were targets of Trump’s effort to enlist Ukrainian help in the 2020 campaign.

“I refuse to accept the notion, as some on this stage do, that we can never, never get to a place where we have cooperation again. If that’s the case, we’re dead as a country,” Biden said. “We need to be able to reach a consensus. And if anyone has reason to be angry with the Republicans and not want to cooperate, it’s me.”

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) was a standout, consistently strong and agile in her answers, positioning herself as having the capacity to be “progressive and practical at the same time.” While she has been slow gaining traction in the polls, I continue to think that Klobuchar is the candidate most likely to pull off a surprisingly strong showing in Iowa.

Washington is fixated on the daily turns of the impeachment saga, but polls indicate that most Americans are not. Business executive Andrew Yang pointed out that, even when the current president is gone, the struggles of many people will remain, particularly in parts of the country that helped elect Trump in 2016.

“We blasted away 4 million manufacturing jobs that were primarily based in Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Missouri. I just left Iowa — we blasted 40,000 manufacturing jobs there,” Yang said. “The more we act like Donald Trump is the cause of all our problems, the more Americans lose trust that we can actually see what’s going on in our communities and solve those problems.”

That is what voters are waiting to hear, and the sooner the better for Democrats.

Read more:

Alexandra Petri: The Brawl in the Wine Cave 

Stephen Stromberg: The Democratic race has shifted toward the realists

Jennifer Rubin: Biden had his best debate yet. The wine cave business lost.

Aaron Blake: Winners and losers from the December Democratic debate

Kathleen Parker: Spoiler alert: Trump is probably going to win in 2020

Jonathan Capehart: Mike Bloomberg’s campaign manager: Trump is winning the race, and Democrats don’t realize it

Bill Whalen: Tom Steyer wants to be president, but he may have better luck seeking a different office