A Republican congressman thinks Congress should seriously consider impeaching President Trump. That is not something we thought we’d write in April, when reaction to special counsel Robert S. Mueller’s III report fell predictably along party lines.
But how much does Rep. Justin Amash’s (R-Mich.) position change the dynamic of impeachment in the House of Representatives? Ultimately, the decision is up to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), and she hasn’t budged on her belief that impeachment carries too much political risks for her party.
Let’s look at how Amash’s comments might make impeachment more of a likelihood — or not.
Technically, there is now a bipartisan call to impeach Trump. That’s a big deal. Impeachment is mostly a partisan process. The other two presidents to be impeached, Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton, were impeached by the opposing party. But with Clinton, five Democrats voted for at least some of the impeachment articles against their party’s leader.
Pelosi has laid down a marker that she’d need bipartisan support for impeachment. It’s a line she may have purposefully set knowing that Republicans would never get there. One Republican member of Congress doesn’t mean she has Republican support. But now, if impeachment were to happen, this would not be an entirely Democratic exercise, as Trump has tried to cast it.
But Amash can be seen as an outcast in the Republican Party. At least, by Trump. Amash is one of the most conservative lawmakers in Congress, which gives him street cred when he calls for impeaching a Republican president. But Amash is also a different strain of conservative; he leans libertarian. He was a supporter of Sen. Rand Paul’s (R-Ky.) 2016 presidential bid. He’s faced a primary challenge from the right in 2018 (and has another one on Monday after calling for Trump’s impeachment).
So, to the degree that Trump and his allies want to portray Amash as an outcast of the Republican Party — at least the party remade by Trump — they can. Just because Amash feels this way doesn’t mean the rest of the party does, they can reasonably argue.
This opens the door for other Republicans to criticize Trump on obstruction of justice. Even if you won’t hear them say it publicly, very few Republicans approve of Trump’s behavior, as described in the Mueller report. They are fully aware that Mueller didn’t exonerate Trump from obstruction of justice. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) spoke the conscience of many in the Republican Party when he said he was “sickened at the extent and pervasiveness of dishonesty and misdirection by individuals in the highest office of the land, including the President.”
Now that Amash has taken the first step to say publicly what others in his party are thinking privately, who else may join him? (Notable: Romney’s not one of them. He said Sunday that while Amash made “a courageous statement,” he didn’t agree that the president should be impeached.)
At the very least, this helps Democrats who are for impeachment keep making their case. The Democratic Party is divided, too, on the best way to handle the fallout from the Mueller report. There are a number of lawmakers who think Trump’s behavior rises to the “high crimes and misdemeanors” bar spelled out in the Constitution for impeaching the president. But impeaching Trump may not be politically convenient for Democrats going into the 2020 elections, where they are trying to win the White House and keep their majority in the House. Polls show a majority of Americans oppose impeachment.
The pro-impeachers argue that political convenience is too shortsighted a reason not to act. And they can point to Amash as an example of someone who is, in their mind, risking his political future to do the right thing.
But we’re still not sure how, if at all, this changes Pelosi’s calculations. Even though she’s been using more impeach-y language lately, she doesn’t seem to be budging on her position that impeachment of Trump is a risk she’s not willing to take.
The only way we could see this Amash dynamic changing Pelosi’s mind on impeachment is if he suddenly moves public opinion, especially among independents, in favor of it. Given Amash is a big name in conservative circles, and less so in more moderate ones, that’s not something we’re willing to bet on.