Pushing for impeachment or waiting for 2020 poll; Democrats are divided on next course against Trump

If the political calculation Democratic leaders are making that impeachment will turn off so-called moderates and help Trump rally his base, then someone needs to re-check the math

Trump's motive for Syria exit remain murky
Trump's motive for Syria exit remain murky

CJ Atkins/IPA

At last, he speaks! After more than two years of silently working away on his investigation into Russian campaign interference, and six weeks after his final report showcased the detailed effort to tilt the 2016 election in Donald Trump’s favor, Special Counsel Robert Mueller has once more stated what we’ve already heard: There was a crime committed, his investigation was obstructed, and Congress is the only institution that can pursue the president.

Closing out his probe and resigning from office at a Department of Justice press conference this morning, Mueller repeated the conclusion that his report made last month: “If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so.” Then, for good measure, he again cited existing DOJ policy, saying that “charging the president with a crime was therefore not an option we could consider.”

He also reiterated once more that “the Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing.” That process, of course, is impeachment.

For someone who believes he’s legally prevented from making an outright criminal accusation against the president, Mueller comes as close as he possibly can. Essentially, he’s saying to Congress, “I can’t charge him, but you can.”

Rep. Jerry Nadler, whose House Judiciary Committee would be the likely place to initiate an impeachment inquiry, acknowledged Mueller’s hand-off and said, “It falls to Congress to respond to the crimes, lies, and other wrongdoing of President Trump—and we will do so.”

But will they? So far, the House Democratic leadership has been cautiously dancing around the “I-word.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi acknowledges that “the president’s behavior…is very clear…. It’s in plain sight.” She says, “It cannot be denied. Ignoring subpoenas, obstruction of justice. Yes, these could be impeachable offenses.”

So what’s the hold up? If Democrats in Congress can so boldly declare Trump to be in violation of the law, then why no impeachment inquiry? How can the declaration that Trump has committed impeachable offenses be followed, in the next breath, with the statement by Pelosi that “the House Democratic Caucus is not on a path to impeachment”?

We’re continually told that “the people aren’t there yet” when it comes to impeachment. Opinion polls suggest that maybe that is true, at least in the short term. But those same polls also show a majority of U.S. voters believe Trump committed crimes, that the Mueller Report did not clear the president’s name, and that Trump interfered to obstruct the investigation.

If the political calculation Democratic leaders are making that impeachment will turn off so-called moderates and help Trump rally his base, then someone needs to re-check the math. More than half the country already sees Trump as a criminal, and even some Republicans are reaching that conclusion.

Michigan Rep. Justin Amash, a Republican and libertarian, says Trump committed “impeachable crimes” and that his actions were “inherently corrupt.” At town hall meetings in his district, some GOP voters are reportedly coming away convinced by Amash and are turning on the president.

So instead of eroding support for impeachment, how about Democratic Congressional leaders speak out forcefully and start making the case for it? They should be explaining the need for impeachment to the public, using the mandate provided by the 2018 mid-term elections—which solidly rebuked Trump—to act.

Impeachment is a process, not an outcome all its own. The unfolding of a case against Trump, the presentation of more evidence, and the presentation of official charges against him would be a permanent historical stain on his administration and would cast a cloud over his re-election chances in 2020—whether or not the Republican-controlled Senate voted to convict (which is certainly not likely).

An impeachment inquiry would totally change the dynamics of the 2020 campaign. A number of prospective Democratic presidential candidates are already re-calculating and are no longer convinced that impeaching Trump would doom their chances of beating him next year. Within minutes of Mueller’s press conference this morning, Sen. Cory Booker joined Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris in deciding the time had come.

How much longer will Majority Leader Steny Hoyer say that “impeachment is not worthwhile”? That we should just wait until 2020 to deal with Trump?

It’s true that pursuing impeachment against Trump is politically risky, but even riskier is the approach of letting the next election decide Trump’s fate. With extreme right-wing Republicans in control of the election machinery in state after state, we already have a fight on our hands just to try to have a fair vote.

Officials operating under the GOP and Trump banner have proven time and time again that they will spare no effort to rig an outcome and undermine American democracy. Purge the voter rolls, close polling places in minority districts, use false information to lower turnout, and collaborate with foreign agents to manipulate the public—nothing is beyond the pale.

The biggest coalition possible must be mobilized to overcome the certain Republican election tampering that is coming our way and defeat Trump in 2020. Pursuing impeachment now is a major way to start mobilizing that effort.

The statement we got from Mueller was as much as he was ever going to give us. There was no reason for anyone to expect that he would reveal some damning new evidence against the president or that he’d go after his boss, Trump’s yes-man, Attorney General William Barr.

It’s time to listen to those like Rep. Maxine Waters, who says “there can be no more hiding behind the Special Counsel.” Enough is enough. It’s time for Congress to impeach President Donald Trump.

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