Members Only | May 22, 2019 | Reading Time: 3 minutes

Impeach for Broken Promises? Yes

For the oath of office and much more.

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Democratic leaders resisting the urge to impeach the president are making a serious mistake in separating the question of impeachment from bread-and-butter issues, like health care. These are not separate. They interweave and overlap. The House Democratic leaders know this. It’s up to us to remind them they already know.

On the 100th day of Donald Trump’s presidency, Nancy Pelosi held a press conference to enumerate up to that point his “broken promises,” she said. It’s been “one hundred days of broken promises to working people, one hundred days of handouts to the wealthiest people in the country. All this week House and Senate Democrats have been leading daily actions highlighting the stark reality of President Trump’s conduct.”

The House Speaker went on to grade each of his efforts. On jobs and infrastructure, “F,” she said. On health care, “F-,” she said, citing the GOP’s failed bid to repeal the Affordable Care Act. On Trump’s promise “to drain the swamp,” “F,” she said. Pelosi said he promised to “fire Wall Street,” then packed his Cabinet with billionaires.

Impeachment and bread-and-butter issues, like health care, are not separate.

If these words felt minimal at the beginning of Trump’s term, they should feel maximal 852 days later. The only legislative achievement that came out of the GOP-controlled 115th Congress was the 2017 Jobs and Tax Cuts Act. It didn’t create jobs. It didn’t spark investment. It fueled some growth, but less than promised for such a high cost ($1.5 trillion to the national debt). In any case, the law’s effects are no longer felt. Meanwhile, Trump’s promise of better international trade deals has resulted in more of the same (see the new NAFTA), bankrupted farms, or, per Businessweek, “chronic economic uncertainty” as a result of Trump’s needless and reckless trade wars.

The president has even broken a promise the Democrats dislike the most. That’s the wall. He shut down the government hoping to force them into voting for wall money that he said the Mexican government would pony up. When Trump didn’t get what he wanted from the House Democrats, he declared a national emergency in order to redirect federal tax dollars toward paying for the wall. Now, thanks to legal challenges, we know that $1.5 billion appropriated for the wall’s construction has resulted in a measly 1.7 miles of fencing, according to Bloomberg News. “That was 3/4 of a mile more than the administration reported at the end of February,” a lawyer said.

The pace of constructing the wall has been slowed no doubt thanks to a provision Trump signed into law as part of the deal to end the government shutdown but that he probably doesn’t know he signed into law. The Bulwark’s Andrew Egger reported that the Democrats sneaked in “provisions requiring the Department of Homeland Security to get permission from local elected officials before building barriers in counties along the border—while also opting only to authorize new walls in the Rio Grande Valley, where local governments are overwhelmingly Democratic” (my italics).

So Trump supporters aren’t likely getting a wall. Continuing to support such a weak president virtually guarantees it. Indeed, supporters are complicit in breaking his promise. All they are getting is a president willing to abuse his powers, traduce the Republican Party’s national reputation, and humiliate himself on network television.

But these are material promises. Trump has broken moral promises, too.

He vowed, as everyone does before taking office, to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” Yet Trump, in refusing to obey an array of congressional subpoenas, is refusing to recognize the authority of the Congress, a co-equal branch of the government. As a result, the president is breaking his solemn promise to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution.” It’s that simple. (Worse, as Nancy Pelosi hinted at today, is breaking one’s oath to “cover up” wrongdoing.)

Democratic leaders resisting impeachment are right to worry that normal people aren’t going to be vexed much by issues as abstract as checks and balances. But voters can be reached, I think, with claims that no one, not even the president, is above the law, and that a president is only a president, not a king. People who remain skeptical can be reached by expanding the scope of the word “promise.” Trump violated his oath of office, but the broken promises don’t end there. On issue after issue, this guy isn’t who he said he was. He conned the people. Now he’s doing more harm than good.

John Stoehr

John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.

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