Members Only | April 23, 2019 | Reading Time: 4 minutes
Impeachment Is Coming
The beginning stages of a much longer process are already underway.
House Democrats had Monday their first conference call since the release last week of a redacted version of Robert Mueller’s report. From what I can tell, it was a candid, sober and free-minded conversation representing a range of views that left open the door to impeaching the president. “If that’s the place the facts take us,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, according to USA Today, “that’s the place we have to go.”
“We have to save our democracy. This isn’t about Democrats or Republicans. It’s about saving our democracy,” Pelosi said in a call with her colleagues, according to a source on the call. But Pelosi also urged Democrats to first focus on following the facts.
“Whether it’s articles of impeachment or investigations, it’s the same obtaining of facts. We don’t have to go to articles of impeachment to obtain the facts, the presentation of facts,” she said.
US Rep. David Cicilline, of Rhode Island, handles the caucus’s communications. He said the Mueller report provides “a roadmap” for how Democrats should approach Donald Trump’s lies, Russian contacts, and obstruction: “The speaker has been very clear that Congress will not shirk on its responsibility to hold the president accountable,” he said, “but that we must proceed in a judicious responsible manner.”
This is what I’d hoped for. I mentioned last week that Nancy Pelosi will be the last Democratic leader to come out in favor of impeachment, because she does not want to give the false impression of gleefully indicting a democratically elected president.
Just because Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats aren’t using the magic word doesn’t mean things are not moving in that direction. They are.
She wants rather to play the role of stolid and transparent leader compelled by honor and circumstance to act. As a result, her messaging has gone from “he isn’t worth it” to “he knows he shouldn’t be president” to “Congress will not be silent.” This new phase centers on the facts: If they call for impeachment, then we’ll impeach.
I don’t know if we’ll ever get there, but it seems we are moving in that direction. Slowly, but surely. This is important to point out for two reasons. One, leftists, liberals and a handful of conservatives seem to be growing impatient. They want Pelosi to launch impeachment proceedings now. Two, the mainstream press has a professional interest in heightening intra-party disagreements. The Post’s James Hohmann framed the debate this morning as one between Pelosi and US Senator Kamala Harris.
Nancy Pelosi wants Democrats to maintain control of the House. Kamala Harris wants to win the Democratic nomination for president in a field of 19 candidates. These divergent priorities explain why the barrier-breaking liberal women from San Francisco find themselves on opposite sides of the raging intraparty debate over whether to impeach President Trump. (My italics.)
Thing is, the debate isn’t raging. Well, OK it’s raging, but not in a way that threatens unity among the Democrats. Sure, liberals disagree. That’s a given. Liberals always disagree about everything, because they are liberal. But such ideological nuance was almost entirely absent from news headlines about Monday’s conference call.
The headlines instead tended to play up parts of Pelosi’s thinking while underplaying other parts, leading to the conclusion that she stood against impeachment (or was sandbagging it). That, of course, outraged leftists, liberals and a handful of rule-of-law conservatives. She wasn’t doing any such thing. The House will not be silent, she said last week. On Monday, she said the House will indict if the facts call for indictment.
What she’s doing is prudent and appropriate, I think. In terms of procedure, the Democrats should continue their investigations via the House Judiciary, Intelligence, Finance, and Oversight committees. “Impeachment” is the end stage of a much longer parliamentary process of hearings, testimony and fact-finding. You don’t jump to an indictment before having established grounds for an indictment’s legitimacy.
Legitimacy is of utmost importance. The Democrats are going to feel some kind of backlash no matter what they do. But they can insulate themselves by following the facts wherever they lead, as Pelosi said. That process will get the mainstream press on their side, and as a result, public opinion will be on their side. The president has a gigantic right-wing media apparatus to lie for him. The Democrats don’t. Their greatest political weapons are the facts, the law, the US Constitution and legitimacy.
You could say, rightly, that the Mueller report has all they need to establish legitimacy. But the report is pieces of paper. To move public opinion by way of dominating the mainstream press, the Democrats need to dramatize, as if were, the facts established in the report. That means TV, lots of TV, with credible and telegenic witnesses telling the American people that Donald Trump is a goon who was willing to sell out his country. Again, Trump has Fox News and others to lie for him. The Democrats, however, can have a basic faith in Americans’ basic faith in the rule of law and legal institutions.
Lastly, I’d suggest that impeachment is already happening. We’re just not calling it impeachment. Or rather, the popular understanding of “impeachment” is deeply flawed. During Watergate, the mighty Sam Ervin, of North Carolina, oversaw extensive Senate hearings that compelled testimony from White House aides, that dominated the country’s attention and that cratered Richard Nixon’s approval ratings. From those hearings came articles of impeachment in the House, not the other way around.
In other words, just because Pelosi isn’t using the magic word doesn’t mean things are not moving in that direction. They are moving in that direction, slowly but surely. Yes, presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris have come out in favor of impeachment. But to see them in opposition to Pelosi is to misread the landscape.
They aren’t in contrast to her.
The Democrats are in concert.
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John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.