Members Only | May 21, 2019 | Reading Time: 4 minutes

No, Dems Are Not Split

On impeachment, they behave like real constitutional conservatives.

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Politico and the Post are reporting this morning that House Democrats are split over impeachment. Politico said Nancy Pelosi “clashes” with other members of her leadership team. The Post said some Democrats “rebel” against the House speaker.

Bosh, all of it.

Just read the articles to see the Democrats are not coming apart. Disagreement, moreover, does not mean disunity. For one thing, these are liberals. (Liberals always disagree.) For another, impeachment is the most serious question most of them will face. Seriously. Would you rather have the House Democrats taking a page from the 1998 Republican playbook, and start proceedings because they have all the feels?

My point is read critically. The Washington press corps has a professional interest in heightening intra-party divisions, because divisions between partisans who are not supposed to disagree is newsworthy in Washington. (Where is it written that members of the same party are supposed to agree all the time?) Instead of taking a careful and granular approach to a decision as monumental as impeachment, the press corps takes a zero-sum approach, so that any disagreement indicates total systemic failure.

Democrats are behaving the way you’d want them to on a matter of such magnitude.

Again, bosh. You’d expect the Washington press corps to have learned a thing or two since the “Tea Party Movement” turned out to be less about the “principles of liberty” and “limited government,” and more about opposing America’s first black president.

That’s a lesson learned at last by Justin Amash, a star of the 2010 “uprising.” In April, before becoming the first sitting GOP member of Congress to favor impeaching the president, he said: “It turns out a lot of [the Tea Party members] were not in favor of limiting the size of government; they were just opposed to the president at the time.”

“The Tea Party is largely gone,” said Amash, who has not yet backed down since favoring impeachment over the weekend. “It was replaced with nationalism and protectionism and the general philosophy of the party now under Trump.”

The lesson for reporters? Just because the GOP cannibalized itself during Barack Obama’s time doesn’t mean the Democrats will do the same during Trump’s.

Anyway, all that very serious rhetoric about limited government, freedom and “constitutional conservatism”? Bosh, all the way. Ted Cruz made his name decrying “the most lawless president in American history” (Obama) yet the Texas senator now stands by while Trump openly breaks the law. Yes, the Tea Party is gone. It never was.

The House Democratic leadership, meanwhile, seems to be taking its solemn constitutional duty to heart, and it’s following appropriately slow and deliberative steps in the right direction. (I don’t know if impeachment is the end, but that’s how I’m reading this morning’s reporting.) Far from being divided, the House Democrats are behaving the way you’d want them to behave on a matter of such magnitude.

Indeed, they are acting as real constitutional conservatives would.

Moreover, the debate is extremely complex. There isn’t a clear set of rights and wrongs here, because there are competing rights and wrongs—they are interlocking and overlapping, so it’s hard to tell when one of them ends and the other begins.

Fact is, Jamie Raskin is right. The Maryland representative reportedly said that “opening an impeachment inquiry would strengthen their legal position while allowing Democrats to move forward with their legislative agenda.”

Ted Lieu is right. The California representative said that “if McGahn doesn’t show tomorrow, I think we’re at an inflection point. If we can’t get information, I think we have to start proceeding down this path.” (McGahn is the former White House counsel; Trump ordered him to disobey a congressional subpoena to testify today.)

Hakeem Jeffries is right. The New York representative said: “We did not run on impeachment, we did not run on collusion … so logic suggests that we should carry forward with the agenda that we communicated to the American people.”

Pelosi is right, too. According to Politico, she said the Democrats “have not exhausted all options to hold the administration accountable, including levying fines via a process known as inherent contempt.” She added: “This isn’t about politics at all. It’s about patriotism. It’s about the strength we need to have to see things through.”

That’s not saying impeachment is off the table. That’s saying we gotta do this right or don’t do it. In any case, they’re all right. The question is what to do, when and how.

First, I’d guess we’re going to hear more about contempt, starting with fines and perhaps some Democrats floating the idea of arresting Don McGahn, via the House Sergeant at Arms. Meanwhile, the Democrats are likely to wait for more rulings from federal judges, perhaps the US Supreme Court, saying the administration must obey congressional subpoenas. If the president balks, the Democrats have a clear path.

In general, though, I’d say Pelosi and the Democrats understand that they must get institutions on their side as much as possible. That means the public, the press, and the courts. That way, impeaching Trump does not look like it’s about politics.

That way, impeachment is patriotism.

—John Stoehr

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

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