April 12, 2018 | Reading Time: 3 minutes
Should We Impeach Trump? It Depends
We can't know until we know more, and besides, the Republicans aren't sticking around to find out.
The Republicans are using talk of impeachment to raise money, according to the New York Times. This panicked David Axelrod. Barack Obama’s strategist said:Thus commenced a pointless week-long debate. The only people calling for Donald Trump’s impeachment are Congressional backbenchers like Maxine Waters and one billionaire environmentalist, Tom Steyer. No Democrat in a position of leadership, hence of authority and influence, has called for Trump’s impeachment. Indeed, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has done her best to put the kibosh on such talk.
That hasn’t prevented political commentators from offering straw-man arguments. None other than Elizabeth Drew, doyenne of belt-way politics, took to the New Republic to say the worst thing that could happen to the power of the Congress to impeach a president is for that power to become politicized “in a way that robs what should be a solemn process of its seriousness, even its legitimacy.”
“Impeachment may have already become defunct as an effective instrument for dealing with a crooked or out-of-control president.”
I’m going to chalk this up to Drew’s life-long preference for the grown-ups in Washington to stop behaving like children. Otherwise, she knows better. The founders understood that politics is a feature of checks and balances, not a bug. That’s why they made removing a president nearly impossible. It takes only a House majority to indict, but a super-super majority (two-thirds of the Senate) to prosecute. Besides, Congressional power lost none of its institutional legitimacy after the Republicans failed to remove Bill Clinton. Is Drew prepared to argue that indicting the former president over lying about an extra-marital affair was “solemn” and “serious”?
We are far from Drew’s premise of witnessing the “end of impeachment,” but does that mean we shouldn’t talk about it? I don’t think Democrats have a choice. It’s happening with or without them. The Republicans themselves are scrambling for ways to avoid talking about it. Privately, they already are (see Wednesday’s newsletter). This became acute after an FBI raid of the office, home and hotel room of Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen, and two days later, after news that House Speaker Paul Ryan is retiring. As I noted yesterday, the Republicans might shield Trump from the winds of impeachment, but only if there are enough Republicans around to do it.
Impeachment is moving into mainstream political discourse (for and against) so quickly that not talking about it would give the appearance of not-with-it-ness or even cowardice. Democrat Beto O’Rourke is challenging Republican Senator Ted Cruz deep in the red heart of Texas. He said that he’s seen enough evidence to vote for impeaching Trump, but that he wouldn’t before Special Counsel Robert Mueller completed his investigation. That O’Rourke is threading the needle like that in Texas suggests to me that impeachment talk has evolved to become entirely fair game.
Should the Democrats, as Axelrod said, “commit” to impeachment? I don’t think there’s a point in the question. Again, Mueller’s investigation is ongoing. I do think, as does my friend Scott Lemieux, that the Democrats should open as many investigations as possible, assuming they take the House, to “reveal the malfeasances of Trump and his associates to the public.” That alone would be constructive and healthy.
But I disagree with Scott (and Drew) that impeachment would be useless, or worse, that it would backfire by mobilizing the GOP’s base. We simply don’t know enough yet about Trump’s presumed crimes, and can’t know how the Republicans will react. What we do know is that the Republicans themselves are showing us that they don’t want to stick around to find out. That they are “abandoning the sinking ship,” as Jennifer Rubin observed, suggests that the Democrats have a lot of room to maneuver.
So let’s be practical. Impeachment is on the table, like it or not. No sense in tying your own hands. If the Democrats take the House, they should flood the zone with every investigation they can think of in order for the American people to truly and fully understand what happened to their democracy during the 2016 presidential election. If those, and Mueller’s, investigations lead to impeachment proceedings, so be it.
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John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.