For and against impeachment

You know where I stand.  Great Dahlia Lithwick piece:

There is perhaps no better encapsulation of the difference between the two modern American political parties than this one: Republicans start from the presumption that “treason” and “spying” will be prosecuted without actual evidence, while Democrats start from the presumption that only once they have seen all the evidence of everything ever, they might conclude that some further investigation is warranted. Donald Trump leads deranged stadium rallies in chanting “lock them up” without ever specifying who committed what alleged crime. Democrats, faced with a case of what would be felony obstruction of justice but for a legal guidance against prosecuting a sitting president, insist that they cannot initiate impeachment proceedings because they need to gather more information. Republicans standing two inches away from a Seurat painting see a still life in crimes committed, while Democrats standing six feet back are certain that just one more blue dot would help them see the whole picture.

This is not a new problem. Those of us who feared that the Mueller report would never be the smoking gun Democrats were dreaming of warned that limiting the reach of the aperture to criminal obstruction and illegal “collusion” by necessity blocked out a massive range of criminal and impeachable conduct by the president and his confederates. Last week Walter Dellinger made the same observation about the Democrats’ strange myopia around the new holy grail—an unredacted Mueller report. As the former solicitor general put it:

Mueller’s extraordinary 2,800-subpoena, 500-search-warrant, two-year investigation fully established not merely crimes but also the betrayal of the president’s office: a failure to defend the country’s electoral system from foreign attack and acts of interference with justice that shred the rule of law. Congress doesn’t need to read more to announce what is obvious from what it should have read already.

For House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, though, individual political calculus continues to take precedence over the rule of law. That position is becoming more and more untenable, as cracksappear in the Democratic front and even a Republican member of Congress is able to point out what is right in front of us all.“Mueller’s report reveals that President Trump engaged in specific actions and a pattern of behavior that meet the threshold for impeachment,” GOP Rep. Justin Amash said over the weekend. Amash understands what is obvious to anyone who read the Mueller report in good faith: We have more than enough data to name and investigate the crime. Amash has been joined by a fistful of renegade Democrats who are finally content to say “we know enough.” If not enough to impeach, then at least enough to initiate an inquiry

The problem with Democratic pointillism is that if congressional Democrats truly refuse to see the big picture, after the staggering proof put forth in the Mueller report, the daily reports of gross financial misconduct and corruption, and the administration’s growing refusal to accede to any form of congressional oversight, one has to wonder which hypothetical red dot or yellow smear might persuade them that, um, crimes. Perhaps some belief in Trump’s infamous boast that he could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot a man without losing support has spooked Democrats to the point of paralysis. The reality is that Democrats on the Hill know what criminal obstruction looks like—they are just too terrified to say so.

The other problem with Democratic pointillism is that House Democrats want to look like measured and rational adults in the face of the biggest toddler tantrum ever witnessed in presidential history, one in which the Constitution is being repurposed as a diaper. But as any parent or even uncertified Red Cross babysitter will tell you, every time you decline to impose consequences, you move the line for acceptable behavior a little further. Mueller is himself trying to look measured and rational by demurring from testifying. Looking adult and rational in the face of abject insanity is not always synonymous with bravery, especially when the other side is shouting TREASON and LOCK THEM UP and INVESTIGATE THE INVESTIGATORS. [emphasis mine]

Good stuff.  And well worth reading the whole thing.  Meanwhile, John Cassidy elucidates the logic of Nancy Pelosi’s go-slow approach:

Pelosi is thinking longer term. Her goal is to turf Trump out of office in November, 2020, and win a Democratic majority in both chambers of Congress. The key to doing this, she believes, is to replicate what the Democrats did during the 2018 midterms: adopt a broad-church approach that appeals to centrist and nonaligned voters and also confirmed Democrats, and avoid getting too far out in front of the American public. From Pelosi’s perspective, a rapid move to impeachment looks like more of a threat than an opportunity, and it’s not hard to see why she thinks this way.

In a telephone poll carried out over the past week, researchers at Monmouth University asked people, “Do you think President Trump should be impeached and compelled to leave the Presidency, or not?” Thirty-nine per cent of the respondents said yes; fifty-six per cent said no. The proportion supporting impeachment had fallen by three percentage points since the pollsters asked the same question in March.

Was this particular survey skewed to Trump supporters? It doesn’t seem like it. The Monmouth University pollsters also asked this question: “Looking ahead to the 2020 election for President, do you think that Donald Trump should be re-elected, or do you think that it is time to have someone else in office?” Sixty per cent of the respondents said it is time for another President.

It is possible that more Americans will come to support impeachment as they realize that Trump is raising his middle finger at the division of powers enshrined in the Constitution. Perhaps his refusal to allow testimony from his former aides, starting with Don McGahn, the former White House counsel, will have an impact. In the Monmouth University poll, a majority of respondents said that McGahn and Robert Mueller should appear before Congress. If Mueller does testify, what he says could be highly consequential.

Should public opinion move firmly in favor of impeachment, Pelosi would almost certainly move with it. Her objection is based on politics rather than principle. But, for now, she believes that the wisest course is to let the existing inquiries play out, while aggressively challenging the Administration’s stonewalling in the courts and amping up the messaging about Trump being engaged in a cover-up.

Here’s the thing, though.  Public opinion is massively influenced by elite opinion.  Especially on issues where citizens don’t have everyday experience.  Of course, if mainstream Democratic leaders are sending out mixed signals (at best) about impeachment, ordinary Democrats will not be in favor.  I guarantee you that if there were a unified message from Democratic elites on impeachment, there would be dramatically more support for impeachment among the electorate.  I’m not about to say that impeachment would be a political win (though, it sure as hell is the right thing), but I think far too many Democrats and non-partisan pundits are falsely convinced it would be a bad thing, because the obvious over-reach in Clinton’s case was politically bad for Republicans.

So, the truth is we just don’t know.  Given that, I’ll firmly side with, you know, the rule of law.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

One Response to For and against impeachment

  1. R. Jenrette says:

    I admit I’m torn between the two points of view on impeaching the President. But I’m thinking Nancy Pelosi has the best of both worlds. She can talk against starting a formal impeachment process but can vigorously encourage committee chairs to investigate and let the Trump administration hang itself with laugh out loud lawsuits. The courts have acted quickly and against the administration. Yes, the committees don’t have the information they need thanks to the ban on cooperation by the administration. Meanwhile new avenues of fact gathering have emerged.
    Pelosi sees that the Dems have a reasonable shot at taking the Senate and keeping the House.
    Perhaps the revealed facts in forthcoming financial statements (thank you, NY) will be enough to determine the next phase.
    So, Pelosi, stand strong and lead. Don’t let the purists steamroll us.

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