White House

Impeachment Cometh

President Donald Trump reacts during a campaign rally in Battle Creek, Mich., December 18, 2019. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

House Democrats impeached Donald Trump, and — who knows? — perhaps not for the last time.

The Ukraine controversy pushed Nancy Pelosi across the Rubicon from opponent of impeachment to determined advocate (much of her party was already there), and she won a tactical victory by holding almost her entire caucus for both articles of impeachment. Whether she and her moderate members come to regret it will be one of the most important plot lines of the congressional elections this coming November.

Ukraine is not a hoax, as the president is wont to call it. He shouldn’t have mentioned the Bidens in a call with another head of state, and clearly was withholding a White House meeting and congressionally approved defense aid to get the Ukrainians to commit to the investigations he wanted. This speaks poorly of the president’s judgment — not to mention that of his Svengali in this escapade, Rudy Giuliani — and was an improper use of his power.

But not every presidential abuse is worthy of impeachment and removal. Democrats have been casting around for a rationale to justify this extreme step. First, they called the president’s conduct a quid pro quo. Then, they ramped up the charges to alleged bribery and extortion, before abandoning these supposed crimes, which were talking points masquerading as legal arguments (although, strangely, they make a reappearance in the Judiciary Committee impeachment report despite not being in the articles). Finally, Democrats have been arguing lately that, by welcoming foreign interference, Trump represents a clear and present danger to the integrity of the next election. But if the Ukrainians had actually announced an investigation of Burisma, a shady company that had previously been under investigation, it’s not clear how it would have tanked Joe Biden, or even hurt him any more than the fact of Hunter Biden’s lucrative arrangement with Burisma already has.

In the natural course of things, impeachment would now head over to the Senate for a trial. But Pelosi is playing with the absurd idea of withholding the articles to try to pressure Republicans into a trial more to her liking. This makes no sense, because Mitch McConnell would presumably be happy for the articles never to come over. And if the House is willing to delay, it could have made more of an effort to get the witnesses itself that it now wants to try to extort the Senate into securing (instead, it rushed to impeachment and added an obstruction count over White House resistance to producing the witnesses).

McConnell is right to want an expeditious trial. Republicans are fundamentally making a threshold judgment that the Ukraine matter doesn’t rise to the level of removal and therefore doesn’t require new fact-finding or long deliberation.

When Democrats took the House, impeachment seemed inevitable, and so it has proved. But it isn’t a climax or end. It’s rather another phase in the broader contention over Trump that will proceed as usual after his inevitable acquittal in the Senate.


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