The Corner

White House

The Waning Appetite for Impeachment

Former FBI director James Comey speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., Dec. 7, 2018. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Former FBI director James Comey writes in the New York Times today:

I hope that Mr. Trump is not impeached and removed from office before the end of his term. I don’t mean that Congress shouldn’t move ahead with the process of impeachment governed by our Constitution, if Congress thinks the provable facts are there. I just hope it doesn’t. Because if Mr. Trump were removed from office by Congress, a significant portion of this country would see this as a coup, and it would drive those people farther from the common center of American life, more deeply fracturing our country.

Polling finds support for impeachment dropping; earlier this month Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi irked some Democrats by declaring that she doesn’t support impeachment, calling it “so divisive to the country that unless there’s something so compelling and overwhelming and bipartisan, I don’t think we should go down that path, because it divides the country. And he’s just not worth it.”

No one outside of special counsel Robert Mueller and his team knows when they will turn in their report; every now and then someone in Washington claims the probe is “wrapping up.” But we’ve heard variations of that claim and claims in May that it would be wrapped up “by September,” “soon after the November elections,” in December . . .  This is the Brexit of investigations, a probe with more delayed endings than George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice series.

A lot of Democrats probably thought they would have the Mueller report by now. The closer we get to Election Day, the sillier it seems to impeach a president who’s about to be evaluated by the country at the ballot box within a matter of years/months.

Looking back at the effort to impeach Bill Clinton in 1998 and 1999, five months passed between Kenneth Starr releasing his report to Congress and the final Senate vote. Impeachment is a multi-step process, which involves the final report, judiciary-committee votes to proceed with impeachment, testimony from the relevant figures (including the special counsel), and then a committee vote, days of deliberation, then a full House vote. If a majority votes to impeach, the country moves on to the Senate trial, which takes several weeks.

Assume Mueller releases his report at the end of this month. If the timeline was similar to the one in the effort to impeach Clinton, the Senate would vote on impeachment in early September. It’s also worth remembering that not much else gets done in Washington during impeachment proceedings.

As many have observed, barring some ironclad evidence of lawbreaking that spurs Republican senators to abandon the president, the most likely outcome of the Senate trial is a vote mostly along party lines, well short of the two-thirds majority needed to remove Trump from office.

In other words, Congressional Democrats would spend much of 2019 arguing that Trump should be removed from office through impeachment, fall short, and then immediately move on to a presidential campaign arguing that Trump should be removed from office through the ballot box. It’s easy to picture a majority of voters growing exhausted with efforts to end the Trump presidency.

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