Hey, did anything big happen last week while I was on vacation?
Thanks to Alexandra DeSanctis for filling in last week. I received several messages about how great her writing was in my absence, so thinking of Wally Pipp . . . Alexandra, knock it off. Stop being so good at this.
Go Ahead, Democrats. Try to Impeach the President.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report paints a picture of a president who wanted to obstruct justice through acts such as firing Mueller and shutting down the investigation, but never quite managed to obstruct anything. “The President’s efforts to influence the investigation were mostly unsuccessful, but that is largely because the persons who surrounded the President declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests.” The strongest evidence that Trump never successfully obstructed justice is that Mueller completed his report with no interruptions, impediments, denied resources, or other hindrance from the White House.
We’ve never removed a president from office, and an intent to obstruct with no actual obstruction is a thin reed for the first removal of a sitting president of the United States. But many Democrats no doubt believe the behavior and actions described in the Mueller report deserve impeachment. Some Republicans may agree that a president who tries to obstruct justice ought to be impeached, even if he doesn’t succeed.
So go for it, Congressional Democrats.
Yes, the most likely outcome is two mostly party-line votes in the House and Senate. It would eat up six months or so of the nation’s time and, I suspect, increase the odds of President Trump’s reelection. If it started soon, it would probably conclude at the end of 2019 and then the country would begin the 2020 presidential campaign in earnest with the first primaries. The country would probably be exhausted from the arguments, and probably grow increasingly irritated with a Democratic party that has denied Trump’s legitimacy as president from day one.
Some Congressional Democratic leaders will argue that this is a matter better resolved to the 2020 election. Impeachment is an inherently political process, and perhaps it is simpler and easier to just leave this to the voters.
But a presidential election is not a trial; the opposing party’s nominee is not a prosecutor and the electorate is not a jury. Our Constitution includes a mechanism for resolving allegations of presidential lawbreaking, and that’s impeachment. Imagine that everything in the Starr report about Bill Clinton’s actions had come out in his first term. Would Republicans in April 1995 have said, “We’ll let the voters decide the appropriate consequence for perjury and suborning perjury in November 1996?” I doubt it. The attitude of Republicans then was that presidential lawbreaking demanded consequence, whether enforcing that consequence is popular or not. Democrats are free to embrace that philosophy today.
If Democrats do not pursue impeachment, we will be hearing “Trump could have and should have been impeached over what’s in the Mueller report” for the next 18 months or five-and-a-half years. If you think there’s grounds for impeachment, then do it. If you don’t, then drop the claim.
Keep in mind, there’s no statute of limitations on any of this. If Democrats choose to not impeach Trump this year, they can keep it in their back pocket and, at any time during his presidency if he’s elected to a second term, take it up later. It’s unlikely that we’ll ever see 67 Democrats in the Senate, but this represents a stink-bomb that the Democrats can throw at the president at any time, as long as they hold a majority in the House.
Politically, impeachment would probably be a disaster for Democrats. All of those newly elected House Democrats, who pledged to work in a bipartisan fashion to focus on the country’s real problems, will have accomplished nothing in their first term. They would face the choice of voting for impeachment and fueling the motivation of the Republicans in their purple districts or voting against impeachment and enraging the progressives in their districts. But the Democratic base needs to experience a hard lesson that a president is not illegitimate because they feel like he ought to be.
Many Democrats have convinced themselves that the public will support them. But in electorate that is often displeased with Trump’s behavior, rhetoric and antics does not want him removed from office. On Saturday, the Washington Post reported, “Democratic leaders have been in touch with lawmakers hosting town halls throughout the two-week congressional recess, and voters are rarely expressing a desire to impeach the president, according to one leadership official.”
But parties are free to exercise their power in a counterproductive and self-destructive manner. An unsuccessful effort to impeach Trump may be the only way the Democratic party finally comes to terms with the results of the 2016 election.
Go ahead, Democrats. Just don’t say no one warned you.
An Uncharitable Assessment of the 2020 Democratic Field’s Giving
In the first “Twenty Things” piece about Bernie Sanders, I noted that shortly after being elected mayor of Burlington, Sanders was invited to give remarks at an event kicking off a United Way fundraising drive, and shocked attendees by declaring, “I don’t believe in charities.” Sanders went on to argue that government, rather than charity organizations, should take over responsibility for social programs.
That is a terrible ethos, but it is a consistent one. If you believe that it is the duty of the government to help the poor, the sick, the disabled, those going through hard times, and that only the government should handle those duties, then you see private charities as competitors and impediments to your vision of society. Consciously or not, you’re rooting against those charities; you would prefer to see the United Way and Habitat for Humanity, the Salvation Army and everything else wither away and go out of business — so that everyone would become dependent upon government for that needed aid. The more those charities thrive and help solve society’s problems, the less people will see a need for the government to step in.
This philosophy is morally hideous, of course; most of us would conclude that we should help out how we can and where we can. Most of us also believe there’s room for both government efforts and private charities. The problems are big enough to require the best of both.
There is a long and pretty bipartisan tradition of wealthy presidential candidates revealing, via their tax returns, that they make only small charitable donations — at least the ones itemized and listed on their tax returns.
Jonah points out that because most aspiring presidents know they will be asked to release their tax returns, and that the amount of charitable contributions is usually the biggest news story to come out of those documents, it’s bewildering that the likes of Sanders and Beto O’Rourke wouldn’t contribute more.
O’Rourke offered the lamest explanation last week: “I’ve served in public office since 2005. I do my best to contribute to the success of my community, my state and now, of my country. There are ways that I do this that are measurable. And there are ways that I do this that are immeasurable.”
This is the sort of statement that ought to be greeted by audible boos from anyone within earshot. Elected officials love to describe their work as “public service” or describe themselves as “public servant,” but how many servants get all the perks that House members do? That’s $174,000 per year, workplace gym, a $40,000 budget to furnish home state offices, a subsidy covering roughly 70 percent of their health insurance costs, a pension and a separate 401(k), a staff allowance of nearly one million dollars; a separate $250,000 for mail to constituents, and taxpayer-covered travel costs between their district and Washington?
O’Rourke and his wife reported $366,455 adjusted gross income in 2017; “they paid $81,019 in federal income tax that year and donated $1,166 to charity — a giving rate of just 0.3%, which is well below the national average.” The O’Rourkes gave 4.3 percent of their income in 2013, but most years from 2008 to 2017 gave .2 percent to .9 percent, on joint income ranging from
What Will the Mood Be at This Year’s NRA Convention?
Later this week, I’ll be covering the National Rifle Association’s Annual Meeting in Indianapolis. There are years the event is mostly rah-rah triumphalism about victories in the fight to preserve and defend the Second Amendment, and years where there’s a mood of rushing to the ramparts. (There are also plenty of attendees who are interested in the firearms on display and not all that interested in what’s going on in the political realm.) At the 2017 convention, attendees could cheer presidential and vice-presidential addresses and largely pro-gun majorities in the House and Senate, as well as the confirmation of Justice Neil Gorsuch. This year’s annual meeting will be the first meeting since Democrats took over the House, after a midterm-election period where the NRA was less active than usual, and the NRA’s board finds itself in the odd position of suing its major advertising agency over access to documents.
Like many political organizations, one of the biggest impediments can be success: If you win some high-profile fights, your members feel like the job is done and they can turn their attention and energy to other endeavors. Complacency is almost inevitable; no organization or movement can operate at 100 percent enthusiasm all the time. But that complacency almost inevitably generates defeats, which generates a sudden fear that ground is being lost. The alarm is sounded, those who tuned out tune back in. The question is, does 2020 have the NRA’s membership stirred again? Or does the next presidential election or Supreme Court nominee fight seem too far off?
ADDENDUM: In new book, My Father Left Me Ireland, my NR colleague Michael Brendan Dougherty just opens up a vein and bleeds onto the page. Don’t let the image of the quaint coastal town on the cover fool you into thinking this is some whimsical or cozy tale of nostalgia and schmaltz; this is a beautiful, brutally honest, raw, and personal story. In telling the stories of his parents, his search for his heritage, his exploration of Irish history, and all of the joys and sudden tribulations that parenthood brings, MBD takes readers on an intense emotional journey, covering a lot of ground in just 217 pages: joy, nostalgia, grief, anger, regret, and hard-earned illumination. There are a lot of memoirs and autobiographies that attempt to intertwine the author’s personal story and bigger, broader, more universal themes and don’t quite stick the landing. MBD aces it. The official publication date of My Father Left Me Ireland is April 30; you’ll want to reserve your copy now.