The Morning Jolt

Politics & Policy

The Democrats’ Ineffectual Impeachment Strategy

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi speaks to reporters a day after supporters of President Donald Trump occupied the Capitol during a news conference in Washington, D.C., January 7, 2021. (Erin Scott
/Reuters)

On the menu today: Congressional Democrats launch their impeachment effort and make just about every mistake possible along the way, sorting through what we don’t know about the president’s actions last Wednesday, and Joe Biden and his team belatedly realize that keeping their promises about vaccinating America will be harder to keep than they thought.

A Stumbling Start to the Impeachment Effort

Donald Trump deserves to be impeached. But as of this writing, Congress is going about it all wrong.

Our Andy McCarthy lays out the problems in the current language of the article of impeachment for “incitement to insurrection.” Andy’s convinced what Trump did was terrible, but the incitement part is legally debatable, and the insurrection part is legally disputable. Andy thinks a different set of charges would more accurately apply:

If what the Democrats truly want is bipartisan consensus in the service of national security, rather than political combat, the articles of impeachment they plan to file should charge the president with (a) subversion of the Constitution’s electoral process, particularly the Twelfth Amendment counting of the sovereign states’ electoral votes; (b) recklessly encouraging a raucous political demonstration that foreseeably devolved into a violent storming of the seat of our government; and (c) depraved indifference to the welfare of the vice president, Congress, security personnel, and other Americans who were in and around the Capitol on January 6.

That would be an accurate description of impeachable offenses. It would not disintegrate into legal wrangling over incitement, insurrection, and causation.

If impeachment is worth doing, it is worth doing quickly to remove the president from office and the levers of government power as soon as possible. The fact that Congress didn’t do much for the past week undermines that sense of urgency.

Having taken the weekend off and not reconvened until today, the House of Representatives is expected to vote on the article of impeachment Wednesday. It is expected to pass; the article already has 218 cosponsors. The next and more consequential question is when Nancy Pelosi will send it over to the Senate. Chuck Schumer wants to start as soon as possible, but already President-elect Joe Biden is publicly hinting he doesn’t want it to interfere with his legislative agenda or confirmation of his cabinet. If the House and Senate wait a few weeks or months, do you think the momentum and appetite for conviction increases or decreases?

Considering the amount of time that even a minimized Senate trial would require, it seems that even if the Senate started immediately, it’s not clear that they could remove Trump from office before January 20. And that’s presuming there are 67 votes to remove, which is still a tall order.

As Dan McLaughlin lays out in detail, Trump can still be impeached after he leaves office. Keep in mind, barring Trump from seeking the presidency again requires conviction by the Senate. Assuming all Democratic senators voted to convict, 17 of the 50 Republican senators would have to vote to convict to bar Trump from the presidency. That said, a vote to convict with less than 67 votes but more than a party-line vote would still represent a stain upon his already-dark record.

If We’re Going to Impeach, Let’s Get All the Relevant Facts on the Record

If Congress cannot impeach and remove the president quickly, they might as well investigate the matter thoroughly. The country would be well-served by a complete and detailed explanation of the president’s actions and inaction on January 6.

We still don’t have a good sense of what the president was doing, minute-by-minute, after he left the rally and as the chaos overtook Capitol Hill. You may have seen Senator Ben Sasse’s comments to Hugh Hewitt:

Sasse: He wanted there to be chaos, and I’m sure you’ve also had conversations with other senior White House officials, as I have.
Hewitt: I have.
Sasse: As this was unfolding on television, Donald Trump was walking around the White House confused about why other people on his team weren’t as excited as he was as you had rioters pushing against Capitol Police trying to get into the building.
Hewitt: That said . . .
Sasse: That was happening. He was delighted.

The Washington Post explores what happened on Wednesday at the White House at length, and quotes an unnamed adviser stating that the president ignored his phone ringing and watched the chaos unfold, live on television:

“He was hard to reach, and you know why? Because it was live TV,” said one close Trump adviser. “If it’s TiVo, he just hits pause and takes the calls. If it’s live TV, he watches it, and he was just watching it all unfold.”

. . . But the president himself was busy enjoying the spectacle. Trump watched with interest, buoyed to see that his supporters were fighting so hard on his behalf, one close adviser said.

. . . Meanwhile, in the West Wing, a small group of aides — including Ivanka Trump, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany and Meadows — was imploring Trump to speak out against the violence. Meadows’s staff had prompted him to go see the president, with one aide telling the chief of staff before he entered the Oval Office, “They are going to kill people.”

Shortly after 2:30 p.m., the group finally persuaded Trump to send a tweet: “Please support our Capitol Police and Law Enforcement,” he wrote. “They are truly on the side of our Country. Stay peaceful!”

But the Twitter missive was insufficient, and the president had not wanted to include the final instruction to “stay peaceful,” according to one person familiar with the discussions.

The article paints an appalling portrait of the president’s refusal to act as the crisis worsened. But once again, we’re dependent upon sources in the White House who won’t give their names. The consequences of these statements are gargantuan; they’re describing a president refusing to protect Congress or his own vice president. If there was ever a time to go on the record, this is it. Maybe the White House staffers closest to the Oval Office on Wednesday would be clearer and more specific if they were testifying under oath.

Article II, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution declares that the president “shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.” A president who sits around and watches television while an angry mob disrupts the work of Congress is violating the Constitution and his oath of office.

There’s more. We still don’t know whether the deployment and response of the National Guard was delayed by routine bureaucratic snafus or whether there was deliberate foot-dragging by the president, or on the part of the administration’s appointees to the Pentagon. This CNN report and others said Trump resisted deploying the National Guard and accurately observed, “public statements by acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller and other top officials suggested it was Pence who ultimately approved the decision.

Maryland governor Larry Hogan said it took the Pentagon nearly two hours to authorize Maryland National Guard units to move into the District of Columbia. 

Finally, we keep hearing that the 25th Amendment is off the table, and that Vice President Pence isn’t considering it at all. The president has not appeared in public since Wednesday afternoon, and hasn’t issued any statements on camera since the semi-concession four days ago. Twitter shut off his account Thursday, and the president has not utilized any other form of communication. He is scheduled to travel to Alamo, Texas, (the town, not the historical site in San Antonio) at 10 a.m. today.

I don’t know what the president’s uncharacteristic camera-shyness means, but it probably isn’t something good. Is there a reason we haven’t seen the president? Are staffers keeping him away from cameras because he’s raging like a maniac about conspiracies everywhere? Is he sullen and depressed? Axios reported that during a call with House minority leader Kevin McCarthy, Trump insisted Antifa committed the violence in the capital and continued to rant about vote fraud stealing his rightful victory.

Meanwhile, turning our attention to the new guy about to take charge . . .

Biden’s Starting to Realize He Overpromised on Vaccinating Americans

I wish President Biden every success in his and the federal government’s effort to make COVID-19 nothing more than a bad memory. But on the campaign trail, Biden sometimes insisting that the solution was simple and just a matter of will. Back in late October, Biden declared, “I’m not going to shut down the economy, I’m not going to shut down the country, I’m going to shut down the virus.

The national news media didn’t like to dwell on those infuriating exclamations from Biden, reducing one of the most complicated tasks the American people will ever face to a bumper-sticker slogan. At times, listening to Biden, you might think there was a giant red “SHUT DOWN THE VIRUS” button in the Oval Office that Trump had simply refused to press.

Now, having won the election, Biden is realizing that keeping his promises on “shutting down the virus” will be a lot harder to keep than he originally thought:

President-elect Joe Biden has grown frustrated with the team in charge of plotting his coronavirus response, amid rising concerns that his administration will fall short of its promise of 100 million vaccinations in the first 100 days, according to people familiar with the conversations.

Biden has expressed criticism on multiple occasions to groups of transition officials — including one confrontation where Biden conveyed to Covid coordinator Jeff Zients and his deputy, Natalie Quillian, that their team was underperforming.

Biden’s promise of 100 million vaccinations in 100 days sets a deadline of April 29, 2021. We’ve vaccinated 9.27 million since December 14. The pace will pick up, but 100 million will be difficult.

Meanwhile, the U.S. passed 300,000 total COVID-19 deaths in early December and is rapidly approaching 400,000 deaths. As of this writing, Worldometers has the U.S. death toll at 385,249, Johns Hopkins has the figure at 376,283, and the CDC figure, which is updated the least frequently, is 323,148.

If the reason deaths are up so dramatically in the past month is the cold weather keeping people indoors and spreading the virus faster, January and February could be just as difficult as December, even with the vaccine rolling out.

Biden should have known how difficult completing the vaccination of America is going to be. Most years, slightly less than half of all Americans get flu shots, and that process takes most of autumn and winter, with a preexisting supply chain and infrastructure. The current task is more complicated, and control-freak governors aren’t helping the process.

Those of us who cover and discuss the vaccination process have to recognize a hard truth as well. The “get as many shots in as many arms as possible as quickly as possible” philosophy will mean some people who seem to need it less — younger, healthier people — will get it before people who seem to need it more — the elderly and those with health issues. If we choose to prioritize, we will slow down the overall process. Neither option is perfect. We need to pick a strategy and apply it and adapt as we go. I would prefer we let the medical teams administering the shots on the ground do what they need to do to get as many needles in as many arms as possible.

Back in February 2017, President Trump whined, “Nobody knew health care could be so complicated,” which is the sort of thing you say when you’ve never read anything about health care at all. I wonder if Biden will ever whine that nobody knew vaccinating the American people could be so complicated.

ADDENDUM: A signal of our extraordinary times: I write the words “Bill Belichick did the right thing.” Belichick issued a statement last night that while he is honored to be selected for the Presidential Medal of Freedom, “the decision has been made not to move forward with the award.” In other words, he’s “on to Cincinnati.

As I wrote yesterday, “A medal ceremony this week would benefit Trump more than Belichick.