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The Impeachment Fervor Isn’t Going Anywhere

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi leads Democrats in introducing proposed “For the People” legislation on Capitol Hill, January 4, 2019. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Why a Democratic attempt to impeach President Trump was destined from the beginning; why Democrats suddenly get awkward and tongue-tied when asked to bar children of high-ranking officials from serving on foreign corporate boards; and Alexander Hamilton’s warning about how impeachment efforts will always reflect partisan divisions.

A Democratic House Was Always Destined to Impeach President Trump

More than 218 of the 235 House Democrats are now unified in support of an impeachment “inquiry,” and when push comes to shove sometime in the coming months, the overwhelming majority of House Democrats will vote to impeach the president.

The previous resistance to impeachment from Nancy Pelosi was perhaps the right call in terms of long-term political advantage, but also was fundamentally phony. A significant chunk of the Democratic party has wanted to impeach Trump since early in his presidency, in some cases literally making the argument the day he took office. Liberal activist groups set up an online petition calling for Trump’s impeachment on Inauguration Day, declaring, “From the moment he assumed the office, President Donald Trump has been in direct violation of the US Constitution.”  On February 10, about three weeks into Trump’s presidency, the Democratic polling firm Public Policy Polling offered a survey finding that 46 percent of all respondents supported the impeachment of President Trump, and 80 percent of all self-identified Democrats did. Representative Maxine Waters (D., Calif.) tweeted, “get ready for impeachment” on March 21, 2017. By April, localities such as Berkeley passed resolutions calling for Trump’s impeachment

You may recall that for much of 2018, House Republicans campaigned on the message that Democrats would impeach Trump if they took control of the House. The assessment in many corners of the media was that this was a reflection of Republican paranoia, a desperate hyping of an implausible scenario designed to motivate the party’s base through fear.

In April 2018, representative Dina Titus of Nevada told the New York Times, “They’re trying to encourage us to be more out front on impeachment so then they can use that to rev up their base and say, ‘That’s all the Democrats care about.’”

In August, Perry Bacon Jr. wrote at FiveThirtyEight, “If the Democrats are planning to impeach Trump if they win control of the House, they are doing a really great job of hiding it. Congressional Democrats aren’t talking about impeachment.” That same month, New York magazine explained, “Republicans, not Democrats, want the midterms to be about impeachment.”

In September, CNN’s Rebecca Buck reported, “many Democrats [are] downplaying or rejecting the prospect of impeaching President Trump, while Republicans, including the President and his closest allies, insist his ouster is all but certain if their party loses power in Washington.”

Clearly, some of the newly elected Democrats didn’t get that memo; Representative Rashida Tlaib (D., Mich.), famously vowed on her first day in Congress to “impeach the mother****er.” By March, Tlaib claimed, “I think every single colleague of mine agrees there’s impeachable offenses. That’s one thing that we all agree on. We may disagree on the pace.”

Was Tlaib wrong? Did any House Democrat believe that Donald Trump had not committed any action that qualified as a high crime and misdemeanor, and that impeaching him was morally and legally wrong? Wasn’t it clear that for at least a large majority of Congressional Democrats, the only compelling argument against it was the likely political fallout?

And isn’t the heart of the current moment the Democrats’ belief that Trump’s comments and moves regarding Ukraine are so egregious that there will be no political fallout for pursuing an impeachment effort that is almost certain to fail in the Senate?

During her period of resistance to the #Resistance, Pelosi was forced to say things that we can reasonably conclude she does not truly believe. In March of this year, the newly restored House Speaker declared, “impeachment is 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.”

Much of Nancy Pelosi’s agenda is comparably “divisive to the country,” and she wants to go down those paths.

In May, Pelosi contended Trump was “almost self-impeaching,” which I guess meant the House of Representatives didn’t have to vote on it.

We should give those activists on the Left who called for impeachment on Inauguration a smidgen of credit for their honesty about their views, an honesty that few Democratic lawmakers dared to exhibit. Their contention, if never quite articulated explicitly, is that Constitutional eligibility for the presidency is not enough, and that the American president must meet some other unwritten criteria in order to be a “legitimate” president. In their eyes, Donald Trump was always ineligible for the presidency because of who he is and how he sees the world. In their worldview, he was not merely a mistaken, wrongheaded, or bad president, but one who could not be permitted to continue.

Of course, once a standard or tactic is adopted by one political side in our culture, it will quickly be adopted by the other political side. At some point in the future, there will be another Democratic president and another Republican House. And the forces of negative polarization will drive that House towards impeaching that president.

Warren: A Veep’s Kids Shouldn’t Serve on Foreign Company Boards. No, Wait, They Can.

Just how conditional is the outrage of Democratic presidential candidates when it comes to elected officials leveraging their position for personal gain? Really conditional.

Taking questions from reporters following a town hall event in the first-in-the-nation presidential primary state of New Hampshire, the Massachusetts Democrat was asked if she would allow her vice president’s child to serve on the board of a foreign company if she were president. Warren quickly answered, “no.”

When asked why, she said, in a rare moment where she appeared flustered: “I don’t know. I have to go back and look at the details.”

The “details” to which Warren was referring are from the two ethics plans she’s unveiled to tackle corruption in government. Her campaign later clarified to the Washington Post that the plans wouldn’t prevent any child of a vice president from serving on such a board.

Elizabeth Warren is supposed to be like Xena the Warrior Princess when it comes to powerful business interests influencing government policy. So why was she so confused and contradictory on this question?

Because lots and lots of children of government officials in both parties benefit from lucrative and/or powerful consulting gigs, lobbying jobs, appointed government positions, elected offices of their own, or other rewards from being related to a lawmaker. Warren couldn’t propose a strict change like that without stepping on the toes of a lot of colleagues, including ones she probably counts as allies.

Your perspective on how harmful nepotism is probably relates a great deal to who your parents are and whether you harbor secret fears that you benefited from the practice. As I wrote way back in 2014, “nepotism isn’t the only way that America’s most wealthy and powerful ensure that their children will also be wealthy and powerful, but it’s a piece of the puzzle. It’s a thumb-on-the-scale bit of legal cheating that everyone averts their eyes from because acknowledging it too openly would raise the question of how many of the folks in the highest positions of our country actually earned them.”

Democrats may not particularly like the idea of Hunter Biden, who had never worked in the natural gas industry before in his life, getting $50,000 per month to sit on the board of Bursima Holdings although Representative Ted Lieu argues that it’s normal. But most Democrats don’t want to make too big a stink about it, in part because they see it as a small drop in the bucket of inequality and partially because they can justify it to themselves as an inevitable part of the system, or even a justified perk of the office.

Democrats vs. the Clock

Imagine some future president governs relatively free of scandals for his first three and a half years, but then in the summer of his fourth term in office, all kinds of ugly information comes out. Would the Congress impeach him? Or would the general sense be that because the presidential election was so close, the wiser choice is to allow the American people to render their own verdict at the ballot box? Or what about for a president who’s on the tail end of his eighth year in office?

Suppose that a scandalous president was defeated in his bid for reelection. Would the House and Senate attempt to remove a president during the period between Election Day and Inauguration Day? Would some vice president end up with a presidency of William Henry Harrison-level brevity, operating as a caretaker for a short period between November and January 20?

Clearly at some point, removing a president from office so close to Election Day or the end of his term starts to look ridiculous, unless the argument in favor of impeachment looks so ironclad and broadly supported that it can be done quickly. (Impeachment in 1998-1999 took six months.) The White House can drag out this process a great deal. Democrats are likely to make the Senate consider the removal of Trump, about seven months or so before he’s up for reelection.

ADDENDA: Rob Port, a great North Dakota political blogger who I met way back in the day when bloggers had conventions, reminds us that Alexander Hamilton saw the inherent problems with impeachment coming, all the way back in Federalist No. 65:

A well-constituted court for the trial of impeachments is an object not more to be desired than difficult to be obtained in a government wholly elective. The subjects of its jurisdiction are those offenses which proceed from the misconduct of public men, or, in other words, from the abuse or violation of some public trust. They are of a nature which may with peculiar propriety be denominated POLITICAL, as they relate chiefly to injuries done immediately to the society itself. The prosecution of them, for this reason, will seldom fail to agitate the passions of the whole community, and to divide it into parties more or less friendly or inimical to the accused. In many cases it will connect itself with the pre-existing factions, and will enlist all their animosities, partialities, influence, and interest on one side or on the other; and in such cases there will always be the greatest danger that the decision will be regulated more by the comparative strength of parties, than by the real demonstrations of innocence or guilt.


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