The Morning Jolt

White House

The State of Impeachment

President Trump after his first address to a joint session of Congress in February 2017. (Photo: Jim Lo Scalzo/Pool/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Democrats strategize how to proceed with impeachment, while Mickey and I record another wide-ranging episode of the pop-culture podcast — including a discussion on how to criticize a film without banning it.

The Inherent Tensions within the Effort to Impeach President Trump

Writing in the New York Times, Elizabeth Drew warns that Democrats are “risking making their target too narrow and moving too fast. In so doing they could end up implicitly bestowing approval on other presidential acts that amount to a long train of abuses of power. And going too quickly could shut off the oxygen that might fuel Republican acceptance that it’s time to break with Mr. Trump — perhaps enough of them to end his presidency.”

That’s the real trick, isn’t it? If impeachment takes a long while — the impeachment of Clinton took six months — the country will acclimate to and digest the latest charges and shrug that it’s just Trump being Trump. The White House can drag this out if it wants to, and it’s probably to the president’s advantage to make this process last as long as possible. And there will always be Democrats who contend they’ve discovered something new that needs to be added to the articles of impeachment.

Monday, lawyers for House Democrats contended that Trump lied to the Mueller investigation about his campaign’s contact with WikiLeaks, creating another reason to pursue impeachment. A Harvard law professor argued that Trump’s tweet about Pastor Robert Jeffress warning about the potential of another civil war is itself a separate justification for impeachment.

Democrats believe that Trump can and should be justified for violating the Constitution’s emoluments clause, for not reporting the payments to Stormy Daniels as a campaign expenditure, for firing James Comey (Rep. Al Green), for “creating chaos and division”, (Rep. Maxine Waters), for “being a clear and present danger” (Tom Steyer), for “undermining the federal judiciary” (Rep. Steve Cohen), for being “the most dangerous president in American history” (DNC Chair Tom Perez), for “betraying his oath of office” (Nancy Pelosi), for offering to host the next G7 summit at his own personal property (the House Judiciary Committee).

All told, Grabien has found 89 reasons Democrats have listed to justify impeaching the president.

The advantage of the Ukraine story is that it is simple and direct. A bunch of the reasons listed above are vague and matters of opinion. (Doesn’t any criticism of any judge or judicial decision “undermine the federal judiciary”? When President Obama mischaracterized the Citizens United decision and rebuked the Supreme Court to their faces during the State of the Union in 2010, that wasn’t undermining the federal judiciary?)

But if the Democrats pursue impeachment over the Ukraine policy, and then it fails in the Senate, they will look like a bunch of maniacs if they then turn around and say, “wait a minute, we forgot his violations of the emoluments clause. Clearly foreign governments buying rooms and booking events at Trump hotels is backdoor bribery, we’re going to start this whole process all over again on a different issue.”

Over at The Intercept, Mehdi Hasan argues that Democrats can’t leave other issues unmentioned in their impeachment effort:

For House Democrats to wait this long and then impeach a reckless, lawless, racist, tax-dodging president only over his interactions with the president of Ukraine would effectively give Trump a clean bill of health on everything else. Going into an election year, Democrats would be unilaterally disarming — unable to offer further substantive criticisms of Trump’s crimes and abuses of power across the board. “Why didn’t you impeach him for it?” Republicans will ask.

But the more counts of impeachment the House Democrats bring, the longer the process will drag on. Even if the Democrats choose to skip hearings — which is not going to reassure people that this is not a partisan vendetta — the Senate is going to have to debate and dissect the evidence on each one of these charges.

Then again, maybe Democrats believe the proper historical consequence for Trump is for him to be the first president impeached by the House multiple separate times. Drew asks, “if a president were to be impeached more than once, what is the meaning of impeachment?” (If you’re talking about going back again a second time, as Pelosi reportedly is, you’re pretty much admitting that you don’t expect to get the 67 votes needed to remove him from office.) This will change impeachment from a rarely used ultimate consequence for presidential lawbreaking — the atomic bomb of our separation of powers — to just another way for Congress to say, “we disapprove of you.” It will turn into a resolution of censure.

What We Won’t Be Talking About While We’re Talking About Impeachment

There are a lot of reasons to be frustrated by the state of American politics right now. Maybe you think the impeachment of President Trump is long overdue; maybe you think this is a de facto coup attempt against a legitimately elected president. Barring some dramatic turn of events, the next few months will be dominated by the impeachment process. The odds of other legislation getting passed were already bad, now there’s almost no chance.

Meanwhile, beyond Washington, life goes on.

But we’re not going to hear much about any of that while Washington is obsessed with an impeachment process that is almost certainly going to fall short of the 67 votes needed to remove the president.

ADDENDA: Mickey and I recorded another wide-ranging edition of the pop culture podcast that discusses the Vontaze Burfict suspension, Ziva returning to the unkillable NCIS, Prodigal Son and Hollywood’s now-almost-clichéd sophisticated, debonair serial killers; The Irishman and how I can prove the trailer makes it look like the most Martin Scorscese-ish Martin Scorscese movie of all time; Kanye West prepares to unveil a gospel album and whether he’s forming the “Branch Kanyedians,” whether Saturday Night Live has turned a corner and is funny again or whether they’re just making fun of Democrats for a change, and why this year’s Emmy awards were a snore.

We also touch on the Joker movie again. My friend Christian Toto, creator of the excellent Hollywood In Toto site, reports that Warner Brothers announced they will not allow reporters to ask questions of the cast, crew and creators at the premiere, a decision Toto calls cowardly. “Our Constitution protects our right to express ourselves. That could mean an offensive painting, a love sonnet or a major motion picture that could captivate the nation on opening day. Warner Bros. should stand aside and let their artists speak.”

As I’ve noted before, we need some sort of space for criticism of an artist or filmmaker’s decision that falls short of “ban it,” something that argues, “this film is arguing in favor of something that is wrong.” The 2002 Denzel Washington medical drama John Q. was meant to be an indictment of America’s health care system, but basically tries to argue that taking hostages and forcing doctors to perform a surgery at gunpoint is a morally justified act. We’re rooting for the protagonist because he’s trying to save his son, and he’s played by Denzel, but the movie’s inherent contention is that it’s morally justified, even heroic, to force people to do things through threats of violence if the stakes are high enough. If you make that movie from the surgeon’s perspective, it’s the story of a maniac with a gun who bursts into the hospital and threatens to kill you unless you save his son.

Christian’s raising money for a redesign of his site; you can help him out here.

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