H2H: Should Democrats Pursue Impeachment?
October 16, 2019
Two of our opinion writers, KC Ellen Cushman and Gavin Swanson, have different perspectives on the impeachment inquiry that is gripping Washington and the nation.
Cushman: Democratic Impeachment Efforts May Help Trump in 2020
Amid the influx of news following the announcement by House Democrats of their impeachment inquiry against Donald Trump, it can be hard to keep up with what is happening in American politics. Considering the ramifications of this controversial decision is even more challenging, especially as we move toward the 2020 presidential election. It would comfort me to believe that this difficult, error-prone calculus is why House Democrats are making decisions that will result in an astronomical advantage for President Trump in the upcoming presidential election. No matter how it looks now, pursuing impeachment is unlikely to result in Trump’s removal from office, and will only serve to validate him as a candidate in 2020.
A Long Shot and a Witch Hunt
Throughout more than two hundred years of American politics, only two presidents, Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton, have been impeached – and neither trial resulted in the president’s removal from office. Bill Clinton lied under oath, an impeachable offense, but remained in office nonetheless. The American public did not approve of the impeachment (in fact, his approval ratings soared) and Senators understood that removing Clinton from office would make them look bad.
Today, the Senate is majority-Republican. They know that voting to impeach a Republican president right before an election year will similarly make them look bad. The Republicans have already demonstrated a lack of support for the impeachment inquiry – the House earned their majority in favor of the inquiry without a single Republican and with 183 Republicans saying “no or not now” to an inquiry.
While the House can gain enough of a majority to move forward on impeachment without them, the majority Republican Senate is unlikely to turn against a Republican president, especially the year before an election when the presidency and when some of their seats are on the line. Given the lack of Republican support for impeachment and the intense partisanship in the United States, the likelihood of a successful impeachment is slim to none, even if impeachable offenses have been committed.
Trump has already branded the impeachment inquiry as a “witch hunt.” He’s writing a narrative in which Democrats attack him without cause and unjustly attempt to oust him from office. With threats like “we’re going to impeach the motherf***er” going back as early as January, he has plenty of ammunition to attack Democrats about impeachment. A failed impeachment attempt is likely, and would easily allow him to carry that argument into the 2020 election. Opening impeachment proceedings may hurt the Democratic cause, especially while Trump paints them as partisan bullies who have had it out for him since the moment he entered the Oval Office.
Mick Mulvaney, the current White House Chief of Staff, has boldly claimed that a House impeachment could lead the Trump team to win 45 states – a landslide victory – in 2020. This prediction is unlikely, as the last time a president won more than 45 states was in 1984, but the House impeaching Trump could definitely help him on the campaign trail. The Trump base is an incredibly loyal one. Since being sworn into office in January of 2017, Trump’s popularity among Republicans is down only two points, from 89% to 87%, at its lowest dropping only to 77%.
Republicans support Trump and they have supported him throughout his entire presidency, despite a number of controversies. Trump’s base has stood with him through Stormy Daniels, the Mueller investigation, and concerns about Russian election meddling, and they will continue to stand with him as he is accused of being part of the swamp he has promised to drain. An unsuccessful impeachment trial would only legitimize Trump going into 2020 and — arguably worse — make his base more likely to defend him regardless of what other troubling information comes to light during the course of the election or his presidency.
If the Democrats truly believe Donald Trump is guilty of something so grave that an impeachment trial will result in his removal from office, then they should pursue that. However, from what we know about his engagement with Ukraine and China, the partisan makeup of Congress, and the dedication of Donald Trump’s base, a successful impeachment trial simply is unlikely. If the Democrats are really dedicated to finding a president who will not engage in ethically problematic behavior with foreign governments, they have an excellent opportunity to unseat Trump in 2020. They should fight to put their own president in office rather than wasting their energy on an impeachment trial that won’t result in Trump’s removal from office and will increase his chances of success in the 2020 election.
Swanson: House Democrats Have One Shot at Impeachment. It’s Time They Committed.
This impeachment inquiry should’ve been launched on July 24.
That is when special counsel Robert Mueller testified before the House of Representatives’ Intelligence and Judiciary committees regarding his report into Russian interference of the 2016 election and the president’s efforts to obstruct the investigation. A question-and-answer between Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler and the special counsel signaled to the House that further investigation was required. “Under Department of Justice policy, the president could be prosecuted for obstruction of justice crimes after he leaves office — is this correct?” Nadler asked. Mueller answered, “True.”
The Straw That Broke the Camel’s Back
Throughout the Trump presidency, Pelosi and House leadership have publicly stated they would hold the president to account. Still, none of the troubling and potentially illegal conduct that was reported in the Mueller probe — or the executive’s clear flagrant disregard for Congress’ constitutional rights to oversight — was enough to incite an investigation into the White House.
The whistle-blower complaint was the straw that broke the camel’s back. The complaint described a July 25 phone call between President Trump and the recently-inaugurated president of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky. In the call, Trump asked President Zelensky to coordinate with his own personal attorney Rudy Giuliani and Attorney General Bill Barr to investigate Joe and Hunter Biden. Trump was referring to a debunked conspiracy theory, perpetuated by right-wing news outlets, that Vice President Joe Biden withheld aid to the Ukraine until they fired a federal prosecutor who was investigating his son, Hunter Biden, and Burisma, the gas company he worked under.
Send the Entire Laundry List
The whistle-blower complaint is certainly worth investigating. There has been suspicion, however, that the inquiry will only be focused on the whistle blower complaint and Ukraine. I cannot imagine a more catastrophic political blunder.
In this impeachment inquiry, House Democrats must make the case to the American people that Trump sitting in the Oval Office is dangerous to the fabric of American democracy and institutions. The Ukraine situation may adequately demonstrate this, but the House has only one shot to make its case before the 2020 election. Why wouldn’t you want to send the entire laundry list to the Senate?
There’s the 10 instances of possible obstruction of justice outlined in the Mueller report. There are hush money payments paid to Stormy Daniels from Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen, which could have broken campaign finance laws. What about Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with Natalia Veselnitskaya in Trump Tower during the campaign? Or the fact that Trump profits off his position as president when officials and dignitaries stay at his properties? Recently, an IRS whistle-blower claimed Trump may have interfered with an audit into his finances.
That’s just the political stuff. The House could also argue humans rights case against Trump for incarcerating children in cages at the border and stalling billions in natural disaster funding for Puerto Rico.
During the Obama administration, the Republican congress held ten hearings on the Benghazi attacks. If Congress was allowed to waste two years and millions of dollars only to turn up an email server and zero indictments, then the House can justify combing through every immoral and potentially illegal action that this administration has committed. Now that the House is fully committed to investigating the Trump administration, who knows what could turn up? Hell, if the inquiry started when it should have, maybe the public would have learned about the Ukraine phone call sooner than we actually did. It did happen only a day after Mueller’s testimony after all.
When those articles are sent to the Senate and they fail to carry out the impeachment, every one of those Republican senators that reviewed the evidence, heard the case, and still chose party over the constitution and the integrity of the U.S. federal government should have to face the scrutiny that they’ll receive from their constituents and political challengers. If Democrats are serious about wanting to take the Senate back in 2020, then push the Republicans to the limit.
I’m not sure what the strategy is now. They seem to only be focused on Ukraine, and there is an attitude of wanting a speedy impeachment in Washington. It appears as if they’re not taking this opportunity seriously, as if it’s something that just needs to be done and over with. What work does the House have that is more pressing than this? Passing legislation that won’t make it further than Mitch McConnell’s desk? Is the concern that the impeachment will take up too much of the 2020 election? It doesn’t have to! None of the three front-runners are a part of the House, and won’t be involved until the articles are handed over to the Senate for trial, where Senator Sanders and Warren work. While the House investigates and finds more and more about the inner workings of the Trump White House for the American public to see, they can focus on their own discussion with the American people.
The American people deserve to know the extent of the lawlessness of this president, and the Senate should have to answer for being complicit in it when the decision to impeach comes. This course that the ship has currently set sail on will only lead to the Senate voting down the House’s resolution before the end of the year, and a whole 2020 campaign trail where Donald Trump can tout that he defeated “the crazy Dems” and their witch hunt. When historians look back at this period and try to pinpoint where exactly the system failed to remedy this fiasco, it won’t be with the executive branch. The blame will fall upon Nancy Pelosi and her House leadership, failing to fully utilize the tool our founders gave them to operate on this malignancy.