I continue to believe, more strongly than you can imagine, that impeaching President Trump is silly and a waste of time. That’s not because I think the politics are bad, as people always seem to assume when you say you don’t support an immediate move toward impeachment. I simply think it doesn’t accomplish anything. So it really doesn’t matter what the politics are. The only real question to me is whether Democrats succeed in their real shot at ending Trump’s presidency, which is in November 2020. It’s an existential challenge for the whole country.
The Democratic party is caught in an argument with one side (and I think the bigger side) claiming that House Democrats lack either the courage or the devotion to principle or patriotism or simply the smarts to recognize the scale and gravity of President Trump’s wrongdoing and start the process of impeachment. You can see this play out in real time on Twitter where any high-profile Democrat’s comment on the President’s wrongdoing or lawbreaking is met with a flurry of “So what are you doing about it!!?!??!?” replies.
The discussion is governed by the assumption that the United States is in a political crisis created by the President’s criminality and that on a spectrum from passivity to militance the most aggressive, effective action House Democrats can take is to impeach the President. Given the extremity of Trump’s behavior, if that’s the assumption, then anything short of impeachment represents either a failure of will or one of principle. All the more so as Trump piles on to his existing crimes and misrule with unconstitutional refusals to comply with any congressional oversight. The premise is simply wrong. The most effective action the House can take is to investigate the President’s wrongdoing and bring it before the public and hold the possibility of impeachment in the offing as they bring new evidence to the public about the President’s misrule.
But here’s the thing. You need to bring people along if you think your strategy is the right one. And here we have to admit there’s been a real shortfall. This started to click for me in early May when there were the first signs Robert Mueller or his handlers at DOJ were resisting his testifying. I don’t know just what Jerry Nadler’s attitude was. But as it showed up in the news write-ups it was basically, we couldn’t agree on ground rules for testimony. Oh well. Sad trombone, basically.
That just doesn’t cut it. If the most aggressive stance toward President Trump isn’t impeachment but aggressive investigation – which I firmly believe – then you actually have to be aggressive and show you’re being aggressive.
We shouldn’t be having a public discussion about whether Robert Mueller wants to testify. It just doesn’t matter. It’s like wondering whether a general supported the decision to start the war he or she is prosecuting. If they’re professionals it shouldn’t matter. He was charged with conducting an investigation of critical national import. He needs to testify in public before Congress. That’s just obvious. If he wants to answer questions mainly with reference to different parts of the Report that’s his right. But getting into a debate about his personal wishes or doing anything but scheduling his testimony telegraphs weakness and fecklessness.
A couple months ago I talked with a former longtime senior Hill staffer who is extremely knowledgable about these things and keeps in close touch with current leadership. I asked this person what the story was with the delay in pushing for President Trump’s taxes. This was just after the initial request went to Treasury.
This person told me that probably 60% or even 70% was smart lawyering, making sure everything was in place and the best possible legal footing was arranged for the inevitable court battle. That took time to put together. That part of the equation, which applies to some degree in all these unfolding battles, is a critical part of the equation that a lot of people miss. But maybe 40% of it was just being low energy, or to put it more precisely, an attachment to the courtly, procedural habits of Chairman Neal.
It’s a complicated balance because the House is just one chamber of Congress and President Trump has a generally pliant judiciary in his pocket. Certainly that applies to the Supreme Court, which of course has the final word. But Democrats and a majority of the country are fiercely concerned about President Trump’s reckless and lawless presidency. They want some check on his power. Polls demonstrate this clearly. Democratic partisans want every bit of his and his family’s and toadies’ corruption unearthed. To maintain the confidence of that portion of the public and simply do the right thing, they need to go to every length, demonstrate a sense of urgency and make both visibly clear to the public. Unfortunately they’re falling short on that front.
It’s not a simple challenge. The public appetite is considerably greater than the powers the House holds. But it needs to happen.