By Chris Pickett
Since the release of the Mueller report, left-leaning news outlets and some elected Democrats have been ratcheting up the pressure on House leadership to open impeachment proceedings against President Trump. The Indivisible Montgomery Steering Committee has discussed this and agrees: The time has come for the House to open impeachment proceedings against President Trump.
We recognize this is a controversial position so I’ll go through how we got here.
What we are calling for
We are calling on the House to launch open, public impeachment proceedings. The House Judiciary committee would hold a series of public hearings to question witnesses and present evidence of Trump’s corruption and criminality. After these hearings, the committee would vote on individual articles of impeachment. Articles affirmed by at least half of the committee would be forwarded for a vote by the full House.
The benefits of launching impeachment proceedings include:
- These hearings would be public and televised so that the full story of Trump’s criminality would be laid out for all to see.
- House Democrats would have strong legal footing to require reluctant witnesses to testify and to compel the White House and other entities to produce documents relevant to impeachment, including tax information.
- Trump and the GOP would not be able to preemptively spin any outcomes, and the right-wing news apparatus would not be able to selectively quote or deviously splice footage.
For these public hearings, the House should pursue the leads in the Mueller report, which detailed the FBI’s investigation into Russia’s attempt to influence and interfere with the 2016 election and Trump’s attempts to obstruct that investigation. The report outlined clear criminality by members of the Trump campaign and laid out 10 instances where Trump may have obstructed justice.
Beyond the Mueller report, the House should hold Trump to account for the White House refusing to comply with subpoenas or allowing federal employees to testify before Congress. Trump is also acting in his personal capacity to stifle other legitimate Congressional subpoenas and investigations. And then there are all of the other impeachable offenses Trump has already committed.
Precedent – Clinton or Nixon?
Some fear that impeachment proceedings against Trump will only make him more popular, similar to President Clinton in 1998. But this is an incomplete read of that history. Clinton was a popular president whose popularity improved, in part, because it was the beginning of the dot-com/biotech economic bubble. Good economic times tend to buoy a president’s approval rating. Importantly, Clinton’s poll numbers on issues related to his impeachment, like the public perception of his honesty, went down significantly.
If there was a backlash against Republicans for impeaching Clinton beyond their own approval rating, it is tough to find. Two years after Clinton was impeached, the GOP maintained control of the House and Senate and George W. Bush won the White House.
President Nixon was popular within the Republican party and only 19 percent of the public wanted to see Nixon impeached when impeachment proceedings began. However, as the House held open hearings and aired Nixon’s crimes to the public, support for impeachment increased. He resigned shortly after public support for impeachment crested 50 percent.
I believe the situation we are in is much more like the Nixon situation. Trump, like Nixon, is generally disliked but popular within the GOP, and the public support for impeachment is relatively low. However, both were on the receiving ends of a damning DOJ investigation. Despite this, more than half of the public believe the Mueller report cleared Trump of wrongdoing.
Which reinforces the main point–these impeachment proceedings are meant to educate the public as to the extent of corruption and criminality in the White House.
If Senate Republicans won’t convict Trump,
then why go through impeachment?
Because removal is not the point. The point of these hearings is to have public, open hearings that produce a record of Trump’s corruption and criminality. And if the House does pass articles of impeachment, then there will be significant pressure on Senate Republicans to justify their positions defending Trump.
Isn’t Trump just baiting Democrats into impeachment to hurt their electoral chances?
He very well may be, but there is no guarantee this would work in his favor. More importantly, what precedent would it set if there is clear evidence that Trump broke the law, and Congress chose to do nothing? These impeachment proceedings are about more than just Trump. This is a test of whether our system of government, with its built-in checks and balances, is able to put an effective check on an increasingly authoritarian president.
Nevertheless, isn’t there a risk impeachment will hurt Democrats in 2020?
Yes, but any approach is risky. If Democrats begin impeachment proceedings, Trump will play the victim and say the Democrats are incredibly partisan actors. If Democrats don’t begin impeachment proceedings, then Trump will say he didn’t commit any crimes and Democrats agreed, because they didn’t move to impeach.
We can’t know what the ultimate outcome of impeachment proceedings will be, but what I keep coming back to is, what reason is there to expect the 2020 election will be free and fair?
Given Trump’s insistence on prosecuting his political rivals and a more than pliant attorney general, it seems reasonable that this administration will launch a politically motivated, highly public investigation of the Democratic nominee in an attempt to damage whoever that is. In addition, the 2016 election was clearly influenced by Russian activity and there is every indication they are doing it again. Of course, Trump welcome’s Russia’s influence, which is why his administration has taken almost no steps to safeguard our elections from foreign influence.
The best mechanism we have to safeguard our elections is impeachment. A public record of Trump acting against the interests of the United States is the best pressure to limit his abuse of power.
Won’t impeachment rally Trump’s base?
Probably, but aren’t they going to rally anyway? As was said recently, Trump’s base will “rally if he eats a ham sandwich or shoots someone on Fifth Avenue.” But we have quite a few things going in our favor:
- The 2020 Democratic presidential candidate will have less baggage than Hillary Clinton in 2016.
No offense to Clinton, but Republicans had been attacking her for more than 30 years.
The narrative had been set. That isn’t the case for the 2020 nominee.
- The extent of Trump’s corruption and criminality will be laid out for the public.
But only if House Democrats push to make it so.
There was no grassroots activist movement propelling Hillary Clinton.
There will be one propelling the 2020 Democratic nominee.
We can’t underestimate Trump’s base, but there is also no reason to be afraid of it. Trump’s base rallied in 2016, and he still lost the popular vote by 3 million votes. But they voted in the right places and won the Electoral College. We weren’t ready for that in 2016. This time we are.
Launching impeachment proceedings against a sitting president is never an easy decision to make. But the evidence is clear that this is the best chance Democrats have to convey the depths of Trump’s corruption to the public, to put a check on his authoritarian tendencies and to replace him in 2020.