To impeach or not to impeach? That is the question. Democrats appear to have decided that the only thing holding them back is lack of support among the American people, so now begins their efforts to win over public opinion.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), who leads the House Judiciary Committee, recently told New York Public Radio station WNYC that lack of public support for impeachment is the main obstacle:
“Impeachment is a political act, and you cannot impeach a president if the American people will not support it. The American people right now do not support it because they do not know the story. They don’t know the facts. We have to get the facts out. We have to hold a series of hearings; we have to hold the investigations.”
A recent survey from Harvard CAPS/Harris Poll showed that 65% of respondents were opposed to impeachment. A majority of Democrat voters, 56%, supported impeachment, but only 32% of independents and 14% of Republicans agreed.
The Clock Is Ticking on Impeachment
Time is of the essence, though. Democrats cannot afford to move forward with impeachment proceedings during the 2020 presidential campaign: That would look too much like an act of political sabotage rather than a quest for accountability. Nor can they really afford to have impeachment overshadow their party’s primary contest, so they are left with the option of moving quickly or waiting until after the next general election.
If Democrats delay taking action against the president until after January 2021, they face two potential problems. In the first place, they risk angering a number of left-wing groups who are agitating for impeachment, potentially damaging voter turnout in 2020. Second, the Democrats could well find themselves, in 2021, with too few votes in either chamber of Congress to impeach.
The Democratic Party Star Chamber
It is likely that Nadler weighed these issues when he announced on June 3 that the House Judiciary Committee would schedule hearings on the special counsel report. The first of those hearings will take place on June 10 and, according to a report in Axios, is being billed as “Lessons From the Mueller Report: Presidential Obstruction and Other Crimes.”
Present at the hearing will be John Dean, the former White House counsel who became a leading witness against President Richard Nixon during the Watergate affair. Clearly, then, Nadler’s strategy is to stage a series of sham hearings designed to move public opinion further toward impeachment. Essentially, this is a Star Chamber trial in which the defendant is not allowed to appear or to defend himself.
There is still no word on whether former special counsel Robert Mueller himself will testify before Congress. Mueller made it clear he feels his report is sufficient and that he would not speak about anything not already covered in that report.
Congressional hearings are supposed to have a legislative purpose, so in order to avoid the perception of overreach, Nadler described the purpose of the hearings as being “[T]o examine the findings laid out in Mueller’s report so that we can work to protect the rule of law and protect future elections through consideration of legislative and other remedies.”
It would seem that, from Democrats’ point of view, the best course of action is plunging ahead with articles of impeachment. They now appear to be slow-walking the issue, and the most recent chatter inside the Beltway suggests some Democrats may be considering censuring the president. This would be effectively a slap on the wrist for Trump; to the Democratic base, it could be seen as something of a cop-out.
The longer Democrats drag out this process, the worse it looks for them. Those Americans who believe Trump should be impeached will grow increasingly impatient: For them, ample justification for impeachment already exists. Those who are against the idea will increasingly believe the Democrats – lacking the courage to impeach – are merely using these hearings to extend the shadow that has hung over this president since his inauguration. At what point does each side run out of patience?
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