Over the course of this current presidency, a lot of people on “my side of the aisle” have crowed about impeaching Donald Trump. I found it mostly counterproductive, to be honest, and borne more out of shock about losing the 2016 election than anything else. Plenty of folks in the pundit class were beating the drum as well; catch ten minutes of Morning Joe on MSNBC and you’ll hear more about impeachment than you have in any conversations with average people in the past three years.
The primary focus of the initial wave of impeachment calls were fixated on the Mueller investigation. Remember L’Affaire Russe? Everyone and their mother were telling you that, if we just waited for Mueller to testify, or release a statement, or tweet, or… I don’t know what, then this whole episode will be over. But Bob Mueller was no white knight, and even had he uncovered some damning information that merited the president’s removal from office, it wouldn’t have been his purview to do it. That rests with the Congress.
Quickly, because it’s pedantic and everyone knows this nowadays given the wall-to-wall coverage, but impeachment is the official process by which a government official is removed from office; in this case, we mean the president. It is a political process, not a legal one. The House of Representatives practically has carte blanche in deciding whether or not to move forward on impeachment proceedings; if you’ve got the votes, you’ve got your trial. The accused is impeached for “high crimes and misdemeanors,” which is a grandiose way of saying “whatever the Congress deems impeachable,” because that’s the practical implication. It isn’t hard and fast, and that’s one of the places where the arcane document governing our entire republic made room for us to wiggle: in terms of impeachable offenses, you’ll know it when you see it.
But up until now, the most noise from elected Democrats about impeachment was coming from 1) quite liberal members of Congress and 2) quite liberal candidates for president on the Democratic side. And this makes sense. Slow and steady, the number of Democrats in the House calling for impeachment has risen over the past few months. It’s reached a sort of crescendo in the last week. Somewhere north of 140 Democrats (as of today) support impeachment; there are 435 members total in the House.
The issue now raising their eyebrows — and the specter of impeachment — is one regarding the current frontrunner for the Democratic nomination: Vice President Joe Biden. The story goes (and I do emphasize here that as of today, the facts are not all available; this is obscenely speculative) that President Trump attempted to leverage money appropriated by Congress for Ukraine in a bid to solicit politically damning information on Biden. Joe Biden’s son has businesses dealings abroad, including in Ukraine.
It would certainly be a grotesque precedent to set if we allowed a sitting president to gather political dirt on an opponent in broad daylight – and with aid appropriated by Congress as a carrot. For the most part, I’ve seen the Trump presidency as a drag on institutions and multilateral cooperation, but if there is truth in the current allegations, it’s a bridge too far. At least Nixon was couth enough to dig up dirt within the United States, instead of looking abroad for oppo.
Speaker Pelosi has done well in holding her caucus together in what has been a difficult year since winning back the majority. With moderate, veteran legislators taking a stand on impeachment, we very well may be on the precipice. Republican lawmakers would have done well to check this presidency when they had the chance — remember the first two years of unified government? Now, he’s unchained, but with a Speaker who will actually check his worst impulses instead of abetting them.
Newt Gingrich moved to impeach Bill Clinton in 1998 for lying about an affair. President Trump has skated on far more than that, and with far less of a price to pay. Democrats will be put in a lot of difficult places over the course of the next year and a half, but if it comes to a point where the allegations move from speculation to fact, there is little left to do but move to impeach. To do otherwise would be a dereliction of separated powers and further empower the executive branch to do what it pleases with impunity.