As the debate around impeachment continues to roil Democratic Party politics, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi finds herself in an extremely difficult position. It is clear to her, and most observers who are paying even a little attention, that while the House would likely vote for impeachment on a largely party line vote, there is almost no chance of 67 Senators, which would have to include 20 Republicans, voting to remove Donald Trump from office. Thus, impeachment would be a purely symbolic vote in the House with no effect on policy or the president.
This is a clear argument against impeachment, but the question is a little more complicated than that. While it is apparent that a House vote to impeach Trump would accomplish nothing concrete and leave the Democrats open to the charge that they are obsessed with Trump to the point of not focusing on their real work, there is another side to the story. Symbolism is important in politics. For the Democratic controlled House to look at the mountain of evidence against Trump, including but not limited to the information in the Mueller Report, and conclude that impeachment is a mistake because the politics won’t work out, would be placing the good of the party over the good of the country and above their constitutional duty. Democrats are approaching the point where impeaching Trump is the right thing to do from a constitutional perspective, but are also aware that the votes aren’t there in the Senate meaning impeachment might backfire on the Democrats in the 2020 election would be a triumph of politics over the Constitution.
Recently, several people seeking the Democratic nomination for president have called for impeachment, including Senators Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris. These calls emerge from a combination of the Senators’ views of Trump’s corruption and deeply troubling relationship with Moscow, but are also appeals to the Democratic base who are active in primaries and would like to see Trump impeached. Additionally, for Senators like Warren and Harris, an impeachment hearing would present an opportunity for them to give speeches, question witnesses and otherwise raise their profile in the months immediately preceding the beginning of the primary season. This could be a particular boon to Harris, a former prosecutor who has already shone in several Senate hearings as she has relentlessly and effectively questioned various Trump administration nominees and officials.
The quandary facing Pelosi will only get more intense in coming months as the pressure to begin impeachment hearings, and the evidence of Trump’s extraordinary wrongdoing, continue to mount. Moreover, the ongoing transgressions of the Trump administration around things like failing to turn over information to, or appear before, various congressional committees, almost makes it seem as if the Trump administration is daring the Democrats to begin the process of impeachment.
Trump’s strategy is likely that he wants to lure the Democrats into an impeachment episode so that he can spend the next 18 months or so Tweeting various combinations of the words “total exoneration” “witch hunt” and “Democrats” knowing that there is no chance this process will end with him being removed from office, but he may be overplaying his hand as well. While it is true that impeachment will not lead to Trump being removed from office, it is much less clear that months of having the ample misdeeds of Trump, his campaign and his administration being discussed, analyzed and documented yet again is the best context for his reelection campaign.
As the prospect of impeachment seems greater with almost every passing day, it is worth remembering that the most likely political scenario is that impeachment proceedings will have little impact on public opinion or the election of 2020. It is possible that a Senator like Harris, Warren or Booker might have a few moments that go viral, but that will little impact on opinions of Trump itself. The 35% or so of the country that stuck with Trump thus far will watch Fox News and be told that the Democrats are desperate, suffering from Trump derangement syndrome and the like, while a slightly larger proportion of the country will watch MSNBC and various other left of center media outlets, certain in the widespread criminality of Trump and the people around him. Some of those people will be even be foolish enough to believe that some finding or another will finally break the case open to the larger American public, but they will be wrong.
The rest of the American public, for their part, will probably ignore the hearings entirely secure either in the knowledge that they just don’t care about the theatre into which our politics has evolved or that the outcome is already determined by the partisan nature of the Senate. These voters will also be the ones who decide the election, but just as it is absurd for opponents of the President to think that one more trip through the Trump house of ethical horrors will solidify these voters’ support for the eventual Democratic nominee, it may be equally wrong to assume they will turn against the Democrats in the event of impeachment.
Photo: cc/Impeachment March