According to Politico’s Jake Sherman, Democrats told reporters that yesterday’s hearing with Special Counsel Robert Mueller was about optics—about “bringing the report to life.” It was not about uncovering new information, but having the author of America’s most famous report that no one read bring his own words to life—and like the report, his words were damning. In fact, Representative Val Demings (D-FL) basically got George W. Bush’s former FBI Director to confirm that it is “generally” true that President Trump lied under oath—which is a slam-dunk impeachable offense—especially given the number of Republicans currently in the Senate who impeached a Democratic president for lying under oath.
Ken Buck, beloved GOP simpleton from my home state of Colorado, provided one of the all-time congressional hearing own goals, and perhaps the most consequential moment of the day for those watching from the executive residence at the White House.
But back to the point: what was this whole Mueller made-for-TV special really for? Like the Dems said, none of this information was new, it was about bringing life to crimes he committed…so why isn't Trump getting impeached? If it's a certainty that the president committed impeachable crimes—and according to the special counsel under oath, it is—then why are the House Democrats not impeaching Trump? Trump's actions and the constitution's Necessary and Proper Clause give them no choice.
Had they begun the impeachment process already, Mueller's testimony could have been an incredibly useful and credible introduction as to why this was all happening. Instead, Democratic leadership is trying to hide behind a career bureaucrat, and they spent much of the day trying to force him to make an impeachment case on their behalf. This fight simmering in the back halls of Democratic Congress, that we saw come to the fore yesterday, is emblematic of the current split in the Democratic Party.
This camp is a lot bigger than Speaker Nancy Pelosi would like you to think. According to The Washington Post, it includes the man (and a few others in leadership) who would oversee Trump's impeachment hearings in the House, Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, who made two formal requests to Pelosi to begin impeachment proceedings earlier this year. Politico reported that Nadler asked Pelosi once more yesterday, and was rebuffed yet again. Over 90 House Democrats have publicly come out in favor of impeachment, and you can bet that the number who have privately expressed support is much, much higher.
So why are we not impeaching Trump?
Because the pro-impeachment camp does not have the real power in this fight, despite clearly having significant numbers and popular support amongst the Democratic base on their side. House Judiciary Chairman is about as high on the totem pole as it gets before you get to Speaker and House Majority Leader, and those two representatives, Pelosi and Steny Hoyer (D-MD), are opposed to impeachment (as well as the House Intelligence Chairman, the man who owes his career to Robert Mueller more than anyone alive, Adam Schiff).
Because leadership says no, it does not matter that the committee most equipped to handle this very serious constitutional mandate wants to take it on—there are moderates to worry about. That said, Nadler does seem to be carving out an option for this camp.
This camp is basically the very tippy top of Democratic leadership, and scared swing district Dems not named Katie Porter, Harley Rouda, Tom Malinowski, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell and Sean Casten, who have all come out in favor of impeaching the man their districts voted for in 2016. To understand this “establishment” or “elite” thinking that so many of us at Paste and other outlets across the leftist blogosphere spend our days critiquing, you must first understand how the House works.
The unfortunate reality is that somewhere around 40 seats in the House are competitive (that number was around 100 in 2010). These seats command the most attention and money, because they basically dictate who controls half of one branch of the United States federal government. It is nearly impossible to create a House majority without these districts filled with tons of voters who can still be convinced to vote for the pro-child concentration camp party. Life is never as simple as we want it to be.
The unfortunate practical reality is that these districts do and should have outsized power in the Dem caucus as long as this is how power is sorted. The medium to long-term goal is to get rid of gerrymandering, and make the House truly competitive so we do not need to make this political Sophie's Choice, but our present moment demands pragmatic decisions about how Democrats can obtain political power.
But we don't need to turn the entire freaking party over to this literal handful of Democrats, and just because they're scared of a fight in their district doesn't mean that their fears of impeaching Trump are correct, as the five aforementioned pro-impeachment representatives in swing districts seem to be asserting. Pelosi famously dismissed “The Squad” as simply people with four votes, but they share both a membership and an ideology with the Congressional Progressive Caucus, who make up 41% of Nancy Pelosi's caucus. Democratic voters are liberal, even if the party elite is far less so. The tension around impeachment (and everything in the Democratic Party) surrounds the fact that these swing district Democrats command essentially all the attention in the Democratic Party, while the vast majority of us on the left are far more liberal than these swing districts.
If you asked the average person “who came out in favor of gay marriage first, Joe Biden or Barack Obama?” I'd bet that people would choose Obama at ten times the rate they choose Biden. You can probably surmise, by the fact that I brought it up, that is not the case. The same dynamic which led Obama to drag his feet on doing the right thing is now influencing Dem leadership's rebuke of much of the party's desire to adhere to their constitutional duty and impeach a transparently criminal president.
According to Gallup, public support in favor of same-sex marriage surpassed 50% in May 2011, dipped down to 48% in their next round of polling in December 2011, and reached 50% again in May 2012. President Obama did not publicly support same-sex marriage until a May 2012 interview with ABC's Robin Roberts, and that's basically what's happening with impeachment. The numbers aren't there yet.
But they're pretty far along. Much farther along than they were with Nixon before his impeachment hearings began. Polling is a little all over the place on impeachment, but it all tells about the same story as this consistent Fox News poll (which is a legitimate polling outfit, despite the illegitimacy of its namesake). Around four in ten Americans do want impeachment and removal, while about five in ten do not.
Like Obama's trepidation on endorsing gay marriage until it didn't take as much political courage to come out in favor of what most of his party had long supported, Pelosi and Dem leadership are waiting for a majority of Americans to favor impeachment before moving forward on impeachment. That is what the Mueller hearing was about. They wanted permission to do something everyone knows they are constitutionally bound to do. This is the difference between the old and new left. Pelosi, Schumer and Biden's old left react to public opinion—while the AOC's of the world work to shape public opinion—like how she attended a Sunrise Movement protest, and three months later, the Green New Deal found itself at the center of the 2020 Democratic Party platform.
In typical fashion for the most powerful in the party, Democratic elites are trying to be everything to everyone—as CNN's Manu Raju reported that “Pelosi just privately told her members that they need to stay focused — but also indicated that if they need to support an impeachment inquiry, she respects that and must do what's best for their district, per sources.”
The problem with trying to be everything to everyone is not only does it mean you will always arrive late to the right side of history (which depresses the enthusiasm of your base), but telling members that they can push impeachment while Dem leadership does not back impeachment ultimately communicates to everyone that the party stands for absolutely nothing other than whatever it takes to get enough votes in those 40 key districts. Not only does waiting for this very small percentage of the electorate to approve of impeachment before moving forward with impeachment misunderstand Democrats' constitutional duty, but history as well.
The Common Consensus has taken root on the left that impeachment would hurt the Democrats politically, which definitely makes sense when you think about all those victories the Democrats had right after Bill Clinton’s impeachment in 1999. For some strange reason, I’m blanking on who the Democratic President and majority leaders of Congress were from 2000 to 2008, but I’m certain they weren’t Republicans because Very Serious People on the teevee told me that impeaching the most unpopular president in polling history is definitely a political loser!
In all seriousness, this should be more serious. Yesterday was a real opportunity to communicate a moral vision to the country on how to solve our criminal president, and the Democratic Party yet again sent a muddled message. It is clear that there is a plan in place by House Judiciary and those 90-plus members who are itching for a fight—the problem in all this is Nancy Pelosi and her staunch allies in Democratic leadership lacking a cohesive vision that includes Democrats not from one of those 40 swing districts.
They are currently standing in the way of a righteous crusade backed by a majority of their party—a crusade that, if done right, would amount to a one-year TV show highlighting Trump’s crimes for all to see, culminating in a yes or no vote in favor or opposed to said crimes for the entire GOP in the Senate. I can guarantee you that Susan Collins, Cory Gardner and plenty of other Senate Republicans up for reelection in 2020 want no part of that vote. The only way that you can think that scenario is a political loser is if you have no confidence in your abilities to pull it off, or you just inherently think any aggressive action is bad.
There is being savvy about what specific moves will play in these 40 districts, and then there is the perpetual defensive crouch we find the Democratic elite in yet again. Not all Democrats in these swing districts are following this cowardly script, revealing how untenable Pelosi and Democratic leadership’s anti-impeachment position truly is. They wanted a 74-year-old career bureaucrat to come right out yesterday and dramatically say “you must impeach this president,” and now that they are left without their made-for-TV moment, the Democrats really are in disarray, wondering what the hell leadership’s plan is next.
Jacob Weindling is a writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.