Impeachment would probably fail — but here are 6 reasons Democrats should do it anyway

News & Politics

Democrats have twisted themselves in knots trying to have a clear message on Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report and the prospect for impeaching President Donald Trump. While they won't say it outright, the party's leaders obviously want to avoid impeachment if at all possible. And it's clear that the biggest reason House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and others don't want to impeach Trump is that it's not currently a popular idea.

I've argued before why I think this and other arguments against impeachment fail. But given that most people think impeachment would fail to lead to Trump's removal by the Republican-controlled Senate, you might simply object with the rhetorical question: What's the point?

In fact, I believe there are many strong reasons for the House of Representatives to impeach Trump even if the Senate doesn't want to convict. Here are six:

1. Impeachment makes clear that Trump's behavior is unacceptable.

Right now, Democrats have put themselves in the awkward position of fuming about the Trump administration's refusal to cooperate with congressional subpoenas and investigations, even after they've essentially unilaterally disarmed on the impeachment issue. None of their actions since the release of the Mueller report suggest that they think that the actions it describes Trump taking are impeachable offenses.

But on Thursday, frustrated with the administration's defiance, House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerry Nadler (D-NY) awkwardly said, “Everything the president does now is making it more and more impossible to rule out impeachment.”

It was convoluted and weak phrasing. It was also, clearly, an empty threat. Democrats aren't moving forward with impeachment over the evidence Mueller found of Trump's obstruction of justice, attempts to collude with Russia, and his rampant abuses of power. So why would they impeach over a refusal to turn over documents? Democrats have shown that Trump can get away with crimes and obstruction, so there's no reason he should stop. Impeaching him now would draw a line in the sand, for both Trump and the public, about what Democrats consider unacceptable. Right now, as upset as they might get, their actions send the message that Trump's behavior is fundamentally tolerable.

And by not impeaching Trump for his clearly impeachable conduct, Democrats are raising the bar for any future Congress to impeach a president. What this leads to is an increasingly powerful and unchecked executive — a serious threat to democracy.

2. Impeachment would provide a high-profile venue for airing Trump's dirty laundry.

Democrats fear impeachment would backfire and hurt them electorally. And it might. But whether it does or not likely comes down to how the process plays out. In other words, instead of worrying about the downsides of impeachment, Democrats should be strategizing and working hard to take advantage of it electorally.

One way to do that would be to use impeachment hearings to air all the politically damaging findings in the Mueller report and elsewhere. And they could use ongoing investigations to find more evidence of wrongdoing — for surely it exists — in the administration. It's true that much of this can be done without formal impeachment, but the public and the media will certainly be much more interested, engaged, and aware of the serious stakes of the matter if the hearings center on the idea of removing a president.

And notably, the public was largely against President Richard Nixon's impeachment — until televised hearings wreaked havoc on his poll numbers.

3. It would give Congress more leverage in fights with the administration.

Many of Congress's fights with the administration over documents and witnesses are likely to end up in the courts, and lawmakers much more likely to be successful in these fights, many legal experts argue, in the context of a formal impeachment. It's also possible that the fact of impeachment proceedings could encourage the courts to fast-track these issues, rather than letting Trump use the judicial branch to delay oversight.

4. Republicans would be forced to align with Trump's misdeeds.

Everyone seems to agree that, based on what we know now, Senate Republicans would uniformly vote against removing Trump. That is true, but for some reason, this fact is used more as a bludgeon against people who support impeachment than it is to show the cravenness of the GOP.

Republicans shouldn't get to protect a corrupt and criminal president by default. If they believe Trump's crimes and violations of the Constitution are acceptable, they should be forced to go on the record with that — for all of history to judge. They should be pressed in every press conference and interview for months about how they can stand by the president based on the newest evidence presented in the impeachment hearings. They should be asked how they would have reacted in a President Hillary Clinton had done one-tenth of what Trump has done.

Moving forward with impeachment would put Republicans on the defensive — where they should be.

5. Democrats could show that they're willing to fight.

Correspondingly, Democrats would prove to their base that they're willing to stand up to corruption and threats to democracy. Politics shouldn't be all about playing to your base — but it has its place. The people who turned out to create the blue wave in 2018 would get the clear message that their votes counted. It would also shake Democrats out of the weak and unsustainable rhetorical position they've found themselves in.

6. It would lay the groundwork to remove Trump should the opportunity arise.

Finally, while I agree with the conventional wisdom that the Senate will protect Trump from removal, this isn't guaranteed. Trump's support in the party is strong, but it's not invulnerable. A major foreign policy calamity is looking more possible by the day, and such a turn of events could tank his approval ratings (at the same time, a major foreign policy success could also boost him higher than ever). An economic downturn could also crush his base of support. Further revelations about his corruption or past misdeeds may do additional damage to his standing.

If any or all of these developments occur, Senate Republicans might suddenly find themselves much more amenable to impeachment than ever before.

This alone isn't a decisive reason to impeach Trump, of course. But on top of the other reasons, it should serve to quell some doubts.

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