'Formal impeachment proceedings' have finally begun. But with a whimper, not a bang
House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerry Nadler (D-NY) finally said officially on Thursday that he is overseeing impeachment proceedings of President Donald Trump.
“This is formal impeachment proceedings,” Nadler said on CNN. “We are investigating all the evidence, gathering the evidence."
"By the end of the year," Nadler said, he hopes to his committee will have come to a conclusion about whether to bring articles of impeachment to the House floor.
"That’s a decision that we’ll have to make," he said. "But that’s exactly the process we’re in right now.”
Nadler and other Democrats have danced around the idea before. After former Special Counsel Robert Mueller's testimony in July, Nadler and other Democratic committee members appeared to announce that, "in effect," they had begun an impeachment inquiry. Now, it seems, we've transitioned from "effectively" engaging in impeachment proceedings to "formally" having impeachment proceedings, with no clear break in between.
Honestly, the tediousness of the process seems to be developing into the central feature of the impeachment story. Nadler and the committee are currently pursuing legal avenues to unseal the grand jury material in Mueller report, but as I've argued previously, it's unclear why this would really be important or whether it will reveal any new or pertinent information. The House is also suing for Don McGahn's testimony, which could make for interesting television, but it isn't likely to tell us anything we don't already know.
And Nadler himself has already said that Trump "richly deserves impeachment."
Indeed he does, as I've argued repeatedly. But even as the Democrats now finally admit that, yes, they're considering impeaching Trump, their actions up until this point have shown absolutely no urgency in the matter. There's no more significant piece of evidence for this fact than that Nadler's announcement Thursday came in a random evening CNN interview with no fanfare, build-up, or plan.
This is no way to send the message to the public that we have a criminal in the White House who must be dealt with.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has long seemed uninterested in impeachment. Before Mueller's report was released, she said we needed to wait for the investigation to be over before making a decision. Now that Mueller's report is public — and documents clearly impeachable behavior — she says we need more evidence. Of course, she had more than enough evidence to pursue impeachment long before Mueller concluded his investigation — and had she played her cards right, his report could have landed with a much larger bang than it did. Just imagine if, with debates proceeding in the House of Representatives about whether Trump obstructed justice, a new report detailing multiple counts of obstruction of justice was released, complete with legal analysis. That could have really changed the direction of the conversation.
Instead, Pelosi has just pushed confusing and contradictory statements about her views on impeachment.
The most plausible conclusion to draw from all this is that Pelosi is trying to let impeachment die a natural death. Pursuing impeachment in a way that would effectively bring doubters on board and convince the public of its importance would have been a challenge no matter what, but Pelosi isn't even trying.
After all, there was never much chance the Senate would vote to remove Trump, so the point of pursuing impeachment in the House would be to publicize and highlight the seriousness of the president's misconduct. But you do that by hammering home what he did and the laws that he violated every chance you get — not by focusing on waging obscure battles in the courts over arcane precedent and dubiously useful witnesses.
That's not to say impeachment even under these conditions won't have an effect. Trump's behavior clearly shows that the last thing he really wants is a debate in the House scrutinizing his conduct, and House Democrats really have been looking more enthusiastically at impeachment in recent weeks. These facts matter.
But at the moment, there doesn't seem to be much of a plan from House Democrats to make the case, convince the public, and harness the momentum of impeachment. Without properly framing the argument, Democrats really do run the risk of letting the impeachment push backfire.