In response to Donald Trump’s seemingly endless array of high crimes and misdemeanors, House Democrats decided to settle their impeachment hopes simply on the Ukraine fiasco. They went narrow instead of wide. They went cautious instead of for the throat. They didn’t use the word “bribery” and went for “obstruction of Congress” instead of “obstruction of justice,” passing up on the number of obstructions detailed in the pre-Ukraine-scandal-reveal Mueller Report.
The question some Democrats, particularly on the liberal side, are asking is whether the party — meaning, in this case, Nancy Pelosi, who certainly cast the deciding vote — went far enough and hard enough or anything enough in the articles of impeachment.
I mean, even Trump is calling the articles of impeachment “very weak,” which seems like a strange thing to say of a text charging that he “betrayed the nation.”
The answer on the tough-enough question is this: It depends on what exactly Democrats are trying to accomplish by impeaching Trump.
There are those — I know because I hear from them — who believe it is not impossible that 20 Republicans will jump ship and turn on Trump the way Republicans did, at the very end, against Richard Nixon. But you have to remember that Nixon’s defense — that he had no knowlege of any coverup — exploded with the release of the tapes which clearly showed that he knew full well.
The facts in the Trump impeachment are clear to everyone, even those who pretend otherwise. I’m guessing even Ken Buck understands that much. The facts were laid out in the rough transcript of the infamous July 25 phone call and then confirmed by the testimony before the House Intelligence Committee.
I don’t see anything that could possibly persuade 20 Republican senators to go rogue. As everyone should know by now, the truest thing Trump ever said was that he could shoot someone on 5th Avenue and his base would stick by him. Certainly he could take a baseball bat to a few Ukrainian knees without any worries.
Here’s the best evidence I can offer: When the vote comes in the House, maybe sometime next week, it is likely that more Democrats (probably two to five) vote against impeachment than Republicans (here’s a guess: zero) who vote for impeachment.
Or this: Nancy Pelosi tried to show she was able to do more than impeach a president. She also gave Trump the gift of the new NAFTA, which is a lot like the old NAFTA, except with different letters.
Or this: How many Republicans have jumped to the defense of the Inspector General’s report showing no bias in the FBI’s investigation of the Trump campaign? How many have defended Trump-appointed FBI Director Chris Wray from Trump’s tweeted attacks on him?
And then there’s this: As Thomas Wright writes in The Atlantic, among those who should say what they know of Trump’s me-first (or you could say, me-only) approach to foreign policy — and what might come next — are the generals, H.R. McMaster, John Kelly and Jim Mattis who worked for him as well as, of course, super hawk John Bolton.
These are all tough guys who left the White House with documented ill feelings toward the president’s conduct and who, you might think, would listen to their consciences and do the patriotic, love-of-country thing and explain why, in fact, Trump either is or isn’t a danger to American democracy. Instead they’ve been shamed by Fiona Hill, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and others who put their careers and reputations at risk to testify.
Meanwhile, there’s reportedly an argument between Trump and Mitch McConnell about how to proceed. McConnell wants to proceed quickly with a fast-moving Senate trial, while Trump, who has changed his mind on this a few times, now apparently wants a drawn-out defense and to call the Bidens and Adam Schiff and Nancy Pelosi and any other enemies he can think of to testify. The Democrats might agree to most of that — not Pelosi, certainly — if they could call Mick Mulvaney and Bolton and Rudy Giuliani et al.
I think McConnell will win this argument. A real trial wouldn’t be good for Trump, but it would be a disaster for Republican senators, who stand to be the real losers here, whether the trial is quick and dirty or long and, yeah, dirty.
We know how many craven GOP senators there are — I’d say all of them — and now they will now be forced to vote on whether it’s OK for a United States president to pressure (extort, bribe, whatever word you want to use) a foreign head of state to interfere in the 2020 election in exchange for nearly $400 million of congressionally approved, critical military aid needed to hold off Russian aggressors.
This will be very tough for those senators in states where Trump is deeply underwater, like, say Cory Gardner. Gardner, who is a hawk on Russia, would have to hear months of how he’s supporting the guy who insists on spreading Putin propaganda. It’s part of the price he’d have to pay to vote against convicting Trump. But Gardner long ago figured the price of abandoning Trump would be even greater.
So, what is the Democrats’ play here? They know Trump isn’t going to be convicted whether they go narrow or go wide. And, if you read carefully, the first article does posit that Trump “betrayed the Nation by abusing his high office to enlist a foreign power in corrupting democratic elections,” which is what he did.
Is Pelosi’s play then to make it easier for vulnerable House Democrats to vote to put the mark of impeachment on Trump and call it mission accomplished? Or is it — and this is how I’d play it — to make it somehow possible for four or five vulnerable, or retiring, senators to turn on Trump.
I don’t know how many Republican yes votes it would take to put a dent in Trump’s re-election campaign. But if the price of turning even a few Senate Republicans — Romney? Collins? Murkowski? —is to accuse Trump of bribery without using the word, that would be a price well worth paying.