Congressional Democrats have embarked on their great crusade.
After expressing reluctance for months to take the leap, Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi last week jumped on the Trump impeachment train and brought almost all of her fellow party members with her.
Pelosi apparently is convinced Democrats finally have legal and political grounds to remove President Donald Trump from office and that voters will cheer them for doing so. Hence, the formerly cautious speaker has thrown caution to the wind and is determined that her party will get down and dirty with the president. News reports indicate that House Democrats plan to move with dispatch to approve article(s) of impeachment and send the case for trial to the U.S. Senate.
Their smoking gun is a July phone call that Trump had with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine.
A reconstructed transcript of the conversation has been released, so readers can make up their own minds about what he really said.
Democrats contend that Trump sought to persuade Zelensky to conduct an investigation of former Vice President Joe Biden’s role in quashing a Ukrainian probe of Biden’s son’s role in a Ukrainian company.
They assert that, in doing so, Trump abused the power of his office by seeking an inappropriate quid pro quo — offering future U.S. assistance in exchange for the Ukraine investigation. The issue became public after a CIA employee learned about the phone call from associates and filed a complaint with the national intelligence inspector general.
Here’s House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff’s interpretation, offered in his opening statement of a congressional hearing, of Trump’s side of the conversation.
“I have a favor I want from you, though, and I’m gonna say this only seven times, so you better listen good. I want you to make up dirt on my political opponent, understand? Lots of it ... on this and on that,” Schiff said. “I’m gonna put you in touch with people, and not just any people. I’m gonna put you in touch with the attorney general of the United States ... Bill Barr. He’s got the whole weight of the American law enforcement behind him, and I’m gonna put you in touch with Rudy. You’re gonna love him, trust me. You know what I’m asking, so I’m only going to say this a few more times in a few more ways. And by the way, don’t call me again; I’ll call you when you’ve done what I asked.”
If that was, in fact, what Trump said, he would be toast. But it wasn’t. Indeed, Schiff’s characterization was so at odds with the transcript that he later explained his words were a parody, defined as exaggeration intended for comic effect.
Nonetheless, Schiff’s characterization reflects the deep divide that surrounds Trump. He, understandably, drives his Democratic critics wild. Not only did he defeat their heroine, Hillary Clinton, in the 2016 presidential election, they also find him and his persona intolerable.
They have a point. Trump is hardly a conventional politician. No matter how many times he’s been warned, he constantly breaks the boundaries that surround conventional presidential behavior. His phone call with Zelensky is an example. It may not constitute an impeachable offense, but Trump was not only mistaken, but self-damagingly so, to bring up the Biden matter.
Where this all will end is impossible to say. Whatever transpires going forward will be a combination of tragedy and farce.
The impeachment process is the constitutional method that this nation’s founders established to remove executive officials who are unfit to hold office. They established “high crimes and misdemeanors” as the standard for removal. Nonetheless, it’s a political process that rises or falls based on political calculation.
President Richard Nixon escaped an impeachment trial by resigning. Public opinion was against him.
Republicans impeached President Bill Clinton. He was acquitted in a Senate trial because the public was with him, and Republicans paid for their action at the polls.
Democrats wanted to impeach President Ronald Reagan. But they feared paying for their actions at the polls because Reagan was too popular.
So it’s clear that public sentiment is as important to the process as the allegations of wrongdoing. That’s why Pelosi abandoned custom and did not allow a full House vote to authorize an impeachment inquiry.
In 1974, the U.S. House voted 410-4 to conduct a Nixon impeachment inquiry. In 1998, the House voted 258-176 to conduct a Clinton impeachment inquiry. In 2019, Pelosi refused to allow a full House vote on a Trump impeachment probe because she wants to avoid putting Democratic House members on the record.
So Pelosi is in, but trying not to be all in. Unfortunately, that’s like trying to be a little bit pregnant. Pelosi and the Democrats have charted their course, putting Trump in the crosshairs and the country on a long ride down a bumpy, pothole-filled road.