Congressional Democrats are picking and choosing their position on impeaching President Donald Trump based on how well it plays with their voters.
The impeachment train on Capitol Hill continues to gain momentum, with at least 131 members of the U.S. House of Representatives calling for an investigation to impeach President Donald Trump and remove him from office.
The latest to hop aboard are Illinois House Democrats Bill Foster of Naperville and Raja Krishnamoorthi of Schaumburg.
Including those two, that’s 11 of the state’s 13 U.S. House Democrats who are impeachment advocates. The others are Bobby Rush, Robin Kelly, Mike Quigley, Sean Casten, Danny Davis, Jesus Garcia, Brad Schneider, Lauren Underwood and Jan Schakowsky.
The two Democratic holdouts — U.S. Reps. Cheri Bustos and Dan Lipinski — continue to heed Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s public warning to avoid impeachment because pursuing it will make it more difficult for Democrats to win the 2020 presidential election.
It’s impossible to say with certainty whether Pelosi is correct in her assessment. Those who do not share her view believe that impeaching Trump will fire up the Democrats’ virulently anti-Trump base and drive the November 2020 voter turnout higher.
But the fact is that no one will know whose analysis is correct until after the 2020 election is in the books.
Foster’s pro-impeachment announcement came after he said he “spent a lot of time listening to my constituents” and that he has multiple reasons for supporting the impeachment effort.
He complained that Trump, a billionaire property developer, is “trying to enrich himself” and said he was particularly outraged that Trump was “shamelessly pitching” his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida as a meeting site for a G-7 gathering.
Krishnamoorthi attributed his impeachment support to the recent Mueller report that found no collusion between the Russian government and the Trump campaign prior to the 2016 election. Krishnamoorthi speculates that Trump tried to obstruct the Mueller probe.
There’s no question that Democrats find Trump deeply offensive and would love to force him from office. But it takes a majority of the U.S. House’s 435 members to report articles of impeachment to the Senate, where a trial would take place. It would take a two-thirds majority of the 100-member Senate to convict and remove Trump from office.
Senate Democrats refused to seriously consider convicting former President Bill Clinton in his 1998 impeachment trial. This time, it’s the Senate’s majority Republicans who have shown no interest in voting to remove Trump through the impeachment process.
Just as this is no slam-dunk on Capitol Hill, it’s also a tough issue in competitive House districts where opinions about Trump are mixed or even supportive.
It should be no surprise that all the Illinois House Democrats who are pro-impeachment come from relatively safe districts where it’s difficult for a Democratic incumbent to lose re-election.
But Bustos’ district voted narrowly for Trump in 2016. Further, she’s credited as being among the relatively few Democrats who are able to win the support of Trump voters. Supporting impeachment would be of no political assistance to her.
At the same time, Lipinski comes from a divided Democratic district, part Lake Shore liberal and part blue collar, where attacks on the president are more politically problematic.
Indeed, the dilemma Bustos and Lipinski face is similar to that of Democratic House candidate Betsy Londrigan, who is challenging Republican U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis in the 13th District for the second time.
District residents in Champaign-Urbana would welcome a pro-impeachment declaration by Londrigan. At the same time, other areas of this massive district that goes all the way to the Missouri border view impeachment in a much more hostile light.
That’s why Londrigan faces the challenge of convincing voters in liberal areas that she’s receptive to impeachment while persuading those in more conservative areas that she’s not.
The constitutional grounds for impeachment are the commission of high crimes and misdemeanors, suggesting some kind of definitive violation of existing law. But in reality, impeachment is a political process, meaning that, as former President Gerald Ford once said, an impeachable offense is whatever Congress says it is.
For now, pro-impeachment Democrats are well short of the 213 votes needed for a House majority and about 100 votes short of enlisting all 235 House Democrats in their cause.
So there’s lots of talk about impeachment, balm to the Democratic base, but little real action, per instructions from Pelosi. They’re having it both ways, as politicians are wont to do.