2020 litmus test: All Democratic candidates should call for Trump impeachment proceedings
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says impeachment is "one of the most divisive paths that we can go down." Speaking at the Time 100 summit in New York, the Democratic leader says it remains to be seen what the rest of the Mueller report says. (April 23) AP Domestic
Our country faces an emergency. Presidential candidates who call for Trump impeachment proceedings to begin show they can be trusted to handle it.
Here’s something Democrats need to start saying: Impeachment is not about punishing Donald Trump. It’s about protecting the United States of America from more high crimes and misdemeanors. And any Democratic presidential candidate who won’t call for impeachment proceedings to begin cannot be trusted to confront the emergency our country faces.
Sen. Bernie Sanders articulated the political argument against impeachment in a CNN town hall on April 22: “If for the next year, year and a half, going right into the heart of the election, all that the Congress is talking about is impeaching Trump and Trump, Trump, Trump and Mueller, Mueller, Mueller … what I worry about is that works to Trump's advantage.”
Sanders’ argument makes little sense. Trump is going to be the fixation of TV talking heads until he is defeated and possibly even thereafter. Trump will make sure of it.
And even if Trump were raptured tomorrow, Anderson Cooper, Rachel Maddow and Sean Hannity aren’t going to spend hours of prime-time TV discussing the virtues of single-payer health care — unfortunately.
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Sanders is actually going with the flip side of a more common argument against acting on principle on impeachment. Again and again, we hear that voters aren’t asking about Russia or special counsel Robert Mueller. They’d rather talk about anything else, even pot.
So would I. But we’ve seen what happens when Democrats retreat into the fantasy of normalcy, figuring that voters will eventually bring the GOP back to its senses, forgetting that the will of the people is carefully muted by the Electoral College, gerrymandering and voter suppression.
Responsibility trumps politics
Democrats didn't raise hell about the GOP Senate refusing to consider Judge Merrick Garland because they figured the election would solve it. Democrats didn't raise hell about Russian interference because they figured the election would solve it. Now Democrats won't impeach because they figure the election will solve it.
Giving up impeachment because you think it’s the “safe” political choice is the biggest risk of all.
Republicans have long understood the value of using congressional power to put a Democratic president on his heels, just as they’ve understood how making national elections about the courts is the ultimate turnout mechanism for their base.
But this isn’t about politics. It’s about responsibility
“There’s no political inconvenience exception in the Constitution,” as Sen. Elizabeth Warren explained in her CNN town hall. In her own way, she’s echoing James Madison, who at the Constitutional Convention said impeachment was necessary because “the limitation of the period of (an official's) service was not a sufficient security.”
From the moment he took office, Trump has realized Madison’s worst fears about how the presidency could be exploited by a lawless chief executive.
This presidency is increasingly dangerous
Trump has betrayed his trust to foreign powers. He has perverted his administration into a scheme of peculation and oppression. And he has stomped on the clearance system meant to safeguard our national security.
Rather than taking steps to secure us from the Putin-backed “sweeping and systematic” attack on our democracy, Trump continues to order his underlings to not protect this country, focusing his energy on the persecution of asylum seekers who are following our immigration laws — unlike his wife.
The damage and the danger of this presidency grow every day. Democrats pushing the fantasy of normalcy now are arguing that Democrats should just focus on holding hearings to see where they go.
The problem is that after two years of zero oversight, the most obviously corrupt president in American history is ordering his administration to engage in systematic and sweeping rejection of Congress’ Article I obligation to perform oversight of the executive branch. And Democrats in the House have few tools to compel this president and his lackeys into following the Constitution.
Democrats can't resign themselves to Trump
Impeachment will not rein in Trump. But it will force every elected member of his party to place their sacred honor behind his high crimes. And it will obligate Democrats to make the case that none of this can be allowed to pass without each of us doing all we can do to stop it.
If our institutions were operating properly, Trump would have already done what his sister recently did. Maryanne Trump Barry retired as federal judge in February, ending an investigation into “fraudulent tax schemes with her siblings,” including the president.
Resignation is how Watergate ended. But that was before Fox News calcified the right. That was before decades of conservative-dominated control of the executive branch and the Supreme Court laid waste to our campaign finance system and the Voting Rights Act.
Now the greatest risk this country faces is the resignation of the Democratic Party. If Democrats make the political calculation to let an arguably felonious president get away with never having to answer for high crimes and misdemeanors, he and perhaps future presidents will be unleashed to do even worse.
Jason Sattler, a writer based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, is a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors and host of "The GOTMFV Show" podcast. Follow him on Twitter: @LOLGOP