Like most Democrats, Pelosi understands that someone has to stop President Donald Trump from continuing to wield his authority this way.
The problem is that few in Washington feel bold enough to do anything about him. His critics are hoping that the 2020 election takes care of the problem for them.
This moment is part of a long story. Partisan interests keep triumphing over what is best for our democracy. We have seen this play out for several decades now. Political polarization continues to erode the strength of our government institutions. Massive policy problems such as climate change have been left largely unaddressed. Political careers have been decimated in partisan warfare. Trust in government continues to plummet.
Those cumulative partisan forces have now rendered Congress paralyzed when facing a President who rejects any sense of restraint to how he can use his authority. In addition to the findings in special counsel Robert Mueller’s report and the multiple other investigations that are underway, Trump has done much of his dirty business right in front of our eyes. Unlike President Richard Nixon, Trump is so brazen he doesn’t feel the need to hide in the shadows.
When Republicans controlled the House, their response to this kind of abuse was to ignore it and attack the investigators. Speaker Paul Ryan’s apparent calculation was that it was more important to protect the interests of the party by keeping Trump in place and insulating him from oversight than it was to hold him accountable.
House Democratic leaders are also leery about moving forward with the impeachment process because they believe Senate Republicans who control the upper chamber will never vote to indict the President. The Democrats would take all the political risks that come from the impeachment process and likely watch the Senate Republicans exonerate the President. Why suffer the political costs, they say, if the outcome is already cooked against them?
Following Wednesday’s meeting, the speaker gave no indication that the party would be taking any sort of bold action.
The notion that support for an impeachment process is being driven by left-wing Democrats is ridiculous. In fact that’s just a talking point from the President’s supporters that has made its way into the mainstream media.
House Democrats should not give Senate Republicans an effective check on holding the President accountable.
If the Democrats voted for articles of impeachment, that in itself would be a huge blow to the historical legacy of this President and permanent part of the record with both parties being forced to say where they stand on his use of power. Even if Senate Republicans decided to keep the President in power, that vote would be an extremely important statement for the country. It would be a public statement about what is right and what is wrong.
Although it is impossible to predict how things will play out politically, it is far from clear that having the House vote on articles of impeachment would help the President. Even if Democrats want to play the partisan game, one can imagine that taking such action would energize the Democratic base, sway moderates to the idea that continuing with this presidency for two terms is unacceptable and do more than anything else to define how voters see this President.
Trump’s base is energized all the time anyway, so it is unclear an impeachment process would affect their turnout in the 2020 election. The President’s national approval ratings are still miserable, and the charges that he faces are far more serious than anything Clinton confronted.
In any case, it is clear that Democrats are more concerned about their partisan prospects in 2020 rather than about making sure that our constitutional checks and balances are working to restrain Trump right now.