Democrats can still mess this up
When Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi announced her support for an impeachment inquiry, it raised one immediate question: How would she screw it up? I originally feared she would turn tail and abandon the effort, but it seems she's settled on a different strategy — stuffing it through as fast as possible. "House Democratic leaders are eyeing a fast-paced investigation into the possible impeachment of President Trump," report Mike DeBonis and Rachel Bade at The Washington Post. The idea is to have it all polished off by the holidays.
This is a lousy idea. An impeachment inquiry should be extensive and unhurried, for moral, legal, and political reasons. Let me take them in turn.
First, as Alex Pareene notes, it is still very unlikely that the Senate will vote to actually remove Trump, or even hold a trial at all as is constitutionally required. Therefore impeachment in concrete structural terms will almost surely be just a slap on the wrist. (Indeed, this is almost certainly what Pelosi and Democratic moderates are hoping for. They just want to get the vote over and done with so they can go back to cowering in the corner.)
However, impeachment also gives House Democrats a lot of tools to actually achieve some reckoning with Trump's awesome corruption and abuses of power. They have subpoena power, can hold uncooperative witnesses in contempt (back in the day Congress even improvised a makeshift prison), and will get tremendous media attention. The moderates are taking the Ukraine story seriously because it sort of has to do with national security, and nothing gets moderate blood pumping like Respecting the Troops, but other things Trump has done are just as terrible. Stuffing the White House budget into his own pockets is both an egregious violation of the emoluments clause and literal theft from the American people.
A broad inquiry also strengthens existing efforts to hold Trump to account, as the Post's Greg Sargent details. The House Judiciary Committee is currently working to force the administration to hand over additional documents related to the special counsel investigation and to compel former White House counsel Don McGahn to testify as part of what they are calling an impeachment proceeding, which could be undermined by a full-dress inquiry that does not include their subjects. "If the impeachment inquiry is now just focused solely on Ukraine, that could undercut the position Judiciary has taken in court on both the McGahn and the grand jury materials," former House counsel Michael Stern tells Sargent.
A related point holds for the politics as well. To decide to impeach Trump on one narrow point is to implicitly excuse him on everything else — to say that all the other stuff is not worth impeaching him over. One could argue that it's simply a tactical decision, but it's a strained case that few are likely to buy (because it isn't true).
The politics of impeachment in general clearly favor a prolonged process. Since Pelosi came out for impeachment, Trump has been panicked and flailing, and Democrats have gotten documents out of the administration faster than ever before. Like so many bullies, Trump folds immediately if someone actually throws a punch. Imagine how much more loopy he will be after an impeachment committee has been breathing down his neck for months.
To show you how dishonest the LameStream Media is, I used the word Liddle’, not Liddle, in discribing Corrupt Congressman Liddle’ Adam Schiff. Low ratings @CNN purposely took the hyphen out and said I spelled the word little wrong. A small but never ending situation with CNN!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 27, 2019
More importantly, a long inquiry can focus media and public attention on Trump's horrible crimes. It will be a little challenging to keep the heat on, because some of the stories are complicated and dull, but anyone with a sense of theatricality should be able to manage it. Simply take the Trump stories, group them together under 2-3 headings, start digging, slap on some zippy slogans, and hammer the basic storyline over and over and over.
And besides, what else is the House going to do with the rest of its term? Pass bills that are 100-percent guaranteed to die in the Republican Senate? At least they can stay busy until 2020 with this.
At any rate, as Jeet Heer argues in The Nation, an impeachment process will not be wholly under the control of Pelosi and her moderates. For one thing, the very first item in any investigation into the Ukraine story will be to get the actual transcript of the call between Trump and President Volodymyr Zelensky, which according to the whistleblower complaint was shoved into an ultra-classified storage locker by White House staffers trying to cover up Trump's crime — and this might not have been the first time that has happened. Starting with Ukraine might thus lead directly to other scandals, known or unknown.
Whatever the case, both voters and elected officials who actually want to check Trump's power should seize any opportunity they can to keep an impeachment inquiry going. Wrapping up about, say, October 2020 ought to do nicely.
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