Why are Democrats stepping on their own impeachment message?
Democrats are apparently poised to wrap up their impeachment inquiry, releasing actual articles thereof on Tuesday which be voted on later in the week. Sadly, President Trump's unconstitutional and naked profiteering off the presidency went unmentioned — the focus is solely on the Ukraine scandal, and how Trump has obstructed the investigation by preventing testimony from his subordinates.
Yet Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi made an even more inexplicable choice to reveal a major deal with Trump that same day. She announced that House Democrats have agreed to pass the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), a trade deal to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement — handing Trump a win on his signature policy issue a mere hour after Democrats released articles of impeachment. It's egregious political malpractice.
As I wrote previously, the USMCA appears to be a reasonable improvement on the (terrible) status quo, which is why it has obtained the backing of the AFL-CIO. But its details are still not guaranteed. The GOP-controlled Senate still must agree to it, and there could be changes in the negotiation process. Republicans are still trying to remove some of the best parts of the deal, especially on pharmaceuticals.
But all that aside, it is politically senseless to put out these two things on the same day. It directly contradicts the idea that Trump has committed abuses of power and should be removed from office — sending a powerful signal that the Democratic leadership itself thinks impeachment is a silly partisan distraction from the more important business of bipartisan compromise. It makes it seem like they just want to get impeachment over and done with, probably because they do. (Pelosi reportedly wants to get the vote done before the end of the year.)
On the other hand, if we stipulate that the Senate will not vote to convict (as is almost certainly the case) passing the USMCA also concretely helps Trump, allowing him to claim a big victory on his favorite policy issue — indeed, the only economic policy area to which he gives close attention. He will unquestionably make this victory a major feature of his re-election campaign. He's already boasting about it:
America’s great USMCA Trade Bill is looking good. It will be the best and most important trade deal ever made by the USA. Good for everybody - Farmers, Manufacturers, Energy, Unions - tremendous support. Importantly, we will finally end our Country’s worst Trade Deal, NAFTA!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 10, 2019
The impeachment articles say Trump "has demonstrated that he will remain a threat to the Constitution if allowed to remain in office[.]" That is unquestionably the case! So why are Democrats increasing the chance that he will win re-election and stay in power? The idea, put forward by many centrist Democrats, that the party must show it can "get things done" to win in 2020 simply beggars belief. This election, like 2018 before it, is going to be entirely about Trump. No swing voter is going to care whether swing district Democrats voted for some complicated trade thing — most will probably not even realize it happened. USMCA will matter politically only insofar as Trump can claim credit for it.
Moreover, why are they rushing the process? As Brian Buetler argues at Crooked Media, keeping the impeachment inquiry going gives Democrats the power of continuing investigation — and as noted above, so far they have barely scratched the surface of Trump's corruption, particularly his looting of government money and acceptance of foreign bribes.
And if both Trump and Democrats really think passing the USMCA is so important, then it could be used as a lever to force Trump to cooperate with the inquiry, or to pass some of the other stuff Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has bottled up — like a bill to boost election security. Indeed, emoluments aside, we still have not heard testimony from several figures who were central to the Ukraine scandal, including Rudy Giuliani, John Bolton, and Mike Pompeo, because Trump has prevented their testimony.
Conversely, ending the impeachment inquiry early hands control of the process over to the Republican Senate. They are supposed to hold a trial of Trump, but will have wide latitude to conduct the proceedings in a much more Trump-friendly fashion. Indeed, top Republican senators have already signaled they will effectively conduct a sham trial of Joe Biden instead, thereby perpetuating the very abuse of power that got Trump impeached in the first place.
It seems the Democratic leadership is just congenitally incapable of understanding the fix the country is in. They keep desperately grasping for forms of traditional American governance while a corrupt, hateful, lunatic president continually abuses his power. America needs new leadership if democracy is to be preserved.