Democrats find their courage
Rapid-fire impeachment shows the potential of a united and angry Democratic Party
Donald Trump is now the first president in American history to be impeached twice. Exactly a week after the attempted putsch by a mob of Trump supporters at the Capitol, the House of Representatives voted 232-197 to impeach the president for "incitement of insurrection," with 10 Republicans joining the chamber's Democrats.
Now there are rumblings that several Senate Republicans are considering a vote to convict — including Senate Majority Mitch McConnell. He reportedly is refusing to convene the Senate before January 19, but apparently several of the more moderate or just cynical Republicans are eager to ditch Trump as a political liability. Convicting him (which requires a two-thirds majority) would allow them to bar Trump from serving in any federal office permanently.
Whatever the case, for once the Democratic Party has been almost wholly united on a critical issue, and it has paid considerable political dividends. Democrats have the initiative, they are driving media coverage, and Republicans are playing weak defense.
The impeachment push has been led from the start by the "squad" — originally consisting of Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.), Ilhan Omar (Minn.), Rep. Rashida Tlaib (Mich.), and Rep. Ayanna Pressley (Mass.), but now joined by Reps. Jamaal Bowman (N.Y.) and Cori Bush (Mo.) — who brought up the issue, pushed leadership into action, and then drove momentum towards impeachment.
Immediately after the Capitol putsch, there was some question as to whether the House would do anything serious before Trump would leave office. The Democratic leadership planned to send the House into recess after certifying Biden's election, and initially it appeared that it would not return to normal sessions until Inauguration Day.
But the squad had other ideas — if for no other reason than there was little to keep Trump from inciting another violent mob attempt to slaughter the Democratic caucus in his remaining days in office. Omar started drawing up articles of impeachment literally in the secure location where House members were hiding from the putschists. In this she reportedly had the support of House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), and eventually ended up coordinating the articles with several other members, including Jamie Raskin (D-Md.). Most of the rest of the progressive members quickly joined the effort.
The squad's push to impeach gained strength as the days passed, and more shocking details about the putsch were reported. It turns out that members of Congress were moments from being seized by the mob, which carried flex cuffs, guns, and bombs, and set up a gallows on the steps of the Capitol. Pressley attacked Vice President Pence for not invoking the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office, and demanded immediate impeachment. Bush, Bowman, and others added pressure by suggesting that Republicans who incited or supported the putsch be expelled from Congress under the 14th Amendment.
Meanwhile, many moderate Democrats, who normally would have been somewhat leery of joining up with a squad-backed initiative, also backed immediate impeachment. (It's probably safe to surmise that narrowly escaping a lynch mob tends to focus the mind.) Rep. Jason Crow (D-Colo.) — a former Army Ranger captured in an instantly-famous photo comforting Rep. Susan Wild (D-Pa.) during the attack, and who was the last one to leave the House chamber during the escape from the mob — came out in support. In an interview Wednesday, he blasted Rep. Marjorie Taylor-Greene, the infamous QAnon supporter who may have been implicated in the putsch itself, as "morally bankrupt," "depraved," and "frankly dangerous[.]"
Republicans were reduced to incoherent spluttering — either whining that impeaching Trump would sow disunity, which is like a serial arsonist complaining about fire insurance premiums, or going on background with reporters to claim they can't vote against Trump because his supporters will murder them and their families, or blaming the whole fiasco on Madonna and Kathy Griffin. They looked pathetic.
All this makes a marked contrast with the usual state of the Democrats. Since the election, the party leadership has tried to scapegoat its own left wing for the relatively poor showing in the House elections, leading to a lot of bitter infighting and media coverage of same. As Alex Pareene writes for The New Republic, that problem is exacerbated by the leadership's tendency to view every policy through a lens of who they imagine might be resentful about it — leading Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) to question the necessity of $2,000 checks, which poll at nearly 80 percent approval and which obviously helped the party come from behind to win the two recent Senate runoffs in Georgia. To be fair, the party's left has also started its own share of squabbles, but these are largely due to the accurate perception that the leadership is trying to lock them out of power.
The squad is small, but it is growing, and its members are the most famous and media-savvy people the Democrats have. When they are behind the leadership, and the party acts together, it gains great power to drive media coverage — a powerful political tool, as the career of Trump proves. When the rest of the party joins them in acting confidently and aggressively, it can put Republicans on the back foot, and foul up their propaganda machine. One hopes this might serve as a lesson for the future.