This sounds simply insane. Can you imagine anyone, starting with Joe “Heal the Nation” Biden, wanting to tear the scab off this wound in May?
At a moment when he’s trying to convince Senate Republicans to work with him on a bipartisan agenda?
We’re five days removed from the attack on the Capitol and congressional GOPers are already crying crocodile tears over “divisiveness” as a reason not to impeach Trump. Every minute that passes without forcing the Senate to proceed makes it that much easier for them to say “the country needs to put this behind us,” however disingenuously. If Pelosi were serious about trying to remove Trump, articles of impeachment would have been introduced on Thursday morning, in the first flush of outrage over the attack. Assuming there was ever an opening politically for 17-19 Senate Republicans to vote to remove, it’s almost certainly gone now. And it’s not coming back in May.
Well, probably. Watch the last minute or so of this clip, then read on.
Rep. James Clyburn says while he expects the House will take action on the article of impeachment against Pres. Trump this week, House Democrats might wait until after President-elect Biden's first 100 days in office to send the article to the Senate. #CNNSOTU pic.twitter.com/aLjjNWAxG9
— State of the Union (@CNNSotu) January 10, 2021
Given the obvious political headache that impeaching Trump and holding the articles of impeachment would present for Biden, why would Dems even consider it? Two reasons, I think. One was articulated yesterday by Philip Klein: If they can’t force the Senate to act expeditiously, before Trump’s term expires, then they might as well take their time and do this right.
Creating the precedent for a rapid-fire impeachment could have troubling implications for the future and would raise due process concerns. Again, that might be something you’d be willing to risk to save the country from weeks of his presidency. But if it’s a matter of days, it becomes more questionable.
So if Congress loses the chance for speed, which it likely already has, it would be better if they took their time and did a thorough inquiry of what happened. For instance, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has said members of Congress were desperately calling for the National Guard to be deployed, but it took hours for him to get the approval to send them. A more thorough investigation would look into the role Trump played in this.
But it would not be limited to the assault on the Capitol. An investigation could also look at Trump’s actions in the months leading up to the attacks to overturn the results of the election. For instance, the Wall Street Journal reported that the White House pressured Atlanta’s top federal prosecutor to resign because he wasn’t doing enough to probe Trump’s unproven election fraud claims.
In other words, create a 9/11-style commission to find out just how far Trump went behind the scenes to try to convince Republican officials in swing states won by Biden to find some pretext to overturn their election results. More information about that emerges every day. In the past three days alone, we’ve seen not just the story Klein mentions of the White House pressuring the U.S. Attorney in Atlanta to push harder on voter fraud but a report of yet another phone call Trump made to a Georgia elections official leaning on him to “find the fraud.” God only knows how many Republican officials were threatened with retribution of some kind if they didn’t participate in his coup attempt. Imagine House Dems hauling them all in to testify.
The other reason not to send over the articles of impeachment yet is that it gives Pelosi a chance to “time” the Senate trial for a moment when public opinion might be trending against Trump, putting more pressure on Senate Republicans to convict him. Counterterror experts are worried that Wednesday’s spectacle wasn’t the last violence we’ll see by pro-Trump fanatics; in fact, as I was writing this post, the National Park Service announced that the Washington Monument will be closed until after the inauguration due to threats being made to disrupt national business on the 20th. If there is more violence, there’s no telling how Trump will react. Certainly there’s no moral code he follows that would impel him to discourage it just because that’s the right thing to do. But he may feel obliged to denounce it if he knows that doing otherwise will cause Pelosi to send impeachment to the Senate in the wake of another attack, where he might be convicted and disqualified from running again in 2024.
It’s a leverage play, in other words. Impeachment will remain on the back burner so long as Trump behaves himself as a private citizen. If and when he stops, Pelosi pulls the trigger. The problem with that strategy, though, is that it contradicts Klein’s strategy of buying time to investigate this properly. If the evidence ends up being as damning as everyone suspects then there has to be some consequence at the end of it. The obvious consequence would be to ask the Senate to try him, possibly with additional articles of impeachment having been added to today’s article about incitement in the meantime. Impeachment can’t be both a bluff to restrain him and a genuine fact-finding inquiry geared at ultimately prosecuting him in the Senate.
Trump critic Adam Kinzinger actually floated a third reason to hold off on impeachment yesterday on “This Week”: Rushing to do it when Trump has only nine days left in office will give him an opportunity to play the victim, however unconvincingly. “Look how mean the Democrats are, kicking me in the ass when I’m already halfway out the door.”
GOP Rep. Adam Kinzinger, who backs invoking the 25th Amendment to remove Trump, says he doesn’t think impeachment is the “smart move because it victimizes Donald Trump again,” adding it “would be the right move” if Trump still had more time in office. https://t.co/FnD9YSf2TE pic.twitter.com/1qw7qbWXrl
— This Week (@ThisWeekABC) January 10, 2021
Nothing’s going to deter Pelosi and the House Dems from impeaching him this week. But impeachment followed by a delay in sending the articles to the Senate would partially solve the problem Kinzinger’s worried about. It’ll be harder for Trump to claim victimhood long-term if Democrats hold hearings in the coming months laying out the evidence of how far he went to try to overturn the election.
Besides, how much traction will the coming claims of victimhood really have outside the segment of the GOP base that’ll defend Trump in anything he does, whatever the merits of his position? Pat Toomey acknowledged on national television yesterday that Trump’s actions are impeachable. So did Trump loyalist Chris Christie, a guy who was famously among the first establishment Republicans to endorse him in 2016 and who was still chummy enough with him this fall to help out with debate prep against Biden. Trump will never lose “hard” MAGA supporters but he’s already lost “soft” ones with big names. The “I’m the real victim here” shtick just won’t have the usual legs this time when five people are dead in a half-assed putsch attempt, including a police officer.
Exit question: Is Trump really thinking of using Rudy Giuliani as his impeachment lawyer, after everything that’s happened? Or is it just that he can’t convince any respectable lawyer to represent him anymore? Having Rudy rant insanely in the Senate well about election fraud isn’t going to improve the president’s chances of beating the rap.
Chris Christie tells @GStephanopoulos Trump’s incitement of Capitol siege is an impeachable offense: “If inciting to insurrection isn’t, then I don’t really know what is.” https://t.co/FnD9YSf2TE pic.twitter.com/rONPP8C0x3
— This Week (@ThisWeekABC) January 10, 2021