If we’re going to have a Republican civil war over whether Trump should be allowed to call witnesses at his trial, it’d be nice to balance it with a Democratic civil war over whether the party should censure Trump instead of impeaching him.
Impeachment: Bringing people together since 1868.
Read this post as background if you missed it yesterday. Short version: Some moderates in Pelosi’s caucus are watching the polling and the attack ads being run by Republicans in their home districts and getting cold feet about going nuclear on Trump. They’re caught between angry Republican voters who demand that they oppose impeachment and angry Democrats who demand that they support it. They’re going to alienate people no matter what so they’re looking for a way to split the difference, some middle-ground option that’s designed to please everyone and in reality will just, er, end up alienating everyone.
The obvious move is censure, a formal condemnation of Trump’s behavior towards Ukraine that falls short of full-bore impeachment. But whispering about censure on the day that House Dems finally released their draft articles of impeachment was a terrible bit of messaging at the start of a bruising political battle. It’s effectively a no-confidence vote in the Democratic case at a moment when the party line is that Trump’s actions are so intolerable that he’s left them no choice but to impeach. “B-b-but there is a choice,” nervous Democratic moderates mumble. Now here come the progressives to slap them around, with AOC leading the way by calling censure a “slap on the wrist” compared to how even minor criminal offenses are punished:
“I have 15-year-olds in my district that get sent to Rikers because they jump a turnstile and they can’t afford $2.75,” Ocasio-Cortez said.
Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) called censure a “boneheaded idea.”
“That’s just frankly one of the dumbest ideas I’ve heard in a long, long time,” Huffman said. “If this were a president lying about a blow job, that’s a censure issue. This is a president fundamentally misusing his office and obstructing Congress, involving our national security and the integrity of our democracy. If you can’t move to impeachment on something like this, frankly, we just shouldn’t take your ideas seriously.”…
“We’re talking about somebody that’s a sitting CEO in the White House that’s violating the United States Constitution every single day,” [Rashida] Tlaib said.
I thought long and hard about it last night and … I still don’t see why moderate Democrats would want to start whispering to reporters about censure. What do they gain by it? It’s one thing to go to Pelosi behind closed doors and ask for it to be put on the floor, or to threaten to vote no on impeachment if it isn’t. But now that this has gone public, they’ve pissed people off needlessly and limited their options on the impeachment vote. Now, if they’re forced to take an up-or-down vote on impeachment and they grit their teeth and vote yes, they’ll be accused of cowardice by letting Pelosi bully them into supporting a nuclear strike on the president which they clearly doubted was justified.
It makes me suspicious that maybe it’s not the moderates who are whispering to the media, it’s progressives and/or caucus leaders who got wind of their interest in censure and knew that exposing it would bring down heat on them. Maybe Team Nancy leaked it, knowing that the lefty threats to primary these guys would begin immediately.
I wonder what would happen if centrist Dems somehow pulled together 18 members of the caucus — enough to foil a majority — who are willing to vote for censure but not for impeachment. Would Pelosi bow to their demands and yank the articles of impeachment before they hit the floor, knowing that losing a vote of this magnitude would incinerate her prestige and possibly force her to resign as Speaker? Or would she call their bluff by putting the articles of impeachment on the floor anyway and daring them to vote no? That would be a destructive act for the caucus, as forcing the moderates to take ownership of their plot to sabotage impeachment would likely cost them their seats next fall. But maybe she’d do it just to teach a lesson about party unity on a big vote. She’s not going to sink the impeachment ship for them to shield them from repercussions from lefties. They’ll have to do it themselves, if they dare.
One Democrat, Jamie Raskin, told HuffPost that “he would support censure in addition to impeachment,” which … also sounds like a terrible idea for Pelosi. Why would she want to tempt moderate Dems to vote for the less draconian sanction by giving them the option? She really might fail to get to 218 on impeachment if the members of her caucus who aren’t gung ho to impeach but are willing to go along for the sake of party loyalty suddenly have a more politically attractive alternative on the menu. For Pelosi, it has to be impeachment or bust — unless she’s concluded that impeachment has become so serious a liability to Democrats that she needs to look for an emergency exit here.
One percent chance of that happening, I’d estimate. Although a few days ago I’d have told you there was no chance at all.
I wish they’d put censure on the floor just for the fun of seeing how many House Republicans are willing to vote for it, formally endorsing the idea that Trump did do something seriously wrong by trying to squeeze Ukraine for Biden dirt even if it’s not quite a high crime or misdemeanor. I think they’d get Francis Rooney to go for that — and possibly no one else. Trump demands full vindication from his caucus, after all, not some “bad but not impeachable” mushy acquittal. Besides, most of the House Republicans who come from purple districts and might be interested in a middle-ground option like censure got wiped out in last fall’s elections. All that’s left are people from red districts who demand slavish loyalty to the president.
In lieu of an exit question, enjoy this story about progressive groups grumbling that the articles of impeachment Pelosi revealed yesterday aren’t nearly harsh enough. Where’s the stuff about obstruction of justice? Where’s the material on emoluments? This is why I think Pelosi will follow through on impeachment even if it gets really bad for Democrats: Her base is so eager to complain that leadership hasn’t gone far enough on whatever the issue of the day is that to disappoint them on something as momentous as impeachment, after months of hype, would be unforgivable. It could wreck the party next fall.