Oh, the irony. And for Nancy Pelosi, oh the headache. As leading Democrats and even a lot of non-entity Democrats prepare to start debating over who gets to run against Donald Trump in 2020, some of them have begun arguing to remove Trump without an election at all. Sen. Kamala Harris told a CNN town hall last night that Congress should start impeachment proceedings against Trump based on obstruction of justice:
Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., came out in favor of beginning the impeachment process against President Donald Trump on Monday night, joining Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., as major 2020 candidates who’ve called for impeachment proceedings after the release of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report.
During a CNN town hall, Harris said she believes “Congress should take the steps toward impeachment.” But, adding that she’s “also a realist,” Harris said it was highly unlikely that Senate Republicans would, if the House does vote to impeach Trump, vote to remove him from office.
So .. what would be the point? Other than sheer vindictiveness, which is exactly how it will be perceived. The 1998 Bill Clinton precedent here is instructive in both directions. Clinton lied under oath in that case, which was a much clearer crime than anything described in Robert Mueller’s Volume II on obstruction of justice, and the GOP-controlled House impeached him for it. However, there was no real consensus for removal and a great deal of concern that the underlying investigation that produced the perjury was a partisan hit job. When the Senate refused to remove Clinton and the voters settled on it being motivated by partisan bitterness over the election, Republicans paid a big price at the ballot box later that year and Clinton emerged more popular than ever. Only 20 years later with the emergence of #MeToo and the exposure of Harvey Weinstein did Democrats even begin reassessing their Clinton fixation.
Of course, Democrats still seem slow on learning all the lessons from 1998, other than Pelosi and Steny Hoyer, who lived through it. Harris joins Elizabeth Warren in calling for impeachment, albeit a few days late. Warren tweeted out her demand for House action on Friday, and then followed up in the CNN town hall to double down … for seven minutes:
Both candidates and a number of Democrats in Congress claim that impeachment is necessary to “protect democracy.” That argument would have worked if Robert Mueller found any evidence that Trump corrupted democracy by working with the Russians in the 2016 election. Not only did Mueller not find any evidence of that, the impact of Russian interference in the election was minimal, if even that, and it had nothing to do with Trump.
There isn’t even a constitutional argument for impeachment. Congress punted the Russiagate investigation to the executive branch with their demands for a special counsel and repeated threats to make Mueller a special-counsel-plus. Even if one could make an argument for obstruction out of Volume II when no evidence of an underlying crime was produced in Volume I, Trump’s dealings with the special counsel were an intra-branch issue, not an inter-branch issue that implicates the separation of powers.
That leaves the “protecting democracy” argument with a demand to overturn an election simply on the basis that Democrats didn’t like the outcome. The biggest irony here is that this would set a precedent that would impact the 2020 Democratic field the most and possibly the soonest, assuming one of them beats Trump. Put this together with the ill-advised 1998 impeachment push and we’re not far from making impeachment a regular feature of American politics. There is a reason why the framers of the Constitution envisioned impeachment for “high crimes and misdemeanors” and not as a back door to a parliamentary system, and that was to provide for a stable system of government where the voters decide who serves in office.
We have an election coming up so soon that these same candidates are already holding campaign events. Why not just convince the voters to remove Donald Trump the same way they normally remove unpopular incumbents — by electing their opponents? Maybe Harris and Warren are worried that Trump’s not unpopular enough for them to win — but impeachment will almost certainly backfire on them as it did with Republicans twenty-odd years ago.