The media has waited a long time to hear the word impeachment come from the lips of someone other than a Democrat. Did Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) provide the first break in a dam, CNN wonders, a Watergate-style breakthrough that will end a presidency? Not at all, but that won’t keep everyone from making very poor analogies to the only presidential resignation on record:
Republicans are moving fast to squelch Justin Amash's rebellion against Donald Trump before his conclusion that the President "engaged in impeachable conduct" — the first by a GOP lawmaker — can gather momentum.@joejohnscnn from the White House: https://t.co/BJU8pNvprB pic.twitter.com/ZOPcjOBhDT
— CNN (@CNN) May 20, 2019
Republicans are moving fast to squelch Justin Amash’s rebellion against Donald Trump before his conclusion that the President “engaged in impeachable conduct” — the first by a GOP lawmaker — can gather momentum.
But Democrats who want a more hardline strategy against the President are seizing on the Michigan congressman’s sudden intervention to pile pressure on their own leaders for tougher action.
Amash’s act of conscience on Saturday sparked immediate speculation over whether a tiny leak in the Republican dam could grow into a torrent of support running away from the President.
After all, it was a rising tide of Republican disgust that eventually became the unstoppable force that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon in 1974.
About the best that can be said for this theory is that it’s premature. Has anyone seen evidence of a “rising tide of Republican disgust” over a report that largely — if not completely — exonerated Donald Trump? Amash is well-known but a back-bencher, and considered a bit of a Republican rebel in any circumstance. Even Amash’s own personal disgust was just partly connected to the Mueller report; as Taylor wrote last night, it has much more to do with how the presidency offends Amash’s libertarian sensibilities.
Having one or even two or three Republicans sign onto impeachment won’t make it bipartisan, and it won’t have any impact on a Senate removal vote at all. People tend to forget that five Democrats voted for three of the four articles of impeachment against Bill Clinton. That didn’t give the Clinton impeachment any “bipartisan” gloss at all, nor did it convince Senate Democrats to remove Clinton, or even all of the Republican Senators, five of whom voted against removal. And the evidence of perjury and obstruction in Clinton’s case was undeniable too; the political question in impeachment at that time was whether the private conduct that prompted it amounted to impeachable offenses. Even though five Democrats voted to impeach Clinton, it’s not remembered as anything but a failed partisan effort to force Clinton out of office, one that backfired on Republicans.
The Watergate reference is also largely ignorant of the actual scandal 45 years ago and its differences from today’s situation. In Watergate, Richard Nixon lost his party’s leadership after the August 1974 release of the infamous “smoking gun” tape in which Nixon is heard directing obstruction of justice by ordering the CIA to interfere with the FBI. Needless to say, there’s nothing like this in the Mueller report, as even Mueller acknowledged while still refusing to make a decision on obstruction.
When the tape emerged, Nixon didn’t resign because a Justin Amash started talking about impeachment. He resigned under pressure when the GOP leaders of the House and Senate went up Pennsylvania Avenue accompanied by Barry Goldwater to tell Nixon he would be impeached and removed. If Mitch McConnell, Kevin McCarthy, and Ted Cruz walked up Pennsylvania Avenue today, then this would be Watergate Redux. Having Justin Amash pop off isn’t even Monicagate Redux.
Nevertheless, we can be sure that the media will obsess over Amash for the next few days until it becomes clear that Amash isn’t a leading indicator of anything in the Republican caucuses. I’ll give it until next week.