Ya think? Let’s just say that their attempt to grandstand with a tired and sometimes confused Robert Mueller didn’t come off as planned. Democrats hoped to use Mueller to reverse the public-opinion trends on impeachment and build a consensus for Donald Trump’s removal, Dan Balz writes. Instead, it turned precisely into what voters think of impeachment anyway — a pointless partisan exercise with Mueller inadvertently playing the role of bemused and irritated voters:
Meanwhile, the rest of Mueller’s testimony before the Judiciary Committee proved a disappointment to any Democrat who thought that he would take up the role of witness for the prosecution. Laurence H. Tribe, a Harvard law professor and impeachment advocate, tweeted Wednesday afternoon: “Much as I hate to say it, this morning’s hearing was a disaster. Far from breathing life into his damning report, the tired Robert Mueller sucked the life out of it.”
Mueller proved to be a reluctant — and at times shaky — witness. He had warned the Democrats in a brief public statement when he exited the Justice Department in May that he would not go beyond the written report if called to testify. He barely did that, offering clipped and sometimes confusing responses, almost as much an observer to the proceedings as the star witness.
The hearings Wednesday became what might have been expected: partisan exercises that elicited little, if any, new information.
It’s time to give this up and get back to business, Balz warns Democrats:
The barriers to impeachment have always made it a challenging option, given that Republican control of the Senate, to the frustration of some Democrats. But other Democrats were advocating long before Mueller wrapped up his investigation that the party’s focus should be on the 2020 election, rather than impeachment. That now is the only realistic course for settling the question of the future of Trump’s presidency.
The biggest barrier to impeachment isn’t the Republican Senate. It’s the collapse of the Russia-collusion narrative. The only good case for removing a duly-elected Trump is to prove that he wasn’t duly elected but that he conspired with a foreign power to pervert the election. Not only did the Mueller report fail to produce any evidence of such a conspiracy, it never produced evidence that Russian interference operations made any impact on the election at all regardless of whether any conspiracy existed. Absent a rigged election, voters aren’t going to support a removal operation, except perhaps the removal they can do themselves at the ballot box.
The Democrats’ face-plant with Mueller might be the best thing that could happen to them in the long run. If it gets them to finally give up on impeachment, I write at The Week, then Mueller did them — and Nancy Pelosi especially — a big favor:
Even before Mueller concluded his testimony at the Intelligence Committee, Democrats began backpedaling away from him. Thirty minutes into his second hearing, Politico‘s Darren Samuelsohn published a report based on Democratic and DoJ sources that they may have known that Mueller was “not up” to testifying. “Take a break and listen on the radio, or close your eyes for a couple of minutes,” a senior FBI official told Samuelsohn. “He sounds much older — his starched, tall, distinguished physical appearance helps a great deal.”
That is not the spin one would expect if Mueller had given Democrats what they wanted. However, he might have given Democrats — especially Nancy Pelosi — exactly what they needed. Public support for impeachment, never high in the first place, has dramatically declined all year long. Yet, House Democrats have insisted on pursuing impeachment, with multiple committees conducting investigations into Trump, some of which repeat Mueller’s own probe. Pelosi has tried to navigate those dangerous waters by steering her caucus away from impeachment while still leaving it as a possibility, but just a week ago Pelosi nearly lost control of the ship. Over a third of her caucus voted to begin impeachment proceedings on that vote, and if Mueller’s testimony had delivered any kind of arguable advancement on that issue, Pelosi might have had to choose between her speaker position and her good judgment.
This outcome corroborates the wisdom in Pelosi’s approach. If it puts an end to impeachment talk for good, then the rest of us will benefit, too — and Congress can get back to real work.
Will they take the hint? Early returns aren’t promising, but perhaps reality will finally catch up to them.