Following the release of the redacted Mueller report, both factions of the Democratic Party — the conservative-leaning establishment and the socialist-leaning new left — have taken opposing sides in the debate over impeaching President Trump. Discussion of impeaching Trump is also dividing traditional conservatives against Trump’s diehard supporters.
The Case for Impeaching President Trump
Those in favor of impeachment point out that Article 2, Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution empowers Congress to impeach presidents and members of the cabinet for “high crimes and misdemeanors.” Pro-impeachment voices argue that the multiple crimes President Trump has been implicated in — whether it be the campaign finance fraud he’s accused of ordering former associate Michael Cohen to carry out, or the acts in the Mueller report that have been described as obstruction of justice — more than justify impeaching the president.
In a viral Twitter thread on Friday, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts), who is also seeking the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020, expertly laid out her case for impeaching President Trump based on what Special Counsel Robert Mueller wrote in his report. This is particularly noteworthy, as Sen. Warren was against impeachment prior to the Mueller report going public, saying she would make her conclusion once she had seen the report.
“To ignore a President’s repeated efforts to obstruct an investigation into his own disloyal behavior would inflict great and lasting damage on this country, and it would suggest that both the current and future Presidents would be free to abuse their power in similar ways,” Warren tweeted. “The severity of this misconduct demands that elected officials in both parties set aside political considerations and do their constitutional duty. That means the House should initiate impeachment proceedings against the President of the United States.”
Mueller put the next step in the hands of Congress: “Congress has authority to prohibit a President’s corrupt use of his authority in order to protect the integrity of the administration of justice.” The correct process for exercising that authority is impeachment.
— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) April 19, 2019
The severity of this misconduct demands that elected officials in both parties set aside political considerations and do their constitutional duty. That means the House should initiate impeachment proceedings against the President of the United States.
— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) April 19, 2019
However, other members of Congress have argued that President Trump has committed impeachable offenses even without considering anything in the Mueller report. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Michigan) has been calling for Trump’s impeachment since the start of the 116th Congress, when Democrats took back control of the House of Representatives.
“We already have overwhelming evidence that the president has committed impeachable offenses, including, just to name a few: obstructing justice; violating the emoluments clause; abusing the pardon power; directing or seeking to direct law enforcement to prosecute political adversaries for improper purposes; advocating illegal violence and undermining equal protection of the laws; ordering the cruel and unconstitutional imprisonment of children and their families at the southern border; and conspiring to illegally influence the 2016 election through a series of hush money payments,” Tlaib wrote in an op-ed for the Detroit Free Press.
Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota) echoed Tlaib’s sentiments in a Thursday night tweet responding to Tlaib’s call for impeaching the president, saying her colleagues have a “constitutional responsibility” to have hearings investigating whether or not Trump indeed committed impeachable offenses. And Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) has promised to sign Rep. Tlaib’s impeachment resolution.
Impeachment is part of our constitutional responsibility. We have an obligation to investigate whether the President committed impeachable offenses, including:
-Obstruction of justice
-Violating the Emoluments Clause
-Abuse of power https://t.co/Sq907gs7eF
— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) April 18, 2019
President Trump’s actions as described in the Mueller report have even caused some Republicans to start quietly debating impeachment. In a recent National Review column, writer David French — part of the “Never Trump” wing of Republicans — argued that the Mueller report was a turning point for both Trump and his supporters.
“We’ve become accustomed to Trump making up his own facts on matters great and small, but to see the extent to which his virus infected his entire political operation is sobering. And the idea that anyone is treating this report as “win” for Trump, given the sheer extent of deceptions exposed (among other things), demonstrates that the bar for his conduct has sunk so low that anything other than outright criminality is too often brushed aside as relatively meaningless,” French wrote.
“I’m old enough to remember the closing days of the 1996 campaign, when the Clinton administration was already beset by an avalanche of scandals. Bob Dole looked into the cameras and asked a pointed question — ‘Where is the outrage?’ The same question applies today, but to a different audience. The lies are simply too much to bear. No Republican should tolerate such dishonesty.
Joe Walsh, a former Republican Congressman from Illinois, summed up this sentiment in a tweet.
“In America, no one is above the law. Not even the President,” he wrote.
Walsh frequently tweeted about the findings in the Mueller report Thursday and Friday, and declared that “No Republican can spin” the damning information in the report despite Trump’s efforts to claim victory.
“It’s the portrait of an unethical, dishonest, unpatriotic & immoral man,” he tweeted. “[Trump] welcomed & encouraged a foreign adversary’s interference. He lied every time he opened his mouth. He ordered those around him to lie. He spit at justice.”
No Republican can spin it.
It's the portrait of an unethical, dishonest, unpatriotic & immoral man. He welcomed & encouraged a foreign adversary's interference. He lied every time he opened his mouth. He ordered those around him to lie. He spit at justice.
Spin that. I dare ya.
— Joe Walsh (@WalshFreedom) April 19, 2019
The Case Against Impeachment
Those against impeaching Trump say that the risks outweigh the benefits. For starters, even if Democrats (and the approximately 20 Republicans they would need in the Senate) were successful in impeaching President Trump, that would only result in Vice President Mike Pence inheriting the remainder of Trump’s term.
As Grit Post’s Katelyn Kivel has argued, this could be even more disastrous for opponents of Trump, as Pence has experience both as a Congressman and a governor, and could very well enact Trumpian policies with great efficiency. As Vice President, Mike Pence has cast tie-breaking votes in the Senate nearly a dozen times, including for the confirmation of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education.
Pence may even get elected to serve a full term, assuming an interim President Pence declared his intent to run for the 2020 Republican presidential nomination. And as Kivel wrote, Pence wouldn’t have much trouble in securing the funding needed to run a competitive campaign, given his long-standing ties to wealthy financiers of Republican candidates and causes:
For all the danger and bluster Trump represents, Pence represents a quiet, affable danger. Trump has white supremacists with tiki torches and Pence has a VIP suite with an even-more-VIP room filled to burst with billionaires.
“To the GOP, Pence would be a kind of godsend, a president who would be, as the former adviser describes him, ‘a think-tank-talk-news-created Republican robot,’ ” wrote Jason Zengerle for GQ.
And next to the horrifying legacy of Trump, the smiling and friendly theocratic vice president seems like such a welcome monster.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland) is hesitant to go the impeachment route, saying Thursday that the 2020 election is only 18 months away “and the American people will make a judgment. And in March, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) said in no uncertain terms that she would not be pursuing impeachment, saying it would be “divisive to the country.” The only scenario in which Pelosi would be open to impeaching Trump would be in the event there was a “compelling and overwhelming and bipartisan” case to do so.
Speaker Pelosi’s point is valid — in order for a president to be impeached and removed from office, it would not only take a majority vote in the House to refer impeachment to the full Senate, but it would take a two-thirds vote in the Senate to actually remove Trump from office. No sitting president has ever been impeached in U.S. history — even Richard Nixon chose resignation over impeachment.
Given that there are only 47 Democrats (including two Independents who caucus with Democrats) in the Senate, Democrats would need at least 20 Republicans, if not more, to ensure Trump would be convicted in an impeachment trial. And according to a February analysis by George Washington University professor Matthew Dallek, none of the current Senate Republicans would ever vote to impeach Trump. given the political cost they would incur back home.
“Impeachment, many Republicans plausibly fear, would be fatal to their chances in 2020. The bonds and commitments — ideological, partisan, personal — that hold the party together have spurred GOP lawmakers to stick with Trump on virtually all key issues, whatever inner doubts they may harbor that he is truly fit for office,” Dallek wrote.
There would undoubtedly be a significant political cost incurred should Democrats choose to expend their political capital on impeaching President Trump, as opposed to focusing on passing as much legislation as possible to help struggling voters in their own districts and states. In the 2018 midterms, healthcare was widely seen as the #1 most important issue motivating voters to go to the polls. To compare, a Harvard/Harris poll conducted in January found that just 38% of Americans thought impeachment was a top priority for the 116th Congress.
One thing remains clear — our country is currently in the midst of an unprecedented moment that will surely be studied in history books for decades, if not centuries. Congress has a lot to contemplate over the next few months, and only time will tell if impeachment will be successful.