President Trump, who is refusing to cooperate with more than 20 congressional investigations, instructed current and former aides Wednesday to ignore a House committee’s request for documents in the latest act of defiance that has prompted Democrats to declare the nation is facing a constitutional crisis.
But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told Democrats in a closed-door caucus meeting Wednesday morning to stick to their policy agenda ahead of the 2020 election rather than initiate impeachment proceedings. And not a single lawmaker challenged her, according to a person in the room who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the private meeting.
Never forget that Pelosi knows her caucus (and the voters it must win over in 2020), successfully steered away from impeachment to obtain her party’s massive 2018 midterm victory, and has political antenna far more accurate than the Twitter mob. Moreover, the critical chairmen are Pelosi loyalists through and through.
Moreover, those Democrats clamoring for impeachment face at least four practical barriers.
First, public opinion is dead set against impeachment. The only hope impeachment advocates have of winning over even a majority of voters is to demonstrate their own good faith in pursuing facts during hearings, call compelling witnesses such as special counsel Robert S. Mueller III and former White House counsel Donald McGahn to speak to the American people, and give Trump enough rope to hang himself (i.e., engage in stonewalling and executive overreach that alarms voters). As to the latter, President Trump is doing a fine job of displaying dangerous disregard for any constitutional limitations on the president.
Second, without impeachment on the table, the House still can enlist the courts to compel Trump to comply with subpoenas, and to rebuke him for violating the core principles of checks and balances. House Democrats run the risk, to be sure, of losing in court, but given the preposterous position Trump’s lawyers are taking, the House stands a good chance of convincing courts that the judicial branch should act to preserve our constitutional system. (So far, 200 senators and representatives have achieved such assistance from the judicial branch in a slightly different context, the alleged violation of the emoluments clause.)
Third, it behooves the House to wait until it can obtain Trump’s tax returns, get discovery of other financial information in the emoluments case, call witnesses who can testify as to his business practices and receive the results of the dozen or so cases — including the investigation by federal prosecutors for the Southern District of New York — spun off from the Mueller investigation, as well as the inquiries underway by the New York state attorney general. Trump has always been most concerned with investigation into his finances. It stands to reason if there is clear, easy to explain evidence of financial wrongdoing, the entire Russia probe may become secondary. If the president is shown to be a crook, the American people very well may adopt a different attitude toward removal or, at the very least, toward his reelection. Keep in mind, the House doesn’t yet have even the unredacted Mueller report, let alone evidence pertaining to matters outside Mueller’s purview.
Put it this way: Is it better for Democrats to go into the 2020 election with Trump buoyed after the Senate fails to remove him from office, or to go into 2020 election with a desperate, floundering president who’s been slapped down by multiple courts and continues to declare that Congress isn’t allowed to investigate him? Pelosi thinks it is the latter and, given her track record, do House members really want to second-guess her? Apparently, none willing to speak up with her in the room.
Opinion writer covering politics and policy, foreign and domestic