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23 May 2018, 9:48 am

Will the Fervor to Impeach Donald Trump Start a Democratic Civil War?

Trump supporters seem to welcome a fight over the issue. “If the Democrats move for impeachment, I think they are playing right into the hands of the President,” Anthony Scaramucci, Trump’s former White House communications director, told me. “He doesn’t have Richard Nixon’s attention span or his O.C.D. about record-keeping. There are no e-mails or tapes"

Opposition to impeachment seems to be a rare point of agreement between Trump’s followers and the leadership of the Democratic Party. Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader in the House, told me, “I don’t like to talk about impeachment.” She explained, “Impeachment is not a political tool. It has to be based on just the law and the facts. When I was Speaker, people wanted me to impeach George Bush for the war in Iraq because it was based on false information, but you can’t just go from one impeachment to the next. When we are in the majority, we are going to try to be unifying, and there is no way to do impeachment in a bipartisan way right now.” The numbers back up Pelosi’s wariness. According to a Quinnipiac University poll taken in April, fifty-two per cent of American voters oppose impeachment. Another poll from around the same time reported that forty-seven per cent would definitely vote against a candidate who wanted to remove Trump from office. (In a sign of how divided the country is, forty-two per cent would definitely vote for a candidate who made such a promise.)

Still, a powerful grassroots movement has formed in support of impeachment, a political cousin of sorts to the recent pushes for women’s rights and gun control. According to Quinnipiac, seventy-one per cent of Democrats already favor impeachment. To proponents, a nearly fifty-fifty split among the voting public at this early date, before Mueller has reported his findings, is significant. In primaries for the 2018 elections, some prominent Democrats, such as Gavin Newsom, the lieutenant governor of California, who is running for governor, made support for impeachment a major part of their platforms.

For roughly the first two centuries of the American republic, there was an informal taboo on advocating for impeachment, even among a President’s most outspoken critics.

Today, that taboo has faded. An investigation of Trump would follow Richard Nixon’s forced resignation, on the brink of impeachment, in 1974, and Bill Clinton’s impeachment and acquittal, in 1998-99. “The reason we are seeing more demands for impeachment is the rise in partisanship. Our partisan divisions now are not just sharp but among the sharpest in American history,” Michael Gerhardt, a professor at the University of North Carolina School of Law and the author of “The Federal Impeachment Process,” the leading treatise on the subject, said. “These divisions are then taken out on the President with calls for impeachment, which is an extreme measure and appeals to people who have extreme positions.”

In Congress, there’s a surprisingly vigorous impeachment lobby expanding on the work that Al Green began. Steve Cohen, a Democrat from Tennessee and the ranking member of the Constitution and Civil Justice subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee, has fleshed Green’s bare-bones proposal out into a full impeachment resolution. Cohen’s indictment has five counts. The first charges Trump with obstruction of justice, based largely on Comey’s account of how the President tried to restrain the Russia investigation and then fired Comey when he would not oblige. The second count, referring to Trump’s business interests, including his hotels, asserts that he violated the foreign-emoluments clause of the Constitution, which bars federal officeholders from receiving payments from foreign governments. In a similar vein, the third count asserts that Trump directed federal money to his businesses and hotels domestically. The fourth count charges him with abuse of power for his criticisms of federal judges and for his pardon of Joe Arpaio, the former sheriff of Maricopa County, in Arizona. The final count claims that Trump undermined the First Amendment by repeatedly attacking the news media. Like Green, Cohen is aware that there is not yet a consensus in favor of impeachment, even among Democrats, but he is determined to plow ahead. “It’s a moral decision to do the right thing, regardless of the politics,” he told me. “Sometimes going on the record against evil may not make you effective at first in stopping evil, but it can still contribute in ways you don’t know.”

ny initial investigation of impeachment would fall to the House Judiciary Committee, and its chairman, in a Democratic Congress, would be Jerrold Nadler, from New York. Donald Trump and Jerry Nadler represent contrasting New York archetypes—the rapacious developer and the woolly-headed liberal. Not surprisingly, the two men have a history. They first clashed more than three decades ago, when Trump proposed a vast development on an old rail yard on Manhattan’s West Side.

Nadler was born in Brooklyn in 1947 and educated at Stuyvesant, the selective public high school, where his campaign for student-council president was managed by Dick Morris, the future Clinton-era political Svengali. After graduating from Columbia, Nadler thrived in the political hothouse that was the West Side in those days. In his twenties, he was elected to the New York State Assembly, and he attended Fordham’s law school at night. Nadler’s district included the site of a Trump project, which was originally called Television City because the centerpiece would be a hundred-and-fifty-story building that would serve as a new headquarters for NBC. As a courtesy, Trump invited Nadler to his office in Trump Tower to show him the plans. “I thought it was grotesque,” Nadler recalled recently. Trump told Nadler that the tower would be residential above the first forty floors, and mentioned the Hancock Center, in Chicago, which is a hundred stories tall. “He says, ‘Do you know that the people on the top floors of the Hancock Center, before they go out in the morning, they call the concierge desk to ask what the weather is, because they’re above the clouds, they can’t really see it?’ I’m thinking, What a drag, but he’s getting excited about this,” Nadler said. Nadler asked whether Trump intended to live on the hundred-and-fiftieth floor of the new building, and Trump replied that he did. “And I realized what this was all about,” Nadler said. “He wanted to be the highest man in the world.”

The battle over Television City— later renamed Trump City and finally known as Riverside South—became a multi-decade epic, even after the hundred-and-fifty-story building was scrapped. (NBC decided to keep its headquarters at Rockefeller Center.) Nadler helped lead the opposition, and continued to do so after he was elected to Congress, in 1992. He made sure that Trump did not receive federal mortgage guarantees for the project, costing the developer millions, and he also stopped the removal of an elevated highway, which would have increased the value of Trump’s condominiums. Riverside South is now mostly completed, on a much diminished scale. Trump’s interest was sold in 2005. But the dynamic of Trump and Nadler’s relationship was set. In his book “The America We Deserve,” published in 2000, Trump called Nadler “one of the most egregious hacks in contemporary politics.”

Nadler turned seventy last June, and his political views, while emphatically liberal, now hew closer to Pelosi’s than to Al Green’s. This is particularly true on the question of an impeachment inquiry. Pelosi told me that Nadler is “a champion for civil liberties and civil rights. He will have a long agenda as chairman, and impeachment is the least of it—despite what his constituents, and my constituents, probably want.” Nadler voted against both of Green’s impeachment resolutions. “If you’re going to remove the President from office, you are in effect in one sense nullifying the last election,” he told me. “What you don’t want are recriminations for the next twenty years—‘We won the election,’ ‘You stole it.’ And to do that you have to have a situation where some appreciable fraction—not a majority, but an appreciable fraction—of the people on the other side will grudgingly admit by the end of the proceedings that ‘Yeah, they really had to do it.’ ” As Nadler acknowledges, there is not only an absence of an appreciable fraction of Republicans in the House supporting impeachment, there isn’t a single Republican who does. He believes that any chance of bipartisan impeachment is extremely remote in the current political environment, at least barring the discovery of overwhelming evidence of wrongdoing. “The fact that someone has committed an impeachable offense doesn’t always mean that you should impeach him,” he said. I asked Nadler if he meant that the House should impeach only if two-thirds of the Senate was going to vote to remove the President. Not necessarily, he said: “An impeachment, even if it’s not successful in the sense of removing the President from office, may in fact be necessary and successful at saying, in effect, ‘You have violated the constitutional order, you are threatening the constitutional order, you will stop threatening the constitutional order. You will stop threatening the rule of law.’ ”

Even Republicans who voted for Clinton’s impeachment now regard it as, at best, a mixed success. Steve Chabot, who represents a district in Cincinnati, said, “If the Democrats go in that direction, they are likely to learn a lesson that we learned in 1998. Even if the country starts out with you, they get sick of the process pretty quickly.” Senator Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina, who was a member of the Judiciary Committee in 1998, has an even more negative view. “It blew up in our faces and helped President Clinton,” he said. “If Democrats keep up what they’re doing, the whole thing will just be shirts and skins—Democrats versus Republicans—and that’s a no-win when it comes to impeachment. It has to be bipartisan, or it’s going to be a failure.”

Indeed, the fervor for impeachment among some on the left is nearly matched by the passion against it on the right—an ardor that conservatives are more than happy to exploit, especially leading up to the midterm elections. Trump has taken up the cause, telling a rally in Michigan, in April, “We have to keep the House, because if we listen to Maxine Waters she’s going around saying, ‘We will impeach him.’ ” (Waters, a California congresswoman and a favorite target of Trump’s, voted in favor of Al Green’s resolutions.) Republicans in competitive races are also raising the alarm. “There is no doubt that impeachment will be a critical issue in November for Democrats and for Republicans,” Ted Cruz, the Republican senator from Texas, who is facing an unexpectedly serious challenge from Beto O’Rourke, a Democratic congressman, told me. “There is right now enormous energy on the far left. They hate the President. They are consumed with Trump derangement syndrome.” He continued, “For many on the right, and many in the middle, not having the country consumed by impeachment proceedings and not seeing us lose the progress the country has made under President Trump is also a powerful motivator.” Cruz doesn’t believe Pelosi’s statements that she does not currently support impeachment. “If the Democrats take over the House, on the day Nancy Pelosi is sworn in to office, that’s the day impeachment proceedings begin,” he said. “The passion on the left is too great.”

The Democratic leadership continues to insist otherwise.

The historical record on impeachment, including at the framing of the Constitution, is meagre. There were a few references to it at the Constitutional Convention, and in the debates in the states over ratification the subject came up in a limited way. The Framers recognized that the power to impeach was as much a political issue as a legal one. As Alexander Hamilton put it, in Federalist No. 65, impeachment should apply to “the misconduct of public men, or, in other words, from the abuse or violation of some public trust.” Hamilton said that high crimes and misdemeanors “are of a nature which may with peculiar propriety be denominated political, as they relate chiefly to injuries done immediately to the society itself.”

Hamilton also anticipated the partisan divisions that impeachment would engender, writing that the process “will seldom fail to agitate the passions of the whole community, and to divide it into parties more or less friendly or inimical to the accused.”

In modern terms, one pole in the debate over impeachment was defined by Gerald Ford, during his days as a congressman, when he led a failed attempt to impeach the Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, in 1970, for purportedly improper financial dealings. “An impeachable offense,” Ford said, “is whatever a majority of the House of Representatives considers it to be at a given moment in history.”

The article in its high minded discussion fails to consider the raw political calculations. A big reason dems and in particular the progressive wing in the party is doing well is energized turnout. The Democratic establishment fears impeachment will negate this advantage by energizing not only Trump's base but the right of center voters in general. That said if there is a blue/progressive wave those Dems put in office will have been elected to remove Trump by any or almost any means necessary. If the Dems establishment blocks impeachment they will go the way of the never Trump conservatives, shouting from the sidelines.

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Last edited by ASPartOfMe on 23 May 2018, 10:10 am, edited 3 times in total.


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23 May 2018, 9:49 am

This might be a case of "divide and conquer"----except the Democrats are "dividing and conquering" themselves.

Tufted Titmouse
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24 May 2018, 1:12 am

Any attempt to impeach Trump would be suicide. We'd have people leaving the country in disgrace.


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24 May 2018, 1:28 am

I dislike Trump, I do not think he is doing anything good for this country...however I think that having him impeached would do more harm than good. I mean I am on the left...even registered as a Democrat even though I disagree with a lot of things in the party but I want these destructive right wingers out and I think that helps. I mean if I am a 'democrat' than I can criticize the democratic party tell them what I think they should do better. But yes I think the best path is vote trump and his unqualified picks for government offices out...forget impeaching him, vote him out in the next election. I mean I think there is every reason to impeach him, but I am looking at the bigger picture...impeaching him doesn't help anything.

I have even criticized democratic politicans calling for his impeachment, one is running for an office in my state but I wont vote for him because he won't drop the 'impeach trump' thing...other than that seems like a potentially good canidate for colorado senate or whatever.....but with the focus on impeaching trump like that is the wrong goal. I'd rather vote for someone who's top priority is the environment and ecosystem of Colorado and pushing for renewable energy...Not someone who's main focus is impeaching trump.

Fascism is a disease.