If ever a U.S. president warranted impeachment, it is Donald J. Trump. His presidency is an affront to every core value and principle America claims to stand for.
The special counsel’s investigation of Russia’s hostile attack on our elections found ten instances where Trump obstructed—or attempted to obstruct—justice.
His abuses of the office are legion, from flagrant violations of the emoluments clause to incitement of violence against the free press in subversion of the First Amendment.
He has presided over the atrocity of stealing children from asylum-seeking parents and locking them in frigid holding cells with no plans to reunite the families. Several children have died as a result of his monstrous border policy.
He has coddled brutal dictators while alienating allies.
He has repeatedly fanned the flames of racism, empowering Nazis and white supremacists.
His party, emboldened by his disregard for the Constitution, has launched a deadly, broad-based assault on women’s reproductive rights and health.
He has installed an Attorney General who makes a mockery of the rule of law.
The unavoidable reality is that impeaching Trump in the House is the only way to leave a permanent mark on his presidency, to let history know that we defended the rule of law when it faced an existential threat from a lawless and corrupt president.
Yet the House Democratic leadership, which has the power to launch impeachment proceedings against Trump, is dithering, stonewalling, and carpeting social media with specious arguments against impeachment.
Let’s debunk them one by one.
SPIN: The Senate won’t convict so there’s no point impeaching in the House.
History is a good guide to rebut this talking point. Republicans had no problem impeaching Bill Clinton in the House even though he was acquitted in the Senate. There is no reasonable case to be made that Clinton deserved impeachment and Trump doesn’t. Furthermore, in the case of Nixon, the impeachment process itself changed views in the Senate. There is no way of knowing what will happen until impeachment hearings begin.
And by this logic, Democrats should bring all House votes to a standstill, since Mitch McConnell has no intention of cooperating with them to pass meaningful legislation. Yet Democrats have passed a number of important bills, knowing that they are dead on arrival in the Senate.
SPIN: Democrats need to gather more evidence to make an airtight case for impeachment.
Pretending that we need more evidence of wrongdoing to impeach Trump is one of the most spurious excuses for inaction by the Democratic leadership. First, it effectively reinforces Trump’s claim that he has not committed impeachable offenses, because if there was already compelling evidence in the public record, why would we need more? Essentially, Democratic leaders are arguing that nothing we know about Trump today rises to the level of impeachment. It is a dangerous argument that is false on its face. Even a Tea Party Republican like Justin Amash sees through it.
In fact, Trump’s repeated characterization of the mainstream media as “enemies of the people” and his incitement of violence against the free press is a blatant violation of his oath to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” That alone is an impeachable offense that requires no further evidence-gathering.
SPIN: Democrats are already winning in the courts by compelling Trump to produce documents.
Trump has spent his life playing a cat and mouse game in the courts, winning, losing, appealing, delaying, obfuscating. What is the end game of taking Trump to court to compel document production? Months of delays and appeals to finally get more evidence? We don’t need more evidence of wrongdoing on his part. As I argue above, there is already ample evidence in the public record to impeach him.
Relying solely on the courts is playing on Trump’s turf as he runs out the clock on his transgressions. There is no reason not to open impeachment proceedings immediately even while using the courts as a pressure point. In fact, as Michael Conway, former counsel to the House Judiciary Committee, argues: “Because the current Congress has not authorized an impeachment inquiry, the ability of the House to enforce its subpoenas or to punish Barr is sharply circumscribed.”
SPIN: Impeachment interferes with ongoing investigations.
This point is debunked by Sarah Kendzior, who spoke to legal expert John Bonifaz. According to Kendzior, “In addition to using made-up terms like ‘self-impeach’, many Pelosi disciples are spreading alternative facts about the process. One claim they’ve made is that impeachment hearings end all other Trump investigations. This is wrong.”
Bonifaz called this argument “bogus” and “laughable,” pointing out that “the impeachment process has zero impact on any federal or state criminal or civil investigations.”
SPIN: Trump is “goading” Democrats and “self-impeaching.”
“Self-impeachment” is a bizarre argument floated by Speaker Pelosi, along with the claim that Trump is “goading” Democrats into impeaching him. “The president is self-impeaching … He’s putting out the case against himself. Obstruction, obstruction, obstruction. Ignoring subpoenas and the rest. He’s doing our work for us, in a certain respect.”
“He’s doing our work for us” is another way of saying “we’re not doing our job.” No president wants to be impeached, least of all an ego-driven individual like Trump. The permanent stain on his presidency does not help him in any conceivable way. To pretend he wants to be impeached is to buy his most ludicrous spin.
SPIN: Speaker Pelosi and her colleagues have a “secret plan” and are playing the “long game.”
This is a common refrain, but it has no basis in reality. What exactly is the long game? Is it simply to do nothing in the House until 2020 and put the onus on voters to remove Trump? That’s not a long game, it’s a reckless abdication of responsibility. There is no time for a long game when children are dying on the border, when women’s rights are being trampled, when the GOP is undermining the rule of law, when subpoenas are being ignored.
If Democratic leaders like Schumer, Hoyer, and Pelosi were really playing a secret long game over the past two decades, how have we reached a point where the far right is dominant and our very democracy is on the verge of collapse? Believing in a secret plan may be comforting, but there is absolutely nothing in the real world to support the claim that Democratic leaders know how to stop Trump’s relentless march to autocracy.
SPIN: Impeaching Trump will rile up his base and enable him to play the victim.
This absurd argument assumes that MAGA voters are somehow passive and apathetic, only to be awakened and inflamed by impeachment. But anyone who has seen the “lock her up” chants at Trump’s rallies knows that the GOP base is kept in a constant state of anger and agitation by the right-wing media apparatus. Either way, upholding the rule of law shouldn’t be determined by what opposition party voters think. It is a constitutional obligation to defend and protect our system of government, not some political calculus about how voters will react.
As to the point that Trump will use impeachment to play the victim, a cursory look at his tweets shows that he does it on a daily basis. Trump’s rhetorical games should have no bearing on the imperative to defend the Constitution.
SPIN: Impeachment is a distraction from the Democratic agenda.
Defending the rule of law and holding a president to account for abuse of power is an essential part of the Democratic agenda. As activist Bree Newsome wrote, “Foregoing impeachment proceedings to ‘focus on the legislative agenda’ is bogus argument. None of their legislation will pass in the Senate anyway & 45 will veto. They’re saying they plan to do nothing substantively to protect the public interest against rampant corruption. The irony is that with their cynical political maneuverings to hold onto power in this moment, they undermine both their own power and the legitimacy of the institution they represent.”
By emphasizing electoral calculations over principle, the Democratic Party is failing America at a critical moment in our history. The GOP under Donald Trump is pushing our democracy to the breaking point, conducting a full-scale assault on women’s health and rights, while Democratic Party leaders are frozen by focus groups, caught in a cynical cycle of polling and pandering to a mythical moderate voter who is allegedly put off by a robust defense of the rule of law.
SPIN: The public is against impeachment.
Protecting our democracy and upholding the rule of law should not be driven by polls. But even if Democrats want to gauge public sentiment, they’ll find that a majority of Democrats support impeachment.
According to a recent Morning Consult/Politico poll, “fifty-three percent of registered Democratic voters said impeaching Trump should be a ‘top priority’ for Congress, nearing a previous high of 56 percent measured in early March.” An NPR/PBS/Marist poll showed 70% of Democrats favoring impeachment.
SPIN: Impeachment is too divisive.
The Democratic Party leadership’s failure to recognize that the GOP seeks autocratic rule, that it is bent on permanently dividing Americans, is a historic mistake. No matter what Democrats do, Republican leaders will do their best to divide America.
Yoni Appelbaum, senior editor at The Atlantic, argues that impeachment “is a vital protection against the dangers a president like Trump poses. And, crucially, many of its benefits—to the political health of the country, to the stability of the constitutional system—accrue irrespective of its ultimate result. Impeachment is a process, not an outcome, a rule-bound procedure for investigating a president, considering evidence, formulating charges, and deciding whether to continue on to trial.”
Impeachment is not a magic solution to the GOP’s embrace of right-wing extremism. Nor is it likely to remove Trump from office. But it is a crucial statement to present and future generations that America is a democracy not a dictatorship. Rep. Ilhan Omar phrased it simply: “Impeachment is about upholding the rule of law and protecting our democracy.” Even Speaker Pelosi admitted that Trump is conducting “an assault on the Constitution.” She added that his “obstruction of justice is in plain sight … it cannot be denied.” So why not impeach him for it? This inexplicable inaction isn’t about building public support, as some claim. It is about placing politics over principle. Thank goodness for the dedicated activists and handful of principled politicians who are putting pressure on the Democratic leadership and creating momentum for impeachment.