Democrats Grapple With Impeachment of Trump
As they digest the 448-page Mueller report, Capitol Hill Democrats are grappling with a Donald Trump-era conundrum: In a post-fact political climate, is impeachment of the president the way to go?
The Mueller report details numerous incidents of the president instructing aides to lie and to deny true stories in the media. Both White House press secretary Sarah Sanders and former press secretary Sean Spicer told untruths to the press, the Mueller report found. Several former Trump associates have been convicted or pleaded guilty to lying to authorities.
But for a frustrated Democratic caucus, one comment from a president they see as a serial liar may be fundamentally true – that Trump could walk onto Fifth Avenue in New York City and shoot someone, and his base would still be with him. In another era, with another president, such damning details might provoke a massive public backlash. But Mueller’s report was greeted by Trump supporters – and the president – with claims of vindication and cries of victimization by investigators.
And that puts congressional lawmakers in a difficult position: Do they impeach, fulfilling what some in the party say is their constitutional and moral responsibility? Or would that merely entrench Trump’s loyal base?
“When the president engages in this type of activity, it’s time for impeachment,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, said on the campaign trail, echoing the views of several of the 20-member Democratic presidential primary field.
It’s not that her fellow Democrats disagree with the gravity of the evidence Mueller revealed. It’s that they aren’t sure whether it’s best to go ahead with a proceeding that is unlikely to result in a conviction in the Senate. Democrats are set to hold a conference call Monday to discuss how to proceed now.
Republicans in the GOP-run chamber have been largely defensive of the president. While a few have expressed their distaste – Sen. Mitt Romney, Republican of Utah, said in a statement he was “sickened at the extent and pervasiveness of dishonesty and misdirection by individuals in the highest office of the land, including the President” – most have either defended Trump or said it was time to put the matter aside and move on.
The Mueller report does not appear to have moved the needle much. A Reuters/Ipsos poll released Friday indeed showed Trump’s approval rating at 37 percent, with 56 percent disapproving. That’s not a good number – and it’s a drop of 6 points since Attorney General William Barr a month ago issued a four-page summary of the Mueller report saying Trump had not been found guilty of a crime.
But it’s still not the lowest rating Trump has hit in his presidency. That mark is 35 percent, the last time in 2017, according to Gallup. And it does not seem to be connected to details about possible wrongdoing.
Former President Richard Nixon, for example, enjoyed an approval rating of 67 percent in early 1973. But as the Watergate saga unfolded, Nixon’s numbers dropped steadily, bottoming out at 24 percent approval by the time he left office.
Cartoons on the Mueller Report
Romney’s GOP Senate colleague, Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, put it bluntly on CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday. “There’s nothing in this report that changes my view of this president. I don’t think most Americans, I don’t think most senators, most members of Congress … will have their view of the president of the United States changed by this report. There’s just nothing in there that should do that,” Lee said.
Democratic leaders have been reluctant to talk impeachment, concerned it would merely energize Trump’s defenders and increase turnout among the GOP base, losing them not only the presidency in 2020 but also control of the House. A focus on health care and the economy, Democratic strategists say, is what helped the party pick up 40 seats in the House in 2018, along with the majority status that makes their current investigations of Trump possible.
Democrats got some encouraging news Monday morning with the release of a new Harvard Institute of Politics poll of Americans 18-29. The poll shows that 70 percent of those young Americans disapprove of Trump, with 29 percent approving.
But that number is not as significant as the one that goes to turnout. While at this stage in 2015, 36 percent of 18-29-year-olds surveyed by the IOP said they were likely to vote in the presidential race, 43 percent say so now.
The trend appears to be “a continuation of the most significant youth wave we’ve seen in years,” John Della Volpe, director of the poll, said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Monday.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, Democrat of Maryland and chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, said he can “foresee” impeachment but has not outright called for proceedings to start.
“We can’t just allow this to go on and on,” Cummings told “Face the Nation” on Sunday. “If we do nothing here, what is going to happen is that the president is going to be emboldened. He’s going to say, ‘Well, I got away with that.’”
And then, Cummings added, “his aiders and abettors, the Republicans in Congress (will think) he is pretty strong and they’ll continue to go along with him. We cannot afford that. Our democracy cannot afford that.”
And, meanwhile, Congress is going to continue its inquiries and oversight, several House committee chairmen underscore.
“While Mueller did not charge the president with criminal conspiracy, he did find evidence of collusion. He found ample evidence of obstruction, but left it to Congress to pursue,” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff tweeted Monday morning. “And we will.”
Congressional Democrats are not going to let the Mueller report lie. But they might just make Trump twist in the wind.