As a dyed in the wool Democrat, it is increasingly hard to understand just what our party leaders’ strategy actually is. I’m not sure whose brilliant idea it was, probably Pelosi’s, to schedule back to back press conferences announcing that the Judiciary Committee had formally unveiled two articles of impeachment and that an agreement had been reached on passing the USMCA, Trump’s minimally tweaked NAFTA agreement, but all it did was basically trivialize both actions, making them both look purely “political” exercises. Talk about stepping on your own message.
The two articles of impeachment the Judiciary Committee announced yesterday were the abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. These two articles are tightly focused and strictly limited to Trump’s Ukraine extortion and its attempted coverup and ignore potential charges of bribery and obstruction of justice. It appears the Democrats have chosen to ignore the abuses uncovered by Robert Mueller. They have chosen to ignore the revelations that have come from the resolution of the Stone and Gates cases, while even more revelations may yet come. They have chosen to ignore the betrayal of our national security caused by Trump’s exposing intelligence assets to our enemies. They have chosen to ignore the felony campaign finance violation courts have already determined Trump directed. They have chosen to ignore Trump’s continued violations of the Emoluments Clause.
Meanwhile, Trump is virtually rubbing Democrats’ noses in his continued criminality, with Giuliani still roaming around Ukraine pushing for a Biden investigation, Barr basically becoming an instrument of the Trump re-election campaign, and Trump himself meeting with Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister. In response, the Democrats have decided to move with all due speed to vote these articles out of committee and have them ready for a full House vote before Christmas.
Perhaps at any other time other than this, passing the USMCA would make real sense. Certainly, the original NAFTA agreement needed to be updated and the Democrats have apparently won significant concessions on drug pricing, dispute resolution, and environmental and labor protections. But the idea that swing district Democrats will somehow get credit for passing the USMCA next November seems like a fantasy. The USMCA will be long forgotten by then, even by the few voters who recognize what it actually does. As even Governor Pat Toomey of the swing state of Pennsylvania admits, “It’s not going to do anything for economic growth”, and Krugman agrees. What voters will know is that Donald Trump brilliantly renegotiated NAFTA because that is what he will be saying for the next eleven months. And that is what the Republican opponent of those swing district Democrats will also be saying, pretty much negating the Democrats’ message. Worse, the fact that the Democrats were able to get those concessions shows that Trump was the one who felt he needed more legislative accomplishments. Democrats have now given him that.
The dissonance between saying that Trump needs to be impeached because he threatens the sanctity of the 2020 election and then giving him a political win on one of his top legislative priorities, strengthening the chances of his re-election, is striking. Doing both within one hour makes it even more disconcerting. The strain to appear bipartisan and able to do the nation’s business by agreeing to pass the USMCA seems to almost be trying too hard to illustrate that the impeachment process is not purely partisan.
More importantly, by taking both these actions now, Democrats have essentially ceded the limited power they have with control of the House to Trump and the Republicans. There are around 200 bills that have passed the House over the last year that are being blocked from Senate consideration by Mitch McConnell. You would think that Democrats would have been pushing to get one of those bills passed in the Senate, or at least put to a vote, in return for passing the USMCA. Instead, once again, GOP obstruction is effectively rewarded at no cost. And if Democrats were so concerned about protecting some of their swing district members for 2020, perhaps adding a few articles of impeachment that they could actually vote against might have been a preferable way for them to show their independence rather than giving Trump an important political victory. That is precisely the tack that the GOP used in the far more unpopular Clinton impeachment.
When it comes to impeachment, by ending their inquiry so rapidly, even though the evidence it has collected of Trump’s guilt is overwhelming and irrefutable, Democrats have now ceded power over this process to Republicans in the Senate. There, McConnell will either put the Bidens on trial, provide a quick acquittal, or both. The only danger Republicans in the Senate potentially face is that Chief Justice Roberts will allow Democrats to force all those that witnesses that Trump has prevented the House from hearing from to actually testify. Should that come to pass, McConnell will have to decide whether he wants to short circuit that testimony by getting the 51 votes needed to override Roberts’ decision.
Certainly, the Senate trial provides some of the most vulnerable Republican Senators with some potentially difficult votes. But the almost certain acquittal will further empower and embolden Trump to further corrupt our government, diminish our democracy, rig the 2020 election, and pave the way for even more egregious shenanigans from Barr, using the Durham investigation to go after former Obama era officials in the FBI and intelligence community and perhaps even the eventual Democratic nominee.
Sad to say, but I see yesterday as a capitulation by the Democrats. Some will rightly wonder how taking the historic and powerful action of impeaching a President could actually be a capitulation. But impeachment now means that Democrats will have shot the only really bullet they have. Any further investigations of Trump corruption will easily be written off as sour grapes and overkill, especially after his acquittal in the Senate. Trump and his GOP congressional cult are an almost existential danger to our democracy. Yet Democrats seem to be treating impeachment as something to be gotten over as quickly as possible. It reeks of weakness and political calculus. Worse, they have now provided that existential threat with an important legislative victory and a clear path to acquittal of the impeachment charges. All they have done is put Trump in a stronger position for re-election than if they had just simply continued with the inquiry.
A few days ago, Joe Biden, in a truly remarkable moment, was actually on the stump advocating for the Republican party. Biden is apparently worried that the GOP may get “clobbered” in 2020, leaving Democrats in control of the government. Rather than looking at that as an opportunity to actually implement popular Democratic policies and do real good for the country, Biden was more concerned that the GOP should instead have the power to block anything he and the Democrats might want to do. Said Biden, “I’m really worried that no party should have too much power. You need a countervailing force…If you hear people on the rope line saying, ‘I’m a Republican,’ I say, ‘Stay a Republican.’ Vote for me but stay a Republican, because we need a Republican Party.”
Plato wrote that “The measure of a man is what he does with power”. Well, Democrats do not actually seem to want to use the power they have. Worse, they seem intent on passing the power that they have over to their political opponents. Trump, Barr, and the Republicans will gladly take that power and use it the way they always have, to gain even more power for themselves.
Originally published at https://thesoundings.com on December 11, 2019.