We need a clear framing of where popular opinion in our country is in regard to starting an impeachment inquiry into Trump.
A recent Monmouth poll found 35% of Americans think we should start the impeachment inquiry. That's not a majority and that's what Nancy Pelosi and centrist Democrats keep touting as one of the main reasons why they can’t officially initiate the impeachment process. But, that's not a full picture.
For comparison, a Gallup poll taken between February of 1-4, 1974 found only 39% of Americans approved of impeaching Richard Nixon. Congress initiated the impeachment process on February 6, 1974. That’s how many Americans supported impeaching Nixon at the beginning of the Watergate hearings. We’re basically there right now (and we’ve been above that mark at various points throughout this year).
And here’s a deeper truth that Pelosi and centrist Democrats aren’t being upfront about:
A month into Nixon’s impeachment hearings, after two of his top aides and his most recent campaign chairman were indicted on conspiracy charges, only 43% of Americans approved of impeaching Nixon. One month into the impeachment process of a president who we identify as obviously guilty from our perch in the present and still the majority of Americans didn’t support impeaching Nixon.
It was only at the beginning of August 1974, after the House Judiciary Committee passed three of five articles of impeachment against Nixon (obstruction of justice, abuse of power and contempt of Congress), that a clear majority of 57% of Americans supported impeachment (including 31% of Republicans which rose from 12% in February of ’74 and 55% of Independents which rose from 38% in February). Nixon resigned soon after before the full House could vote on his impeachment.
So, what Pelosi and centrist Democrats are either unaware of or are conveniently leaving out of their statements is that we most likely will not have a majority of people in favor of impeaching Trump unless they do their job and start the process of impeaching Trump. By that standard, Nixon would have remained in office.
(As a side note, it’s also important to remember that the smoking gun, the audiotape of Nixon confirming his participation in and his cover up of Watergate, did not come to light until August 5, 1974. So, any idea of needing a smoking gun to start an impeachment inquiry is misleading, too. The smoking gun is what finally led Nixon to see the writing on the wall and resign, but he was already heading toward impeachment without it.)
Let’s take a look at a couple of the other reasons for Congress’ hesitation:
1.) Even if the House impeaches Trump, the Senate will acquit him.
Maybe. But, that’s not the point. Congress is mandated in the Constitution to oversee the president. That’s it. If the president has sullied his office or done harm to our country, Congress has a duty to hold him accountable.
And here’s the thing, in a July 1974 private meeting between Republican leaders, House Minority Leader John Rhodes estimated that Nixon’s impeachment in the House would receive as many as 300 votes (which would include 59 Republicans voting against the Republican president), well over the 218 needed to impeach Nixon. And, while Senate Minority Leader Hugh Scott estimated that the Senate was a little shy of the 2/3 votes needed to convict, he also felt that support for the president was deteriorating (and this was before the smoking gun audio tape was released). This change came only when Republican representatives were forced to make a very public choice about whether they supported corruption or not.
We won’t ever know how many Republicans will stand up against Trump unless Democrats get the courage to put the evidence on display and shine that light on Republicans in the House and Senate (and any possible Democrat dissenters) and force them to choose between truth or corruption. Impeachment isn’t in the Constitution for when the truth is convenient. It’s there to force people to come to Congress and speak truth or face the consequences. Here’s what the Mueller Report says about it:
“With respect to whether the President can be found to have obstructed justice by exercising his powers under Article II of the Constitution, we concluded that Congress has authority to prohibit a President’s corrupt use of his authority in order to protect the integrity of the administration of justice.”
2.) If the Senate acquits Trump, it will hurt Democrat chances in the upcoming election.
After Nixon’s impeachment, the majority of Congress remained Democrat. So, did the Senate. Furthermore, in the first Congressional election following Nixon’s impeachment, Democrats gained 4 seats in the Senate and 59 seats in the House. Then, in the first presidential election held after Nixon’s impeachment, Gerald Ford (the replacement for the remainder of Nixon’s term) was beat by Jimmy Carter – a Democrat. That seems to support the idea that, if you try a corrupt politician and expose their corruption, the public tends to support you in the following elections.
People like to bring up Clinton’s impeachment (initiated on October 8, 1998) and his subsequent acquittal in the Senate as a warning against going forward with the impeachment process when the public isn’t behind it. Like Trump, a Gallup Poll revealed that only 35% of Americans supported Clinton’s impeachment. But, while Clinton’s approval rating was above 60% at the start of his impeachment, Trump’s is currently at 39%.
Clinton’s impeachment is widely seen as a strategic move by Republicans to boost their control of the House and Senate in the November ’98 midterm election. Instead, the Republicans lost five House seats to the Democrats. But, the Republicans still retained a majority in the House and Senate (which neither lost nor gained a seat).
After the 2000 election (2 years after the initiation of Clinton’s impeachment), the Republicans still retained control of the House and Senate and also won the presidency. Of course, there’s a lot of controversy about how they won the presidency in 2000 and, within a few months of the election, a Republican Senator switched parties to join the Democrats, thereby giving Senate control to the Democrats. But, initially, the GOP had a House/Senate/President sweep in the 2000 elections. And there’s evidence that Clinton’s impeachment and the distrust and dislike of his behavior spurred Republicans out in high numbers and helped sway Independents to a slight majority in favor of George W Bush for president. One of his campaign mottos was “to restore honor and dignity.”
But, more importantly, Clinton’s impeachment charges were attached to when he perjured himself about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky and his attempts to cover that up. Definitely serious and flagrant violations. But, that’s a whole other ballgame compared to Nixon’s corruption charges or what can be gleaned from just Mueller’s redacted report on Trump.
So, what do we have to lose? Put the facts in the light and force Republicans in the House and Senate to stand up for truth or be remembered as treasonous cowards.
And, while I appreciate the effort that Speaker Pelosi and the Democrats have made to pass progressive legislation in the House, Mitch McConnell and the Republican-led Senate have stonewalled most of that legislation. So, if part of the House Democrat leadership’s argument for not getting behind impeachment is that McConnell and Republican Senators will acquit Trump, why does it make sense to devote time to legislation that you know the same Senate and our current corrupt president will not pass?
We are in a crisis right now. This is a broken government and the House of Representatives has the only weapon to hold our commander in chief accountable. And they’re not using it. High-ranking Democrats (including Pelosi and Schiff) have publicly called Trump corrupt in tweets and rhetoric and yet they won’t publicly put their weight behind the impeachment process. If Trump is out of line (and he is) and Congress feels he has abused his power (and they do), they have not only the right, but more importantly, the responsibility to initiate a full-on, absolute, 100%, no-tip-toing-around, impeachment process. If they don’t, I don’t think they deserve the seats they sit in.
In closing, here’s a bit from a May 21st Paste Magazine article (link in comments, along with a bunch of other links):
“One of the signature fights Democrats are going through right now is with congressional subpoenas, and the standard (or norm, if that helps the neoliberal wing of the party) was set on that topic in Nixon’s impeachment. It’s not that we should impeach Trump—it’s that we have no other choice but to impeach Trump. His lawlessness has driven us to this point, and if we are the nation we purport to be, then we will force him to defend impeachable actions going into 2020, and explain how his defiance of lawful subpoenas is any different from Nixon’s.
Of course after being impeached, Trump won’t get kicked out of office by Mitch McConnell’s Senate—removing Trump is not the point. It’s about demonstrating that the constitution still matters to one party, and by saying “I’m not for impeachment,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi is de facto agreeing with President Trump and Attorney General Bill Barr’s Nixonian assertion that they are above the law assertion that they are above the law.”
A bunch of pertinent links:
Paste Magazine: Trump Just Did Something That Was In Richard Nixon's Articles of Impeachment
The Hill: Majority Wants Trump Out, But Not Through Impeachment
Washington Post: Will Support Grow For Impeaching Trump? Data on Nixon Offers a Clue.
CNN: House Panel Approves Impeachment Inquiry Parameters as Democrats Try to Clarify Their Strategy
Pew Research Center: How the Watergate Crisis Eroded Public Support For Nixon
Politico: Dems Stumble On Impeachment Messaging
Washington Post: Special Report: Clinton Accused
Gallup: Presidential Approval Ratings - Donald Trump