/2020 Elections: Do Voters Even Care About the Articles of Impeachment?
2020 Elections: Do Voters Even Care About the Articles of Impeachment?

2020 Elections: Do Voters Even Care About the Articles of Impeachment?

2020 Elections:

Everyone knows what Trump did. The Democrats shouldn’t draw out the process any longer than necessary.

2020 Elections: Michael Tomasky

Credit…Alyssa Schukar for The New York Times

Day 1 of the House Judiciary Committee phase of the impeachment hearings is just about over, and we’ve been reminded that however historic such hearings are, they’re not always riveting. Republican histrionics aside, legal scholars expounding on constitutional jurisprudence don’t pack quite the punch that Fiona Hill did.

The questions now facing House Democrats concern scope and speed — whether to pass one or two articles of impeachment quickly or bide their time and pass several articles that more comprehensively reflect the record of President Trump’s crimes against the Constitution.

In general, those in the former camp tend to be members from purple swing districts that Mr. Trump may have carried in 2016; they’ve almost all signed on to the effort at this point, but they’d just as soon get it over with and get back to talking about prescription drugs.

Those in the latter camp tend to be from safer blue districts, which gives them the freedom to take a position that sounds more uncompromising. “If you show that this is not only real in what’s happening with Ukraine, but it’s the exact same pattern that Mueller documented,” said Representative Pramila Jayapal, a Democrat from Washington, “to me, that just strengthens the case.”

It’s easy to see why this has become such a pitched battle. It’s a deeply emotional question. To many, it’s a clear matter of right and wrong. To fail to condemn Mr. Trump’s many sins in official articles of impeachment constitutes a whitewashing of history. And, as Ms. Jayapal said, many adherents of this view believe more articles will make for a stronger case to take to the public.

True, there’s a lot to choose from. Mr. Trump’s malefactions have been so numerous and obvious that in a just world with a rational Republican Party, he would have been removed from office within about six months of occupying it.

The firing of James Comey alone, and the president’s admission, to Lester Holt on national television, that he did it because of the F.B.I.’s inquiry into his campaign’s Russia ties (this happened in month four), would have had George Mason — the founder who suggested adding the words “high crimes and misdemeanors” to the Constitution — howling for Mr. Trump’s removal. Now a dozen articles of impeachment would just begin to scratch the surface.

Still, I’m not convinced that the American public will find seven articles of impeachment more persuasive than two. Quick: How many articles of impeachment did the House pass against Richard Nixon? Bill Clinton? You might know, because this has been in the news, that the answers are three and two, respectively. But if you know, I’d wager you’re among the 5 percent or so of Americans who do.

Everyone, however, knows that the two men were impeached (or would have been, in Nixon’s case). In historical terms, that’s what matters. Not the number of articles. The mark is on their heads — in Mr. Clinton’s case, I believe unjustly.

Furthermore, when we speak today of those two presidents’ transgressions, it is not the articles of impeachment to which we refer. It is their actions. In the Nixon case, the break-in, the attempt to get the C.I.A. to block the F.B.I.’s investigation of the break-in, the broader cover-up, the Saturday Night Massacre. In the Clinton case, the particular infidelity and the lie about it to a grand jury.

So it will be with this president. His violations matter more than the specific degree to which the Democrats officially remonstrate with him for them.

It seems very likely, by the way, that we’re going to be seeing evidence of new offenses right up through Election Day. We can reasonably assume that he will accept illegal foreign help in the election, given that he told George Stephanopoulos he would do so. Are the Democrats supposed to wait until next October to make sure they don’t miss anything?

An extended process might produce more riveting testimony. But if a court separately orders the former White House counsel Don McGahn to testify — which it might do soon — he will have to, whether it’s officially part of an impeachment proceeding or not. Americans will watch his testimony and take it in.

There’s risk in the maximalist approach, too. A process that drags on for too long might just result in more Democratic infighting, at a time when the party needs to be unified behind its only real option for removing Mr. Trump — the 2020 election. There’s a decent argument for throwing the hot potato to Mitch McConnell and shaming him, and the Senate Republicans, for abasing themselves with a blanket exoneration of Mr. Trump.

And what will it all matter by next November? I may live to eat these words, but if events play out in the more-or-less expected fashion, I will bet you dollars to doughnuts that when we pore over the exit polls next Nov. 4, impeachment itself will have been a minor factor in people’s voting, let alone the question of how many articles the House passed.

The two Americas are dug in. Minds are made up. By next November, so much will have happened that impeachment will be a distant memory, as difficult to retrieve from the memory well for most people as what movie won the last Best Picture Oscar.

In the meantime, if the Democrats want to unite around any piece of strategy, it should be on what to do about Attorney General William Barr. My guess is that next fall, his actions will prove far more relevant to the chances of defeating Mr. Trump than what the House Judiciary Committee does now.

Original Source