Rep. Rashida Tlaib was right to say impeachment of President Donald Trump should be on the table. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Charles Schumer should acknowledge the same. They should do so now, repeatedly, and regardless of the status of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. They should own the message and set the narrative for the nation.
Consider two scenarios:
In the first, a Democratic-controlled House of Representatives presents itself as a coequal branch of government, negotiating as constitutional peers with Trump on traditional policy such as the government shutdown while also engaging in anticipated oversight hearings on alleged malfeasance by his administration.
In the second, a Democratic-controlled House asserts itself as a coequal branch, but declares now, without hesitation, that its main function — necessitated by a time of national crisis the president brought upon us — must be to present Trump as having knowingly compromised his fitness for office, publicly treat him as such, and hold hearings with constitutional scholars regarding whether his alleged criminal activity rises to the level of impeachment.
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The former conveys to the majority of Americans the traditional, and predictable, peer relationship between a Congress and a president of divided parties, similar to other chapters in American political history.
The latter is a deliberate, persistent and dire expression of congressional leaders that we are in an unprecedented chapter of U.S. history in which the president faces significant criminal allegations, has lied about matters of national security, must not be afforded the traditional credibility due the presidency, and cannot be trusted in word or deed.
Donald Trump was identified as a conspirator in a federal crime already entered into judgment in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, in a plea deal coordinated with federal prosecutors and accepted by a federal judge. That matter in and of itself exceeds the culpability standard used to impeach our 42nd president, Bill Clinton.
Democratic congressional leaders should remind the American people of this daily, consistently reiterating that the bar for impeachment has already been met and that Trump is constitutionally compromised. Democratic congressional leaders should aggressively present Trump as an impeachable president unworthy of being approached as a constitutionally respected peer.
We need impeachment hearings, not oversight
Likewise, Trump has lied about the denuclearization of North Korea, has misled the American people about his personal financial dealings with Russia (see Trump Tower Moscow) and has been shown to have been manipulated by the leaders of Russia (see Helsinki), Turkey (see Syria), Saudi Arabia (see Jamal Khashoggi) and others on matters of U.S. security interests. He has disclosed classified intelligence to foreign diplomats in the Oval Office and has suffered the public rebuke of his own Defense secretary, who found the president’s national security behavior so unsettling that he resigned.
These are facts we know now. Democratic congressional leaders would be smart to consistently define the president by these events with a level of seriousness and unrelenting public indictment worthy of their significance in presidential history.
Importantly, neither the Southern District of New York matter nor the president’s national security actions are part of Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. For congressional Democrats to defer action on the above until completion of the Mueller report is simply a misleading non sequitur born of political convenience and 2020 trepidation rather than acceptance of a sacred constitutional responsibility.
These are extraordinary times. They must be confronted as such. To do otherwise — to deal constructively with this president as a credible political leader — only normalizes for all of history the damage he has already wrought upon the presidency and the nation. Traditional oversight hearings are simply insufficient. Discussion of impeachment should be seriously presented to the American people now by Pelosi and Schumer. And in so doing, they will set a narrative that relegates this president to one deserving only dishonor.
Voters elected Democrats to check Trump
Cautious politicos warn, often with broad generalization, that the American people would prefer the parties deal constructively with each other as loyal adversaries, that Congress and the president find a way to work together, producing policies and oversight measures for the greater good of the nation. In traditional times, that might be true. But that warning sells short the intelligence of voters who worked to restore Democratic control to the House last November knowing that these are not traditional times.
Voters who went to the polls in November did not expect Democrats to successfully enact a progressive agenda if they were to win the House or the Senate in 2018. Medicare for All, a Green New Deal, comprehensive immigration reform — they would each be pursued in contrast to the disjointed policies of the president and eventually make up an attainable platform for the party in 2020. But the voters did expect two things from a Democratic House: a hard stop to the continued enactment of Trumpian policies, and a direct, deliberate and fierce response to the president’s known wrongdoing.
Voters who turned out in November to usher in a blue wave will not walk away from the cause if Democratic leaders demonstrate now, with honest conviction, that Trump cannot be trusted with the powers of the presidency, that impeachment is on the table, and that he will not be afforded the credibility traditionally given to his predecessors.
But if Democratic congressional leaders miss this opportunity, many voters who were there for them in November likely won’t be in 2020.
Attorney David Jolly was a Republican congressman from Florida’s 13th district from 2014 to 2017. He left the GOP last September and is now a registered independent. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidJollyFL