The House of Representatives is moving forward with a vote on impeachment this week. After weeks of debate in Adam Schiff’s Intelligence Committee, and another week of non-stop rancor in Jerry Nadler’s Judiciary Committee, Nancy Pelosi is moving the House toward a full vote.
The time for doing hits on cable TV is over — it’s now time for House to put their political careers where their mouth is on President Donald Trump’s conduct.
And if you’re a House Democrat, you’re feeling more than heat — you’re on the stovetop burner. Jeff Van Drew, a congressman from New Jersey, opposes impeachment. He was a Democrat. Emphasis on the past tense there; he’s reportedly switching parties and becoming a Republican ahead of the impeachment vote.
And Van Drew isn’t just a nobody; Politico notes of him: “Democratic leaders saw Van Drew as one of the few Democrats who could win in a pro-Trump district.”
Now, he’s switching parties because of the partisan tilt of the impeachment process. Van Drew wasn’t a long-serving Democrat, either — he’s one of the freshman Democrats who was elected in 2018’s House “blue wave.”
Political insiders said that Democratic leaders had spent years trying to get Van Drew to run and flip that district — and now, he’s gone.
Van Drew’s flip is what happens in a partisan process where one side has chosen to shove their plans through without compromise. Using the executive power to get dirt on a political rival is certainly not presidential behavior. But what Democrats have done is utterly nuke any credibility their central allegation had.
They’ve turned a constitutional process into a circus.
Perhaps it’s fitting that an old New York Times editorial from Dec. 16, 1998 — 21 years ago this week — has resurfaced. The Times, arguing for then-President Bill Clinton to receive censure, but not impeachment, argued for bipartisanship in the Senate.
They wanted the parties to work toward “a punishment that fixes Mr. Clinton in history as a [p]resident who lied under oath, but avoids the taint of partisan vengeance associated with the House impeachment vote.”
But under the present circumstances of a polarized party-line vote, it would assault the Constitution as well as public confidence in that most precious American asset, the orderly, quadrennial surrender of power from one Chief Executive to another and often from one party to another.
That transfer of power without gunfire or legislative chicanery is the jewel in the crown of American democracy. It should not be sacrificed over Bill Clinton’s inability to resist looking at thong underwear. If the Republicans remove him by simple force of numbers, the debate over whether this was a political coup will continue for decades and could become a bigger threat to civic stability than Mr. Clinton’s mendacity.
And let’s be clear here — that 1998 editorial is right on the gravity of impeachment. As I’ve said many times, the point of impeachment is to fix a breach of trust. The Founders knew that any impeachment, especially of the president, would be a highly partisan affair.
The only reason that Congress should even consider impeachment is to fix a grave breach of trust; impeachment is about restoring confidence in institutions when the president has so breached it that immediate action is required. If the president has committed the type of activity where he’s profoundly breached the public’s trust, then it’s up to Congress to become the holder of that trust for the people.
That’s what Democrats had to do in this process — and that’s precisely what they’ve failed at doing. FiveThirtyEight’s impeachment poll shows that only 9–10% of Republicans favor impeachment, and support for impeachment is underwater with independents, at around 43%.
RealClearPolitics shows the gap between those who support impeachment and removal and those who oppose it sits at 0.8 points — practically a dead tie.
We know that in battleground states — places like Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and other swing states — support for impeachment is even lower. These are the states that will decide in the 2020 election. And as I pointed out above, the partisan process Democrats are leading has already lost them one of their recruits in Van Drew.
What Donald Trump did was wrong. But what Democrats have done in response has turned what should be a check on the executive into a circus.
Democrats complain that they aren’t given access to witnesses and evidence, but also refuse to challenge the notion of executive privilege — something any president would fight for in any process. Democrats complain of abuse of power, but have managed to turn that accusation into a partisan affair.
Democrats are destroying the public’s trust in institutions they claim to defend. And that’s why, no matter what happens in the vote this week, nothing will change for the public. No one will regain their trust.
We risk what the Times said would happen in 1998: “The debate over whether this was a political coup will continue for decades and could become a bigger threat to civic stability” than Donald Trump’s behavior.