Why are the Democrats’ impeachment charges so vague and weak? One lawyer affiliated with the Trump campaign has a theory.
The Democrats intentionally watered down their articles of impeachment to provide election insurance for moderate Democrats in swing districts, argues Trump campaign legal adviser Jenna Ellis. Several moderate Democrats backed impeachment Monday, but a number of them still remain undecided.
“It’s impossible to predict how the final impeachment vote will turn out, but it seems to me that Democrats may be trying to create a space for some of their caucus to safely vote ‘no’ and save their seats next November,” Ellis opined.
Before backing impeaching in September, Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) had long appeared sensitive to political blowback on vulnerable Democrats in districts that Trump carried in 2016. But that prudence is a part of the past now, and the pressure on moderate Democrats has swelled to a climax this week as the party moves towards a full House vote Wednesday.
While a vote to impeach Trump seems all but certain, it’s possible that Democratic leaders are still trying to thread the needle between impeachment and protecting those moderates. It’s obviously too late for the most rabid partisans like Adam Schiff (D-CA) to back out now, but more watered-down charges on nebulous offenses — “abuse of power” with no underlying crime and “obstruction,” apparently just for resisting the sham — could provide an exit ramp for moderate Democrats trapped between a rock and a hard place, Ellis writes.
Monday saw a handful of House Democrats in Republican-leaning districts come out in favor of impeachment, including Reps. Elissa Slotkin (D-MI) and Abigail Spanberger (D-VA), who faced backlash from constituents for their decision. Still, at least 10 Democrats — including Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) — are uncertain, and Rep. Jeff Van Drew (D-NJ), who is switching party affiliation, and Colin Peterson (D-NJ) have announced that they will vote no.
The final charges are certainly more timid than the dramatic talk about “bribery” and speeches invoking the Founding Fathers would have suggested, and that could be by design. On one hand, the Democrats could be setting the bar low to make justifying Trump’s impeachment easier — but they could also be setting such a low standard so that moderate Dems could defect without being seen as betraying their party, Ellis writes (although given the rabid response to defectors like Van Drew, this is questionable.)
There is little doubt that even those Democrats planning to vote for impeachment are taking a risk, as polls show rising disfavor of impeachment in critical swing states. Some Democrats have floated censure as a safer alternative to impeachment, including Gabbard.
But Americans will know the score when Democrats finally vote Wednesday, after nearly three months of dramatic hearings, speeches, and sensational theatrics. However many Democrats defect, it is certain to be a party-line vote, with all Republicans expected to vote no.
From there, impeachment will move to the Senate, where Republicans will take the lead. Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is already facing backlash after vowing to move swiftly toward Trump’s acquittal in “total coordination” with the White House, but McConnell hasn’t been cowed — the Republican firmly shot down witness requests from his Democratic counterpart Chuck Schumer (D-NY) Tuesday, saying he would not entertain a “fishing expedition” in his chamber.
The Senate is meant to act as judge and jury, to hear a trial, not to re-run the entire fact-finding investigation because angry partisans rushed sloppily through it.
Indeed, the charges Democrats brought forth were even a disappointment to some progressives, who had hoped to see Trump indicted for the Russia collusion hoax, violating the Emoluments Clause, and other imagined misdeeds. Democrats are now admitting that the Russia hoax was a nothing burger and that, despite their extreme rhetoric, there’s no there there.
The bottom line is that if Democrats really believed the things they said, they’d throw the book at Trump for everything of which he has been accused — from bribery to conspiring with the Kremlin. Whatever the motive for diluting the charges, it was all done in the spirit of brazen political calculation, not out of patriotic duty.