Impeachment: A Briar Patch With No Rabbits
Writing at CNN, National Political Reporter Maeve Reston states the obvious:
After four exhausting years of Trump that left this country deeply divided and democracy hanging by a thread, the nation breathed easier when Trump decamped Wednesday to Mar-a-Lago, his slashing vitriol silenced by a permanent suspension on Twitter. Next month’s trial will bring the outcast former President back to center stage, giving him yet another chance to claim that he is a victim in a never-ending partisan witch hunt and handing him a platform to rally his supporters at a time when he might have had otherwise had none.
Biden is caught in an almost impossible vise as the nation reengages in the most polarizing kind of proceeding that exists in Washington. He has insisted that Trump must be held accountable for the attempted insurrection at the Capitol on January 6, but he has been notably cool to the prospect of impeachment as he tries to unravel Trump’s legacy with more than two dozen executive orders in his first three days in office, while simultaneously working the phones to build broader legislative consensus.
The looming trial — which has the potential to inflame partisan divisions just as quickly as Biden was trying to squelch them — offers no visible upside to a President who was elected on his promise to bring the warring parties of Washington together and forge compromise in a Capitol that has been defined by strife.
That latter part was always going to be unicorn chasing. There was not going to be a mass movement towards unity as long as the powerbrokers in each party have yet to resolve all the political accounts payable from the Trump years. The nation on the whole is exhausted by now-former President Trump, but the political leaders and media that have been mainlining him for four years for their own benefit and to the detriment of the country are going to take a while to detox, far longer than the average American. A month’s worth of impeachment proceedings is not exactly going to be the Suboxone that eases those receptors in the body politic’s brain to allow for proper function.
Just to be clear, none of this absolves one Donald John Trump. I’m still of the opinion I wrote in the aftermath of the January 6th Capitol Riot that congress, upon reconvening the Joint Session that went into the wee hours of the following morning after the attack, should have impeached President Trump right then and there. Or, at the latest, the following day. The Senate should have taken it up immediately and all further business should have stopped until it was done. Instead, Speaker Pelosi did what she is prone to do and decided to game out the situation and play some angles that sounded better in caucus meetings than they looked in real life, to the effect of the house dithering and producing the Second Impeachment of Donald Trump some 7 days later. In the interim, both houses of Congress went into recess, hint one this was going to be a lot of show but the same old amount of congressional kabuki go, and it was immediately clear nothing was going to happen till after the inauguration. Now impeachment proceedings will begin on February 8th, over a month from the events of January 6th.
The calculations for why this was an epic failure in leadership are not just political ones, but common sense. Elected officials by and large are like water, finding the path of least resistance to tumble down from their seats of power on Capitol Hill when prodded to action by current events. He still might not have done it, but it would have at least put the onus on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to take immediate action while he was still visibly upset and showing as much anger publicly as Cocaine Mitch ever does. The smart move for Speaker Pelosi and Leader Schumer would have been to realize McConnell, at that moment, wanted to shed himself and the party of Trump, and the play was to rapidly to put in Cocaine Mitch’s hand the one constitutional cudgel the legislative branch has that might have actually got the job done. That might have been enough to get a conviction. As flawed as the impeachment was, both in dithering time away and in its actual charges (which should have been heavy on the president’s refusal to respond to the attack, not just his incitement of it and not just that day, but for years) I’m on record — and I still can’t believe I had to write this — that, were I a sitting house member on 13 January, I would have voted to impeach the president of the United States for his role and inaction in the January 6th Capitol Riot. Perhaps if the Senate was voting on impeachment on January 18th instead of February 18th or whenever it will be, we may have seen the first removed president in the history of our country.
But there is virtually no chance of a senate conviction now. If your goal in impeachment is to send a message — or, as my friend and colleague Michael wrote last week, to signal that in failing to impeach “The message will not be “don’t do this”. No, the message will be, “Next time, send a bigger mob,” — that message only resonates if the impeachment is successful. The delay in time and the technicalities involved in impeaching a no-longer-sitting president will give Republicans in the Senate all the wiggle room they need to not go on record on one of the worst moments in the history of congress or to judge for posterity the presidential author of it. A month removed from cowering in undisclosed locations from a rampaging horde is more than ample time for congress critters, their political and financial backers, and priors to once again jerk what meager amounts of conscience most of them have to begin with and return them to their base nature of seeing the masses that arrayed against the capitol on January 6th not as a threat to the country but as potential voters and donors they don’t want to upset. You can doctor it up all you want with talk of legalities and procedures, but such base cravenness is the only answer to the continued support for a now-decamped Donald Trump. The only other explanation is they are true believers, and neither are mutually exclusive.
In trying to be clever, Speaker Pelosi and Leader Schumer got their Second Impeachment, and will be able to once again try to hang the millstone of Donald Trump around the necks of the Republican Party. But they’ve also now hamstrung the beginning of the Biden Administration with the same old Trump drama, which will rear its head from the golden confines of Mar-a-Largo and return front and center to the political and media universe for at least the next month. President Biden has emphasized his “first 100 days” over and over again, and justly so. An incoming administration usually only gets one good legislative push to get a signature accomplishment, such as the ACA for President Obama or the tax cuts for President Trump. Then the gridlock sets in, midterms change the calculus, and little else gets done. With thinner margins in both houses than either of his predecessors enjoyed, President Biden is staring at the very real possibility of getting very little if anything through a congress whose second order of business after administration appointments is to grind to a halt to litigate the last president instead of pushing the agenda of the new. For the second time, Speaker Pelosi has forced a hopeless course of action knee-capped from the go by her and her party’s decision making, which if handled differently might have actually achieved what she claims to be after, instead of the inevitable quagmire of failure that will now commence.
The “First 100 Days” has been a media favorite since FDR, but President Biden hung a bunch of promises on his, from Covid to economic relief, and many of them are not going to be doable by Executive Order. At some point he has to get a signature piece of legislation through congress to set the course of his administration, and history shows the new president only gets one shot at it. Now his supposed allies on the hill have ensured at least a third of that is going to be spent on the very man Biden was elected to get rid of. Add in the failure to get a conviction, and it is very hard to see any positives for the country, for the congress, for the president, or for either party coming out of this looming mess.
Our political leaders are never as clever as they think they are. They think themselves brilliant for trying to time things, to game things out, to maximize their own plans to their own benefits. Instead of doing the right thing and moving immediately with their constitutional authority, they’ve now dithered and politicked their way into a massive briar patch that no one is getting out of without a good deal of scratching, bleeding, and tearing of priors and intentions. Rather than a clever move, they have now thrown the country into not only a no-win thicket of hot American political mess, but are repeating many of the same mistakes as the first failed attempt to convict President Trump. Necessary as impeachment it may be, and we are legally bound to play out the string now, the glaring truth of the outcome must be clearly acknowledged. With no conviction coming and a whole lot of wasted time and political capitol, there isn’t going to be a win for anyone in this Impeachment: The (delayed) Sequel. Donald Trump will once again “get away with it” because his opponents couldn’t get out of their own way to deal with him in the straightforward, constitutionally prescribed manner to do so, because it wasn’t politically sexy enough in the moment.
And it is their own fault.