Voting On Impeachment Is the Senate GOP’s Nightmare

September 25, 2019
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(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Just like that, here it is: Impeachment proceedings for President Trump are officially underway in the House of Representatives. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has spent the past year working feverishly to dissuade her caucus from jumping into an impeachment inquiry on the grounds that it might actually help Trump politically, has plainly decided at last that she is out of options. In a Tuesday afternoon speech, Pelosi laid out her case, quoting the American Founders and slamming Trump as a president who has routinely spurned or ignored their constitutional limits on his powers—quoting, at one point, the president’s memorable assertion that “I have an Article II where I have the right to do whatever I want as president.”

“This week, the president has admitted to asking the president of Ukraine to take actions which would benefit him politically,” Pelosi said. “The actions of the Trump presidency revealed dishonorable facts of betrayal of his oath of office and betrayal of our national security and betrayal of the integrity of our elections.”

Most Republicans will respond to this in one of two ways. Some, like the president and his more histrionic allies, will use it as a chance to sound a dire warning about the advance of the militant left: They’re coming for your duly-elected president and they won’t stop until they’ve taken all political power from you, destroyed your way of life, and thrown you to the wolves for wrongthink! Others, more procedurally oriented, will simply scoff that Democrats are wasting their energy on a wild goose chase, given that even a successful impeachment effort would all but certainly founder when it came to a conviction vote in the Senate. Some don’t even think the thing will cause Republicans much of a sweat.

There’s no question Republican lawmakers will play this card. The problem is that it’s a dodge. What the Ukraine scandal shows us is that the right time to get Trump out of office isn’t 15 months from now, it’s as soon as lawmakers possibly can.

This isn’t the most eye-popping detail of the Ukraine scandal timeline, but it may be the most revealing: Trump made his now-infamous call to the Ukrainian president on July 25, one day after special counsel Robert Mueller gave his much-ballyhooed testimony about the results of his probe into election meddling before a Congressional committee.

Mueller Day was a moment of great triumph and relief for Trump: it marked the practical end of a scandal that had dogged him relentlessly for nearly two years. The Democrats and the Fake News Media had been so sure that he had conspired with a foreign government to meddle in a U.S. election. But he’d beaten the rap, and made them all look like grasping, overeager fools!

So how better to celebrate than with a little leaning on a foreign government to meddle in a U.S. election?

The point here is that President Trump has shown us he can’t be taught not to transgress the constitutional boundaries of his office exactly as often as he wishes. If two years of Russiagate headaches weren’t enough to get the president wise to the idea that siccing foreign nations on his political opponents is a gambit better left alone, you can bet a scolding from Nancy Pelosi won’t get the job done for next time, either. Trump does what he wants, and sometimes the things he wants to do are apparently high crimes and misdemeanors. If they don’t get him out now, who would put money on the possibility that he simply chooses on his own never to do those things again?

Of course, it’s true: Getting him out isn’t going to happen, not with Republicans in the Senate fully in Trump’s thrall. But the idea that there will be no price to pay for Republicans for stonewalling is remarkable. If you’d mapped this scenario out in advance to Republicans in 2016, they’d rightly see it as an absolute worst-case scenario for a Trump presidency: a case where the wrongdoing is clear-cut and intolerable, and every elected Republican is forced to choose between condoning the wrongdoing and bringing down the terrible wrath of the president on his own head.

Does that sound like a lay-up to you?

Andrew Egger

Andrew Egger was a senior writer at The Bulwark.