Can Pelosi steer Democrats' ship past the impeachment rocks?

Can Pelosi steer Democrats' ship past the impeachment rocks?
© Aaron Schwartz

From Tom SteyerThomas (Tom) Fahr SteyerSteyer calls on Pelosi to cancel six-week 'vacation' for Congress Moulton campaign makes formal case to DNC to be added to debate stage Bullock makes CNN debate stage MORE’s donated millions to the daily rhetoric of presidential wannabes, the impeachment Sirens are luring the Democratic majority closer and closer to a treacherous shoreline. In this case, the crew has removed the beeswax plugs from their ears and a helpless Captain Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPelosi, Mnuchin reach 'near-final agreement' on budget, debt ceiling Wendy Davis launches bid for Congress in Texas Steyer calls on Pelosi to cancel 'six-week vacation' for Congress MORE (D-Calif.) is unable to turn them around.

The red-meat base of either party always demands that campaign hyperbole becomes policy. Too many Democratic activists, impeachment was a solemn promise. They want it fulfilled. For others it’s just plain hatred. Or, as Senate Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellThe Hill's Morning Report — Mueller Time: Dems, GOP ready questions for high-stakes testimony Election security to take back seat at Mueller hearing McConnell challenger faces tougher path after rocky launch MORE (R-Ky.) said in the wake of the no collusion/no obstruction Mueller Report, it’s an inability to let it go — they are still in denial.

Neither political party has the franchise on this. A 2014 CNN poll found that 57 percent of Republicans wanted to impeach President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaTrump struggles to win over voters reaping economic boom Michelle Obama weighs in on Trump, 'Squad' feud: 'Not my America or your America. It's our America' Media cried wolf: Calling every Republican a racist lost its bite MORE even though he had less than two years left in his term. My congressional office got regular calls about it.

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Democrats, however, are better at following through: According to former Rep. Bob Barr (R-Ga.), there were 17 impeachment resolutions filed against Richard Nixon; Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush scored two each. Then-Rep.Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) and 11 Democrats filed a monster 35-article impeachment resolution against George W. Bush. 

Democrats, it seems, favor quantity over quality.

In contrast, Republicans have moved when there was substance. This was the case with the 1998 Starr Report. It provided well-documented evidence of perjury, lying to a grand jury, encouraging a witness (Monica Lewinsky) to file false testimony and a false affidavit, and attempting to influence the witness through securing a job for her, by President Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonBiden campaign taps foreign policy vet Nicholas Burns as adviser: report Major health reform requires Democratic congressional dominance No presidential candidate can unite the country MORE.

Then-Rep. Steve Buyer (R-Ind.), who along with Barr was a Clinton impeachment floor manager in the House, said there were many other items that the House Judiciary Committee considered but did not include in the four articles that made it to the House floor. Every article received bipartisan votes of support and opposition. Two of the four passed and were considered by the Senate. 

Unlike the Starr Report, special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerThis week: Mueller dominates chaotic week on Capitol Hill Top Republican considered Mueller subpoena to box in Democrats Kamala Harris says her Justice Dept would have 'no choice' but to prosecute Trump for obstruction MORE has left the Democrats empty handed — reduced to legalistic hair splitting. Or, as that popular nonpartisan Peter Strzok, the now-fired FBI official, predicted at the start of the Russian investigation: “there’s no ‘there’ there.”  

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Along with a lack of substance, Democrats have a second problem — math. The National Republican Congressional Committee has targeted 55 Democratic House members; 20 represent districts won by Republicans in 2016, 31 have districts won by Donald Trump, and four have purple seats that are trending red. These members already have to deal with the Democrats’ staple of climate change, guns and abortion legislation, so do they really need one more wedge issue? This is especially a problem when so many ran on a sanctimonious promise of fixing Washington’s partisan toxic culture.

Along with these 55, there are at least 30 Democrats who were House members during Clinton's impeachment. All voted “No,” and most accompanied their votes with impassioned statements as to why impeachment was the wrong action to take. Outside groups are sure to seize upon their words and speeches for campaign fodder. Even members in safe districts don’t like to be called out as hypocrites.

In a wider sense, such recent history makes the case that this is only about politics and ousting Donald J. Trump. When Hillary famously said that the Starr investigation was "a vast right-wing conspiracy" designed to bring down her husband, we in safely insulated red seats thought it was ridiculous. 

Yet her words turned out to be brilliant, because they moved the focus from high crimes and misdemeanors to raw politics. Thus, Clinton's impeachment debate was reduced to partisanship and we Republicans lost the American people.

This brings us to the Democrats’ final problem. Poll after poll shows that Hank Hardhat does not like people fiddling around with his president or the American presidency. Doing so may seem fine to hipster Lionel Laptop, sitting in the coffee shop watching “SNL” clips on YouTube. But back in Squaresville, Hank's job is going well. His family members are working, and their wages are going up. He’s glad that ISIS is defeated and that the POTUS wants to secure the border. 

Putting America first might be a debate in California and New York but, to Hank’s friends in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, it is good policy. He doesn’t need partisan zealots in Congress to mess it up. He may not agree with President TrumpDonald John TrumpChelsea Clinton announces birth of third child Ukrainian officials and Giuliani are sharing back-channel campaign information: report Trump attacks 'the Squad' as 'racist group of troublemakers' MORE on everything but he damned sure doesn’t want him impeached.

As the Democratic House majority’s ship haplessly plunges onward to the rocky coast, no one knows better than its seasoned captain, House Speaker Pelosi, what a disastrous route it has chosen. Try as she may to change courses, the voices of the base are way too loud for her exhortations to be heard. It’s only a matter of time. 

Jack KingstonJohon (Jack) Heddens KingstonPanel: Why is Tom Steyer running for President? Panel: AOC claps back at Pelosi and Bernie surges in polls Ex-Trump campaign adviser praises Warren for introducing proposals with 'originality' MORE represented George’s 1st Congressional District from 1993 to 2015 and was vice chairman of the House Republican Conference from 2002 to 2006. He has chaired the Georgia Republican Party Foundation, a fundraising organization, since 2015 and was a senior adviser to President Trump’s 2016 campaign. He is now a public policy principal at the Washington law firm of Squire Patton Boggs.