Let the impeachment games begin
Last night, the dam broke. After nearly two years of pent up frustration, political calculation, and frothing punditry came a tipping point with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi calling to impeach President Trump.
In Yorba Linda, California, if you listen carefully enough, you might be able to hear Richard Nixon spinning in his grave. The Republican president who pursued a grand vision of policy abroad and thuggish politics at home and faced impeachment and resignation now has a successor who pursues a thuggish policy abroad to damage political opponents at home.
Pelosi has been taking the temperatures of her colleagues for months. Over the weekend, the thermometer exploded. What exactly happened? Why did members of Congress change their political calculations? It began late last week. I spoke to several former House colleagues who suggested the president had crossed a line by somehow manipulating foreign policy power to dig up dirt on Joe Biden and his family.
There was also a powerful opinion column published in the Washington Post by seven freshman House Democrats with national security and military experience. Most of them represent competitive districts where impeachment seems unpopular. They wrote, “If these allegations are true, we believe these actions represent an impeachable offense.”
This sordid affair seems different from past Trump scandals. It is easier to explain. There is no legal parsing of the definition of exoneration. The special counsel report ended up producing a confusing white fog instead of a smoking gun. The Ukraine affair triggers a gut feeling in all but the biggest Trump diehards that presidents should not shake down foreign leaders for slimy opposition research on American citizens.
The decision by Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire to evade the law and refuse to disclose the whistleblower report to Congress was the final blow. Members realized that there was simply no way this administration was going to allow the House to exercise its constitutional oversight responsibilities. Democratic Representative Adam Schiff, who is the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, went on cable news over the weekend suggesting that impeachment might be an option. This marked a subtle but important shift in the Democratic caucus.
When I served in Congress, I often observed a portrait of Abraham Lincoln as a lawmaker hanging on the wall of the conference room in the office of Pelosi. She would point to it and remind that he said, “Public sentiment is everything.” For Pelosi and her colleagues in Congress, public sentiment is everything. So is the Constitution, and it needs some defending.
Steve Israel represented New York in Congress for 16 years and served as the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee from 2011 to 2015. He is now the director of the Institute of Politics and Global Affairs at Cornell University. You can find him on Twitter @RepSteveIsrael.