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All impeachment all the time spells bad news for American democracy

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The daily barrage of Russia and Robert Mueller news has transitioned into a constant volley of Ukraine and impeachment developments. Predictably, the same cast of characters are either breathlessly exclaiming that the Trump administration is again at the precipice of an existential crisis, or refusing to acknowledge the legitimacy of the inquiry or the seriousness of the actions of the president. The cable networks provide an endless loop of impeachment talk, from reports of leaked testimony by witnesses before supposedly closed committee hearings to supposedly impartial representatives and senators eager to proclaim on camera the guilt or innocence of the president before the evidence is even heard.

Meanwhile, opponents of the president can hardly contain their giddiness at shifting polls which show roughly half of respondents now support his impeachment and removal. Having abandoned hope that the special counsel would deliver a single fatal blow of collusion, the strategy against the president now appears to involve death from a thousand cuts. While presumably the best case for Democrats would be a quick impeachment and removal of Donald Trump, the next best case is a steady drumbeat of bad news through next fall. This way, even if the evidence does not materialize, perhaps the effect of scandal fatigue will do the trick.

This means we should expect one more year of this. That is not a good thing. Every hour of every day that the Washington establishment is fixated on impeachment, the issues affecting the daily lives of Americans are not addressed. Immigration, inner city crime, homelessness, gun violence, deficit spending, climate change, health care costs, white nationalism, and student loan burdens are all effectively ignored while our political leaders are consumed by this fight over impeachment. Partisan battle lines within Congress solidify, public anger is stoked, and what little chance exists of progress between the branches is minimized.

This is not to say Congress should neglect its oversight function. The need to address policy issues should not be used as an excuse to ignore the obligation to serve as a check and balance to the executive. Nor is it fair to argue there is nothing to see regarding the call with the Ukrainian president. After narrowly dodging a bullet in the Russia investigation, Trump handed his enemies a ripe issue to dig into. Elections have consequences, and House Democrats have every right to investigate this matter and determine if it rises to the level of an impeachable offense.

But Congress and the media can decide whether to tone this down and proceed in a more deliberate manner, or to maintain the endless fever pitch which unfortunately has become the new normal. While we do not know what House investigators will uncover, we do know that Trump will fight tooth and nail to defend himself, Republicans in Congress will likely remain steadfast behind him, and Republican voters will most certainly remain unimpressed with it all. This means the current stalemate will drag on through the fall, the holidays, and all the way to the election.

All sides have the opportunity to lower the temperature, conduct the oversight this situation requires, and resist it consuming all of their focus on work for the next year. Members of Congress will be judged by history and the American public on how they handle themselves during this critical time. The president will be judged based on what is found. Lawmakers should look past tactical advantages and think about how their actions affect the people on the sidelines whose lives continue regardless of what happens in Washington. That is what matters.

Joseph Moreno is a former federal counterterrorism prosecutor with the Department of Justice, a former staff member with the FBI 9/11 Review Commission, and a United States Army combat veteran. He is now an attorney in Washington. You can follow him on Twitter @JosephMoreno.

Tags Congress Donald Trump Election Impeachment President Robert Mueller
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