Impeachment stalemate is result of two decades of partisan hypocrisy
As the year ends with an undelivered impeachment led entirely by House Democrats, both parties fighting over how a trial should be conducted with Senate Republicans in control, and the public still split on whether President Trump should have been impeached in the first place, we have an opportunity to reflect on how we reached this moment. After months of hearings in this proceeding, why does the public remain so divided on the facts and standards that are voiced by our leaders in Washington?
Some contend the blame falls with Trump, whose actions left Democrats no choice but to protect our election system and rein in an out of control president whose conduct was unacceptable and even possibly criminal. Trump supporters submit that witch hunt investigations left Democrats and their media enablers crying wolf so many times that they no longer know what to believe. But this impasse is really the result of decades of mixed messages and hypocrisy that can be traced largely to how both parties handled the rise and fall of President Clinton two decades ago.
As the first Baby Boomer president, Clinton was marketed as part of a new moderate class of Democrats seeking to lead America after the Cold War. Rumors of marital infidelity were cast aside during his candidacy, and he rode the savings from military cuts and a technology bubble to economic prosperity as president. When the Whitewater investigation by Kenneth Starr came up empty on financial crimes but uncovered evidence of an affair with a White House intern, Democrats circled the wagons telling us that misconduct by Clinton was purely personal and should be forgiven. While there is no doubt that he broke the law by lying to a federal grand jury and tampering with witnesses, Democrats nonetheless argued that his perjury and obstruction were not enough to remove him from office.
Meanwhile, Republicans marched ahead with impeachment in Congress despite near universal opposition by Democrats and strong resistance from the public. Ignoring offers by Democrats to censure Clinton as an alternative course of action, Republicans stubbornly dragged us through an impeachment proceeding and a Senate trial simply destined for failure without garnering a majority much less the supermajority votes needed for removal. Clinton finished his second term more popular than ever.
In other words, Democrats convinced the country that “character does not matter,” impeachment must be bipartisan and popular, and not every crime justifies removing a president. Now all those positions have flipped. Democrats ruthlessly assail the character of Trump on a daily basis, they had no problem impeaching him despite the lack of Republican support, and they say that they had no prosecutorial discretion and had to move forward knowing full well they lack the votes in the Senate for removal.
Not to be outdone, of course, Republicans have also walked away from any semblance of consistency in their governance. While reasonable people can disagree on how bad the conduct of Trump on the Ukraine matter was, it is hard to deny it was seriously concerning if not outright impeachable. The law and order party of Ronald Reagan, however, has proven repeatedly unwilling or unable to exert any control over Trump, seemingly eager to forfeit moral high ground for short term victories.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi should stop playing games and release the articles to the Senate for action at once. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who was on solid ground for insisting on the same process that governed the Clinton trial, took a big step back by then saying that the trial would be in “total coordination” with the White House. McConnell should retract that comment immediately, acknowledge that the conduct of Trump is at least worthy of serious scrutiny by Congress, and pledge to conduct a trial that will be fair to all sides. Both parties still have the opportunity to get this process right, with the House setting forth the arguments and evidence, and the Senate hearing the case and voting on the fate of the president.
America closes the decade with a booming economy and a military force second to none, yet the country faces serious issues to address such as immigration policy, race relations, gun control, and the environment. Our leaders in Washington choose to play political games and apply whatever positions suit them at the moment. It is no wonder that we have become numb to what they say, retreating to our respective party labels and those media outlets that repeat what we want to hear rather than the difficult truths we need to hear. This impeachment is a mess, but it is a chance for Republicans and Democrats to restore some of the credibility they have lost over the years. Let us hope they step up to the task in the new year.
Joseph Moreno is a former federal prosecutor at the Justice Department and a United States Army combat veteran. He currently practices law in Washington. You can follow him on Twitter @JosephMoreno. The views expressed in this column are his own and are not those of his employer.