The Best Argument Against Impeachment

During his remarks on Wednesday, Robert Mueller basically affirmed what was in his report: that Trump would be indicted for obstruction of justice if he were not currently the president. In addition, he pointed to the process laid out in the Constitution for holding a president accountable, which is for congress to consider impeachment.

In response, the calls for impeachment have grown louder, ramping up a vigorous debate that is currently underway among Democrats. The person who is most responsible for making the call on impeachment, Representative Jerrold Nadler, chair of the House Judiciary Committee, issued the following statement on Wednesday.

Given that Special Counsel Mueller was unable to pursue criminal charges against the President, it falls to Congress to respond to the crimes, lies and other wrongdoing of President Trump – and we will do so.

You will notice that he didn’t use the i-word. But he did promise that congress will respond to the president’s crimes, lies, and other wrongdoing. That sounds a lot like the kind of thing we’re hearing from Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

There are all kinds of wild speculations about why people like Nadler and Pelosi are avoiding the word impeachment, even as they continue investigations. Most of them are based on assumptions made by the people who are speculating—which tells us more about them than the Democratic leaders.

But there is one argument against impeachment that actually makes logical sense—whether it is the basis for the strategy being employed by Pelosi and Nadler or not. It was affirmed by recent statements from Senate Republicans.

GOP senators say that if the House passes articles of impeachment against President Trump they will quickly quash them in the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has broad authority to set the parameters of a trial.

While McConnell is required to act on articles of impeachment, which require 67 votes — or a two-thirds majority — to convict the president, he and his Republican colleagues have the power to set the rules and ensure the briefest of trials.

“I think it would be disposed of very quickly,” said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).

How that would play out is that the House, along party lines, would vote in favor of impeachment. The referral would then go to the Senate, where “it would be disposed of very quickly.” What Graham means is that a quick trial would ensue, after which the Senate, also along party lines, would vote to exonerate the president.

What would be most alarming about that outcome is that the Senate would actually go on record endorsing the behavior that has been chronicled in the Mueller report. As a precedent-setting move, that would be extremely dangerous.

It is possible that the process of impeachment hearings in the House could change the picture for Senate Republicans—either by changing their minds or developing a groundswell of support among voters in favor of Trump’s removal from office. Given what we’ve witnessed over the last three years, that is extremely unlikely and would therefore be a huge risk for Democrats to take.

But the opposite argument is just as troubling, if not more so. If Democrats fail to take a stand against the impeachable offenses committed by this president, that is an equally precedent-setting move that would be extremely dangerous.

I believe that is the tightrope that Pelosi and Nadler are attempting to walk. Congress will continue investigations, pressing court cases where the president defies their subpoenas. If at any time that process either opens up crimes that Republicans can’t ignore or pushes Trump into doing something that finally changes the calculus, they can move quickly on an impeachment vote and send the matter to the Senate.

None of this is to suggest that this is the strategy that is being embraced by Pelosi and Nadler. It is simply the best argument out there for explaining their position.

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.