ANALYSIS: To impeach, or not to impeach? That’s the question facing Democrats
We now know that the Mueller report did not provide President Donald Trump the total and complete vindication that he has claimed.
In fact, the document reads like a tell-all saga of lies, obfuscation and alleged obstruction of justice by the president of the United States and his closest advisors.
There was no crime charged because the Justice Department’s own guidance prohibits indicting a sitting president.
WATCH explainer on impeachment: How to remove a sitting U.S. president from office
That means Robert Mueller’s choice to sit out a traditional prosecutorial decision has turned the behaviour of Trump and his close associates into a moral question for the American people and the Congress of the United States.
All of that puts Democrats in a very, very tough spot.
Eighteen months away from the next election, the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives faces an impossible decision: do they press ahead with impeachment proceedings against the president, or do they sit this one out and let voters decide in November 2020?
The argument for impeachment
The argument made by some, like senator and presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren, is that giving Trump a pass would send a signal that his bad behaviour is permissible by any future president.
“To ignore a president’s repeated efforts to obstruct an investigation into his own disloyal behaviour would inflict great and lasting damage on this country,” she tweeted.
There’s a further risk that doing nothing could even embolden Trump.
Mueller detailed Trump’s reaction when he learned of the appointment of the special counsel.
“This is terrible. This is the end of my presidency,” Trump is reported to have said.
But the end of the Mueller probe could mark the true beginning of the Trump presidency – one where he is unencumbered by the special counsel’s investigation or questions about the legitimacy of his own election.
WATCH: (April 20) Elizabeth Warren calls for impeachment proceedings
Remember, collusion with Russia was the central issue investigated by Mueller, and that question has hung over Trump’s head for nearly two years.
The ultimate finding that there was no collusion (though Mueller looked at the question of conspiracy instead) gives Trump an invaluable two-word slogan.
However troubling the entirety of Mueller’s findings is, it can’t compete with that central conclusion.
WATCH: Democrats say Trump impeachment ‘possibly coming’
Trump can now rally his base by claiming he truly was the target of what he so often claimed to be a “witch hunt.” He can push to investigate those who investigated him.
At the same time, Democrats risk the wrath of their own supporters if they don’t try to hold the president accountable. Their voters may tune out the next presidential campaign if they’re disaffected with a party that’s seen to be shirking its basic responsibility as a check and balance on the White House.
As we have written before, 53 per cent of Democratic voters say removing Trump from office should be a “top priority.” Those are voters the party needs to keep engaged through 2020.
The argument against impeachment
There’s a lot to be said for playing it safe when it comes to using the tool of impeachment.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi has tried to tamp down expectations within her own party, repeatedly calling impeachment proceedings against Trump “just not worth it.”
She has good reason to feel that way.
Remember, impeachment is a two-step process: the House of Representatives, which Democrats control, would bring forward and pass the articles of impeachment. Removing a president from office requires a two-thirds vote in the Senate, where Republicans hold the majority and are unlikely to do any such thing.
Politically speaking, impeachment is a hot potato. Democrats risk the appearance of a political hit job if they try to impeach Trump for reasons that don’t satisfy the general public.
WATCH (April 21): Giuliani says there’s ‘nothing wrong’ with Trump’s 2016 campaign taking info from Russia
Impeachment proceedings would also be an easy way for Trump to get his base all ramped-up, especially when he can claim that he was already cleared of the collusion question by Mueller.
Democrats in the House could try it anyway, knowing the move would fail in the Senate, but it may all come down to an even more fundamental question: do voters really care?
Anecdotally, there’s a lot of evidence to suggest the average American is more interested in health care, the economy, jobs, trade or education than they are the Mueller probe and Russian collusion.
How will those voters view a congress that is deadlocked over an issue that isn’t really being discussed around the dinner table? How will they respond to a party that initiates impeachment proceedings? Wouldn’t they rather talk about something else?
In short, there are no easy answers for those on either side of the impeachment debate. One thing no one should underestimate is President Trump’s ability to use action or inaction to his own advantage.
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