Democrats appear conflicted between calls by Tom Steyer and others to impeach Donald Trump and equally fervent calls from congressional leaders like Nancy Pelosi to avoid impeachment, at least until Robert Mueller finishes his investigation (which could take years.) But the tension is illusory, both sides are playing their proper role in our constitutional republic.
To many Americans, myself included, there is a clear case that Donald Trump has committed high crimes and misdemeanors and is unfit to hold the office of President. By accepting payments from foreign governments and agents at his hotels and other businesses, Trump is violating the Constitution’s emoluments clause. According to sworn testimony, Donald Trump directed Michael Cohen to break campaign finance laws by using unreported funds to influence his election through hush money payoffs to former mistresses and attempts to rig early polls in the Republican primary. Whether or not Trump personally conspired with Russia to illegally influence US elections and policy, he has obstructed justice by interfering with investigations about how his campaign chair Paul Manafort and National Security Advisor Michael Flynn conspired illegally with Russia. He has tampered and threatened witnesses and directed his family members to lie about their meetings with Russian agents during the campaign.
But to say that many Americans believe Donald Trump should be impeached over these acts, and others, is not to say that a solid majority of Americans believe so. While a majority of Americans disapprove of Trump’s presidency, a survey by Monmouth after last November’s election found only 36 percent supported impeachment, a number that was actually lower than previous polls from 2017. That was prior to Michael Cohen’s guilty plea and the government shutdown, so the public mood may have shifted yet again, but it’s still difficult to make the case that a sustained majority is definitely in favor of impeaching the president.
But rather than turning a blind eye to what many of us see as a frightening abuse of power that could pave the road toward authoritarianism, it is the duty of those of us who believe Trump should be impeached to convince a solid majority of our compatriots of that case. That is precisely what Tom Steyer is attempting with his Need to Impeach campaign.
Similarly, any Speaker of the House should hold off on scheduling a floor vote on impeachment until and unless it is clear that a majority of Americans would support it. Democratic committee chairs can and should hold hearings to bring evidence to light that might, or might not, convince voters that we cannot simultaneously uphold our Constitution and leave Donald Trump in office. Activists such as Steyer can and should communicate those facts to voters.
Those on the left who criticize Steyer and others seem to misunderstand his role as citizen for Nancy Pelosi’s role as Speaker. There is a difference between saying that in one’s own personal opinion Donald Trump deserves impeachment and insisting that the Speaker of the House hold a vote on impeachment immediately. Rather than simply pleading with Americans to sit on our hands and “wait for Mueller,” it would be more constructive if we could agree on a standard that only if met would we then expect the House to move forward on impeachment.
Impeachment should not be a process simply to reverse the results of an election, even if those results have become unpopular. Rather, it should be used for egregious acts that threaten the United States. The best people to judge that would be voters who support Trump’s agenda politically but cannot tolerate his self-dealing and undermining of our Constitution.
I’d propose that if 50 percent of voters in some states that voted for Trump conclude that Donald Trump warrants impeachment (which would likely mean that at least 55 percent support for impeachment nationally), and if at least ten House Republicans will privately assure Speaker Pelosi that they would vote for impeachment, then she should call for an impeachment vote on the floor of the House. Until and unless that happens, I’ll hold off on any criticism of the Speaker but ask my fellow Americans to hold off on criticizing Tom Steyer and others who are simply fulfilling their duty as active citizens.
Photo of Nancy Pelosi by Gage Skidmore