Why the rush to­ward im­peach­ment?

The Saline Courier - - OPINION - BY­RON YORK By­ron York is chief po­lit­i­cal cor­re­spon­dent for The Wash­ing­ton Ex­am­iner.

House In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee Chair­man Adam Schiff, leader of the Demo­cratic ef­fort to im­peach Pres­i­dent Trump, told col­leagues re­cently that im­peach­ment is “an ur­gent mat­ter that can­not wait.”

Why? Why is it so ur­gent that Trump, who has been in of­fice for nearly three years and will stand for re-elec­tion in 11 months -- why is it so ur­gent that he be im­peached and re­moved this very mo­ment?

The rea­sons prob­a­bly have more to do with Demo­cratic po­lit­i­cal pri­or­i­ties than with any­thing Trump has done or will do.

Schiff and Speaker Nancy Pelosi deny any po­lit­i­cal mo­tive in im­peach­ing the pres­i­dent. Per­ish the thought! Pelosi says Democrats are act­ing “sadly, prayer­fully, [and] with a heavy heart.” But they are rac­ing to get the job done by Christ­mas. They’re not even try­ing to hear from some key wit­nesses, like for­mer Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­viser John Bolton, be­cause they don’t want to take the time to go to court over it. The rush is be­cause Democrats are run­ning up against two very po­lit­i­cal dead­lines.

The first is the ap­proach of Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial cau­cuses and pri­maries.

The Iowa cau­cuses will be held on Feb. 3, and the New Hamp­shire pri­mary on Feb. 11. As a prac­ti­cal mat­ter, it will be very hard to get im­peach­ment done by then.

Look at the ex­am­ple of Bill Clin­ton 20 years ago: The House voted ar­ti­cles of im­peach­ment on Dec. 19, 1998. The Se­nate trial be­gan on Jan. 7, 1999, and Clin­ton was ac­quit­ted on Feb. 12. It seems un­likely that House Democrats, who will ul­ti­mately have to deal with a Repub­li­can-con­trolled Se­nate, will be able to move any faster.

Im­peach­ment dur­ing the pri­maries cre­ates mul­ti­ple prob­lems for Democrats. One is that it un­der­scores, re­gard­less of the dis­claimers, the es­sen­tially po­lit­i­cal na­ture of this im­peach­ment. The fact is, Democrats are im­peach­ing the pres­i­dent in an elec­tion year with the goal of ren­der­ing him un­electable against the Demo­cratic can­di­date. It doesn’t get more po­lit­i­cal than that.

Then there is the prac­ti­cal prob­lem im­peach­ment cre­ates for Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates. At the mo­ment, there are six Demo­cratic se­na­tors run­ning for pres­i­dent. Pre­sum­ably, some will drop out by next Fe­bru­ary. But it seems likely that other se­na­tors, like top con­tenders El­iz­a­beth War­ren and Bernie San­ders, will still be in the run­ning. In­stead of cam­paign­ing, though, they will be chained to their desks in the Se­nate cham­ber in Wash­ing­ton for the du­ra­tion of a Se­nate im­peach­ment trial. That’s not the best way for a can­di­date to spend the weeks lead­ing up to cau­cuses and pri­maries.

The other rea­son for the Demo­cratic rush is the po­ten­tial for im­peach­ment fa­tigue. Some re­cent polls have shown pub­lic sup­port for im­peach­ment lev­el­ing off and even tip­ping down­ward. The pub­lic has al­ready been through years of the Trump-rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion, cul­mi­nat­ing in this year’s aborted ef­fort by Democrats to im­peach the pres­i­dent on the ba­sis of the Mueller re­port. Then, in Septem­ber, Democrats turned on a dime and sought to im­peach him in the Ukraine mat­ter.

Pelosi and her col­leagues clearly saw im­peach­ment as a winner; she de­clared an in­quiry even be­fore the White House re­leased the tran­script of the now-fa­mous phone call be­tween Trump and Ukrainian Pres­i­dent Volodymyr Ze­len­sky. But some­thing has hap­pened since then. At the be­gin­ning of the Trump-ukraine mat­ter, the pub­lic mostly heard a nar­ra­tive cre­ated by Democrats and their al­lies in the me­dia. Trump had abused power, he had en­gaged in a quid pro quo, or bribery, or ex­tor­tion, and he had jeop­ar­dized na­tional se­cu­rity. It sounded bad. Sup­port for im­peach­ment grew. Then came pub­lic hear­ings. Democrats got enor­mous ex­po­sure for their case against the pres­i­dent -- wall-to-wall cov­er­age on the big three broad­cast net­works and all the ca­ble news chan­nels. And what did a sig­nif­i­cant por­tion of the pub­lic see? A baf­flingly com­pli­cated tale of bu­reau­cratic in­fight­ing, mostly about Ukraine. Is this what Democrats would re­move the pres­i­dent for? Sup­port for im­peach­ment stopped grow­ing.

As it turned out, the much-awaited hear­ings had ex­actly the op­po­site ef­fect than Democrats hoped. Pelosi and Schiff wanted to cre­ate a com­pelling TV show to dra­ma­tize Trump wrong­do­ing. Mil­lions of Amer­i­cans would be won over. In­stead, the pub­lic got some­thing that a rea­son­ably at­ten­tive viewer would have a hard time fig­ur­ing out.

So now the quickie hear­ings are over and Schiff and his In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee col­leagues are at work -- prayer­fully, no doubt -- on a re­port of their find­ings. That re­port will go to the House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee, which will swiftly draft ar­ti­cles of im­peach­ment. What­ever ar­ti­cles the com­mit­tee ap­proves will then be sent to the full House for a vote.

By that time, Christ­mas will be fast ap­proach­ing. If House Democrats make that dead­line, and ap­prove ar­ti­cles against the pres­i­dent, a Se­nate trial will fol­low after New Year’s. And then will come Iowa.

So Schiff is rush­ing, rush­ing, rush­ing.

(Yes, the House is on a Thanks­giv­ing break, but the im­peach­ment staff is hard at work.) Im­peach­ment is “an ur­gent mat­ter that can­not wait.” Be­cause pol­i­tics de­mands it.

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