Los Angeles Times

Why Democrats should not impeach Trump yet

- Doyle McManus’ column appears on Wednesday and Sunday.

In the wake of the redacted report from special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, Democrats were gripped by impeachmen­t fever: Did Mueller’s findings demand that Congress launch formal proceeding­s to remove President Trump from office?

But the debate, while vigorous, already seems to be receding. The surprise wasn’t how many Democrats demanded impeachmen­t, but how few.

Of 19 declared presidenti­al candidates, only three insisted that impeachmen­t begin now: Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris and Julian Castro. Even House progressiv­es were divided; firebrand freshman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York demanded action, but few joined her.

Instead, most House members are taking the advice of their speaker, Nancy Pelosi. The best course, she told them in a conference call Monday, is to take a deep breath, continue investigat­ing Trump’s conduct on many fronts, build more public support — and defer the question of impeachmen­t until later.

“We can investigat­e Trump without drafting articles” of impeachmen­t, Pelosi reportedly told her colleagues. “Let’s see where the facts take us.”

She’s right. There are several reasons launching impeachmen­t proceeding­s now would be a bad move for Democrats.

Politics first. Polls show that most voters don’t want Congress to impeach Trump, although as many as two-thirds of Democrats favor the idea. Impeachmen­t may be a winning issue in a Democratic presidenti­al primary, but a potential loser in a general election.

If impeachmen­t proceeding­s start, they’ll draw massive media attention — and that too would pose a danger for Democrats. Dramatic hearings over removing Trump could make it impossible for them to win attention to proposals on healthcare, education or any other issue.

That’s not only Pelosi’s view; it’s Bernie Sanders’ too.

“If for the next year and a half, going right into the heart of the election, all that the Congress is talking about is impeaching Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump … that works to Trump’s advantage,” the Vermont senator said Monday.

Even if the Democratic­run House votes to impeach the president, that merely sends the issue to the Senate, where the Republican majority would almost certainly reject it. Many voters would see a stillborn impeachmen­t as a waste of congressio­nal time — and Trump as a victim, if not a martyr.

An impeachmen­t that dies in the Senate would allow the president to declare himself acquitted of all charges, much as he has claimed — falsely — that Mueller’s report gave him a “total exoneratio­n.”

In the view of Pelosi and her advisors, a slower, more methodical approach is more likely to help turn Trump out of office.

An impeachmen­t based solely on Mueller’s report would rest on only one solid charge: Trump’s attempts to obstruct investigat­ions into his conduct.

Mueller found 10 episodes of potential obstructio­n, and Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, has said several appeared “impeachabl­e.”

But at least six House committees are investigat­ing issues Mueller didn’t touch — and those too could produce evidence for an impeachmen­t inquiry.

Nadler’s Judiciary Committee is probing whether Trump broke campaign finance laws or misused his office for personal gain.

Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank), who heads the Intelligen­ce Committee, is seeking informatio­n on Trump’s business ties to Russia.

Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles), chairwoman of the House Financial Services Committee, is looking into Trump’s other financial dealings — and so on.

In addition, federal and state prosecutor­s in New York have launched investigat­ions into Trump’s real estate empire, his taxes, contributi­ons to his inaugural committee, and the $280,000 paid to two alleged former mistresses.

If those inquiries turn up wrongdoing, an impeachmen­t process would have more charges to consider — and public support for impeachmen­t might grow.

Still, Warren and others have argued, there’s a question of principle here: Doesn’t the House have a constituti­onal duty to impeach the president?

“There is no political inconvenie­nce exception to the United States Constituti­on,” Warren said at a televised forum on Monday.

That’s true. But the Constituti­on merely makes impeachmen­t available to the House; it doesn’t require it.

Congress does have a duty to hold the president accountabl­e for his actions, but impeachmen­t is only one of several methods it can use. It’s an option, but not a goal in itself.

Democrats who hesitate to demand impeachmen­t hearings aren’t shirking their duty or excusing Trump’s conduct. They might just be exercising prudent judgment — and focusing on effective action instead of symbolic gestures.

In any case, Pelosi isn’t ruling out impeachmen­t as firmly as she did a month ago.

“If it is what we need to do to honor our responsibi­lity to the Constituti­on — if that’s the place the facts take us — that’s the place we have to go,” she told her colleagues.

But she’s still saying the question should wait until more evidence is gathered.

That seems sensible. After more investigat­ions, Americans will know better whether impeachmen­t is warranted. Better to make that decision slowly and well, than fast but badly.

 ?? Bill Clark CQ-Roll Call ?? “WE CAN investigat­e Trump without drafting articles” of impeachmen­t, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi reportedly told Democrats after the release of the redacted Mueller report. “Let’s see where the facts take us.”
Bill Clark CQ-Roll Call “WE CAN investigat­e Trump without drafting articles” of impeachmen­t, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi reportedly told Democrats after the release of the redacted Mueller report. “Let’s see where the facts take us.”
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