In­for­ma­tion needed be­fore im­peach­ment

The Republican Herald - - OPINION - Steve and Cokie Roberts ( The Robert­ses write for United Fea­ture Syn­di­cate)

“I” words are in­un­dat­ing Wash­ing­ton. Pres­i­dent Trump in­sists his bor­der wall would im­pede an in­va­sion of il­le­gal im­mi­grants who in­jure in­no­cents. Democrats say Trump in­dulges an id­i­otic idea to in­sti­gate an im­passe and in­cite im­pas­sioned il­lu­sions.

But the most in­cen­di­ary “I” word is clearly “im­peach­ment,” which flared into promi­nence when Rep. Rashida Tlaib, a fresh­man from Michi­gan, pledged to sup­port­ers that House Democrats would “im­peach the moth­erf…” in the White House.

Her sen­ti­ment — if not her lan­guage — might have been pop­u­lar with Demo­cratic loy­al­ists, but party lead­ers were ap­palled at her prom­ise — and with good rea­son. Democrats would be mak­ing a huge mis­take, and play­ing right into Trump’s hands, if they use their new power in the House to push for im­peach­ment now, with­out a clear and com­pelling case that could com­mand broad bi­par­ti­san sup­port.

Trump’s sin­gle big­gest vul­ner­a­bil­ity is his im­pul­sive and reck­less tem­per­a­ment, which re­pels even many loyal Repub­li­cans. Im­peach­ment pro­ceed­ings with­out a rock- solid foun­da­tion would tar­nish the Democrats with a sim­i­lar rep­u­ta­tion for un­re­li­able in­sta­bil­ity.

Trump glee­fully seized on Tlaib’s out­burst, call­ing her “dis­grace­ful” and “highly dis­re­spect­ful to the United States of Amer­ica.” See, he was telling his core sup­port­ers, the sys­tem re­ally is rigged against us, and the Wash­ing­ton in­sid­ers want to steal the elec­tion we won fair and square.

Tlaib’s col­league, Michi­gan Demo­crat Dan Kildee, was on tar­get in call­ing her com­ments “ob­vi­ously not help­ful” and adding, “this fu­els a nar­ra­tive the Repub­li­cans will use.”

In­stead of mim­ick­ing Trump, the Democrats would be bet­ter off pro­vid­ing a stark con­trast with this im­prov­i­dent pres­i­dent. Be calm when he’s crazy, fac­tual when he’s fab­ri­cat­ing, rea­son­able when he’s ir­ra­tional. And use those defin­ing dif­fer­ences to chal­lenge him at the bal­lot box in 2020, a far more sen­si­ble way to re­move him from power than im­peach­ment.

Nancy Pelosi, the new Demo­cratic speaker, un­der­stands the dan­gers here and is re­sist­ing the de­mands from the red- hots in her cau­cus. “Im­peach­ment is a very di­vi­sive ap­proach to take, and we shouldn’t take it with­out the facts,” she said on MSNBC.

“Facts” is the key word here. Trump is the Prince of Pre­var­i­ca­tion — with 7,645 false or mis­lead­ing state­ments by the end of 2018, ac­cord­ing to The Wash­ing­ton Post — so the Democrats must be the ex­actly op­po­site, root­ing their de­ci­sions in a rig­or­ous de­vo­tion to re­al­ity.

Rep. Jerry Nadler of New York, the new chair­man of the House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee, which would han­dle any im­peach­ment ef­fort, ad­vises Democrats to hold their fire un­til spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller is­sues his re­port on Trump’s ac­tions dur­ing and after the cam­paign. “We have to get the facts,” he stressed on CNN. “We will see where the facts lead. Maybe that will lead to im­peach­ment. Maybe it won’t. It is much too early.”

But the pres­sures are grow­ing on Demo­cratic lead­ers to act quickly — and rashly. Two House mem­bers have al­ready filed ar­ti­cles of im­peach­ment, and one of them, Brad Sher­man of Cal­i­for­nia, in­sists, “Im­peach­ment is on the ta­ble. You can’t take it off the ta­ble.”

New York Times op- ed colum­nist David Leon­hardt re­cently posted a lengthy in­dict­ment of Trump’s sins and ar­gued “wait- ing is too dan­ger­ous. ... The pres­i­dent must go.” Vet­eran jour­nal­ist El­iz­abeth Drew, who cov­ered Water­gate, wrote in the Times that im­peach­ment “now seems in­escapable.”

His­tory teaches, how­ever, that cau­tion is a far bet­ter course. It took more than two years after the Water­gate break- in to build a case for im­peach­ing Pres­i­dent Nixon, and most Repub­li­cans joined the ef­fort only after White House tapes doc­u­mented vividly — and ir­refutably — the pres­i­dent’s com­plic­ity in ob­struct­ing jus­tice.

When House Repub­li­cans launched im­peach­ment pro­ceed­ings against Bill Clin­ton for ly­ing about his sex life, the case was so flimsy that the whole vendetta back­fired, boost­ing Clin­ton’s ap­proval rat­ings, un­der­min­ing Repub­li­cans in the 1998 elec­tions and forc­ing Speaker Newt Gin­grich to re­sign.

“I think we mis­han­dled the ( Clin­ton) in­ves­ti­ga­tion,” Gin­grich re­cently told Wash­ing­ton Ex­am­iner colum­nist By­ron York. “We should have been calmer and slower and al­lowed the coun­try to talk to it­self be­fore we reached judg­ment.”

More­over, while Rep. Tlaib is cheered on by left- wing ac­tivists and opin­ion mon­gers, she hardly speaks for the coun­try’s main­stream. A Quin­nip­iac poll last month asked vot­ers to name their “top pri­or­i­ties” for the com­ing Con­gress. Only 8 per­cent of the to­tal — and only 15 per­cent of all Democrats — picked im­peach­ment.

The “I” word that should guide Democrats right now is in­for­ma­tion, not im­peach­ment. As Nadler says, “see where the facts lead.” Only then is a de­fen­si­ble de­ci­sion on the next step pos­si­ble.

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