Im­peach­ing Trump is just the end of the be­gin­ning

The Saratogian (Saratoga, NY) - - FRONT PAGE - EJ Dionne E.J. Dionne is on Twit­ter: @ EJDionne.

When the his­tory of the events of De­cem­ber 18, 2019 is writ­ten, two ear­lier mo­ments will loom large.

The hinge de­ci­sion was made by seven po­lit­i­cally vul­ner­a­ble House Democrats in Septem­ber. Vet­er­ans of ser­vice in ei­ther the mil­i­tary or the in­tel­li­gence agen­cies, they pub­lished a Wash­ing­ton Post es­say en­dors­ing the open­ing of an im­peach­ment in­quiry.

Let’s give all of them the recog­ni­tion they de­serve: Reps. Gil Cis­neros of Cal­i­for­nia, Ja­son Crow of Colorado, Chrissy Houla­han of Penn­syl­va­nia, Mikie Sherrill of New Jersey, Elissa Slotkin of Michi­gan, and Abi­gail Span­berger and Elaine Luria of Vir­ginia.

“The pres­i­dent of the United States may have used his po­si­tion to pres­sure a for­eign coun­try into in­ves­ti­gat­ing a po­lit­i­cal op­po­nent, and he sought to use U.S. tax­payer dol­lars as lever­age to do it,” they wrote. “This fla­grant dis­re­gard for the law can­not stand.”

And so they took their own stand.

They ig­nored the pun­dit chat­ter that im­peach­ment would only help Trump. In­stead, they in­sisted that their “oaths to de­fend the coun­try” took pri­or­ity. If this meant an­gry town meet­ings and, pos­si­bly, elec­toral de­feat, so be it. “How can I sit in a bunker?” Slotkin, a vet­eran of the CIA and the State and De­fense de­part­ments asked on MSBNC’s “Morn­ing Joe” shortly be­fore the im­peach­ment de­bate opened. “There are some mo­ments when you can’t just look at a poll.”

The other key date, of course, is Nov. 6, 2018, when Amer­ica’s vot­ers turned out in record num­bers to elect a Demo­cratic House ma­jor­ity — by a mar­gin of nearly 10 mil­lion votes — that in­cluded Slotkin and her col­leagues. Yes, health care, guns and eco­nom­ics mat­tered on that day. But it was re­vul­sion over Trump’s many out­rages that pow­ered the surge to the polls.

Rep. Andy Kim, D-N.J., was an un­der­dog in a Trump district when I spoke to him the sum­mer be­fore the elec­tion. He sensed some­thing spe­cial was hap­pen­ing. The ques­tions that “cut through” with vot­ers, he said then, were these: “Do you feel like there is a steady hand at the wheel? Do you feel like you’re in good hands right now?”

It was thus not sur­pris­ing that de­spite his very nar­row 2018 mar­gin, Kim, another a na­tional se­cu­rity pol­icy vet­eran, an­nounced his sup­port for im­peach­ment. And his queries about the ab­sence of a steady hand at the top seemed all the more ap­pro­pri­ate af­ter Trump’s un­hinged let­ter on Tues­day to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi de­nounc­ing im­peach­ment.

The let­ter was the rant of an ex­trem­ist. The pres­i­dent even ac­cused Pelosi of “of­fend­ing Amer­i­cans of faith” by say­ing that she prayed for him. His words would, in nor­mal times, have em­bar­rassed a talk ra­dio host, let alone a pres­i­dent. They were also, pre­dictably, dis­con­nected from the truth. The Post’s Glenn Kessler wrote that the let­ter would “add a cou­ple dozen new en­tries” to the pa­per’s Fact Checker data­base of false or mis­lead­ing Trump claims.

But the let­ter only un­der­scored Trump’s de­ter­mi­na­tion to lie and bully his way to re-elec­tion. As a re­sult, Wed­nes­day’s push for im­peach­ment must be seen in light of Win­ston Churchill’s cel­e­brated dec­la­ra­tion when the tide in World War II be­gan turn­ing in Bri­tain’s fa­vor: “Now this is not the end. It is not even the be­gin­ning of the end.

But it is, per­haps, the end of the be­gin­ning.”

Which means that what hap­pens next will be de­ci­sive. Re­pub­li­can claims that this is purely a par­ti­san process must be chal­lenged at their core. It is par­ti­san only be­cause Re­pub­li­can politi­cians lack the guts to ac­knowl­edge the ob­vi­ous: A pres­i­dent who presses a for­eign power to smear a do­mes­tic po­lit­i­cal op­po­nent is en­gaged in despo­tism. Pe­riod.

So when the is­sue comes be­fore the Se­nate, Democrats can­not back down from their leader Chuck Schumer’s de­mand that wit­nesses be called in a real trial. Those Re­pub­li­can sen­a­tors who have claimed in­de­pen­dence from Trump — par­tic­u­larly those up for re­elec­tion — must be forced to go on record, re­peat­edly if nec­es­sary.

There is no mid­dle ground. Ei­ther sen­a­tors sup­port a full ac­count­ing of the facts, or they are cov­er­ing up for Trump.

In the mean­time, the House vote can­not halt ef­forts to hold Trump ac­count­able. On the con­trary, every re­source that House com­mit­tees have must be used to help ex­pose the pro­found cor­rup­tion of Trump’s gov­ern­ment — and to be on watch for fur­ther abuses of power.

For one sen­ti­ment in Trump’s let­ter was true. “The vot­ers are wise,” he wrote. They are, and they de­serve all the in­for­ma­tion that can be un­earthed so they can ex­er­cise that wis­dom.

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