I’ve been thinking a lot about the I-word: “impeachment”. Although early on I was hopeful for it, I began to agree with Speaker Pelosi that to initiate the process might actually increase Trump’s popularity, especially if there was no chance of his removal by the Senate. I did think that investigation was vitally important, especially if it was timed right to bring out information during the 2020 campaign.
But as I’ve begun to see this administration’s reaction to the House’s attempt at oversight, I’m re-thinking my position. I’m also thinking that we may need to have multiple impeachment proceedings, with different charges. What started my latest thinking was articles like: “Trump’s high-stakes subpoena battle with House Democrats, explained” or Trump’s plan to go to the Supreme Court over Impeachment, or Trump directing his administration not to respond to subpoenas. It seems like a party that was 100% supportive of Congress doing its oversight role when Clinton or Obama was in office thinks it should abdicate that role when it is one of their own in office. Here’s a relevant quote from the linked Vox article:
President Donald Trump, while portraying himself as the victim in a political war, is foiling an aggressive House Democratic majority’s investigations with historic fervor by refusing to comply with many subpoenas and other oversight requests.
On one level, this is nothing new. Prior Congresses and White Houses have certainly found themselves at odds over how much information to disclose. But the blanket defiance of the Trump administration has reached a new level of obstruction in recent days.
“That’s about as blatant an obstruction of the lawful processes of a coequal branch of government as I’ve ever seen,” Laurence Tribe, a Harvard constitutional scholar, told the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin on Wednesday.
According to Politico, citing House Democratic sources, the Trump administration has denied or delayed the release of information sought by Democratic committees on more than 30 occasions, and half a dozen administration officials have refused to appear before House panels.
As such, I do think Congress should start impeachment proceedings, but initially not for charges based in the Mueller report (or at least, those wouldn’t be the primary charge). Rather, the primary charge should be abdication and failure to uphold the oath of office. As has been repeatedly demonstrated, this President has ignored the constitution through Executive Orders (later to be found unconstitutional), and directives to his staff (that are either unconstitutional or that thwart the constitution). The President has the responsibility to follow and uphold the Constitution, and he hasn’t done that. Making that clear in an impeachment charge would put the focus on something American, and would force his supporters to either recognize his behavior is unconstitutional, or publicly go on record as supporting unconstitutional behavior. In particular, it would make clear Congress’ oversight role and his thwarting thereof, and might — just might — push him into complying with the oversight. At that point, impeachment could be tabled and investigations could begin. Depending on their findings and the timing, the subject of impeachment could come back to the House. But the important thing is compelling Trump to comply with the subpoenas and to do a proper investigation. Congress has few tools to compel the President and his staff to comply — and the court process to do so would take forever — but impeachment proceeding could provide the necessary leverage.
As noted before, Congress has an oversight role to ensure the President does not abuse authority and acts in accordance with his oath of office. It has undertaken this role historically, from Teapot Dome to Watergate, from Iran-Contra to the “Blue Dress”, from the investigations into the Bush Administration to those of Hillary. This President should not be able to escape the scrutiny built into our Constitution, which he has sworn to uphold.