Opinion / Politics

House Democrats are Stuck – Censure or Impeachment?


Arguments for censure – versus House impeachment – are growing.  House Democrats are stuck.  Poll numbers show public support for impeachment sliding, only 12 percent of Independents favoring that draconian course.  Surely, our Founders are shaking their heads.

Objectively, the two articles introduced are almost laughable, if consequences were not serious.  One makes a high crime of seeking criminal justice through foreign policy, the other asserts an inventive “obstruction of Congress” claim – for which every administration back to Gerald Ford could be found guilty.  Vulnerable Democrats are having second thoughts.  Against them is Speaker Pelosi’s whip machine, which pushes Democrats – or else.  Here is the latest.

Currently, two Democrats have peeled off, Jeff Van Drew (D-NJ) and Collin Peterson (D-MN).  Neither supported the inquiry; their opposition to impeachment is predictable. They are two of 31 Democrats in districts Trump won easily in 2016.  Trump won Van Drew’s by 4.5 percent, and Peterson’s by 31 points.  That was before a roaring economy and misguided impeachment.

The plot thickens.  On December 9, “roughly ten” Democratic members from districts won by Trump “huddled” privately.  They caucused over an “11th-hour bid to weigh additional — though unlikely — options to punish the president for his role in the Ukraine scandal as the House speeds toward an impeachment vote next week.” 

The group included Democratic Congressmen Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.), Anthony Brindisi (D-N.Y.), and Ben McAdams (D-Utah.).  If those four peel off, six are gone. 

A public decision to vote against impeachment, if that is where the group goes, would encourage the remaining 25 in Trump-won districts to join them.  If just 11 more Democrats peel off, House leadership cannot hit 217 to carry impeachment forward.  Democrats have only 233 members, so losing 11 more (on top of the six) would put them at 216.

In other words, if Democrats are down by six, House leadership must whip this vote hard or lose votes essential to assuring impeachment.  To put impeachment to a vote on of the House and lose would be an embarrassment bigger than any faced so far.

The alternative is to back off, spin censure as a “magnanimous act,” pretending they are respecting the Constitution – in effect, adopting Republican talking points about impeachment as an inappropriate penalty for executive indiscretion.

That is why the discussion is live, and what happens next is genuinely unclear.  The Democrats are at an inflection point.  They can rush to impeach, satisfying their aggressive, vocal base – at the cost of dozens of seats, possibly control of the House.  Or they can lick their wounds, pull in their horns, and defend what they have done – without causing dozens of vulnerable members to crash and burn over impeachment next fall.

All this is based on logic, rationality and a thoughtful view of the moment, in context of both past and future.  That said, expect all this reasoning to count for little.  The Democratic House majority is alive with emotion, hurrying to a conclusion, likely unable to reassess the consequences of the headlong rush.  They have either intentionally or inadvertently painted many Democratic members into a corner.  Their leaders seem not to care.

The basis for this onrush is clear to most Americans.  Democratic leadership is infused with anti-Trump pathos.  They are excited to impeach, unlikely to pause for logic, rethinking rule of law, rationality or even the implications for fellow members of their enthusiasms.  They are more likely to cause fellow Democrats to cast the painful – probably fatal – vote.

All this said, even the House Whip, James Clyburn (D-SC), knows things are dicey. He announced this week leaders “expect to lose some” votes – with a tense smile.  The smile covers concern.  Even he knows Democratic leadership boxed members into a vote that could end congressional careers – to support articles and an outcome in which many do not believe. Worse still, rank and file Democrats know the outcome was – and remains – avoidable, despite rhetoric to the contrary.

When Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA), Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerald Nadler (D-NY), and House Speaker Pelosi (D-CA) say they “have no choice but to impeach,” that is hooey.  They have choices.  One would avoid further political bloodletting, resist personal animus, and lead to an adult resolution.  That is censure. 

Where will this end?  That remains to be seen, but the closer an impeachment vote comes, the more leadership hotheads in the Democratic caucus are giving rank-and-file members cold feet.  The obvious option – least bad remaining for overwrought Democrats – is probably censure.  That outcome could still emerge, putting impeachment to bed – fully and finally – before Christmas. 

Unfortunately, as with so many prior off-ramps, don’t count on Democratic leadership turning.  The American people, time-honored traditions, sacred institutions of our Republic, and even members of their caucus seem to matter less than seeing harm done to this president.  While censure remains entirely possible, impeachment is still most likely.  Surely, our Founders are shaking their heads.      

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