Mary Gay Scanlon, Pramila Jayapal, Veronica Escobar, and David Cicilline: Why we’re moving forward with impeachment
Then again, Representative Jamie Raskin insisted, “I’d say we are in an impeachment investigation.” And in an opinion piece published in The Atlantic Friday evening, Scanlon and three other members of the Judiciary Committee—David Cicilline, Pramila Jayapal, and Veronica Escobar—declared, “We will move forward with the impeachment process.”
Just days before, the committee’s Democratic majority had questioned Mueller with rigor and clarity, driving home the key message: Donald Trump had committed acts of obstruction of justice, they chorused, and if he had not been the president, he would have been charged with a crime. The force of their arguments was self-evident. During the press conference, though, that clarity evaporated. In shuffling toward impeachment proceedings, the Democrats are starting, however hesitantly, to take up their constitutional responsibilities in the face of what they themselves recognize as the president’s continued abuses of power. But their hesitation strips away the moral clarity in defense of the rule of law that impeachment proceedings might otherwise have offered.
The Democratic leadership in the House of Representatives has test-driven a range of arguments against the initiation of an impeachment inquiry or outright impeachment itself. At first, before the release of the Mueller report, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi insisted that Trump is “just not worth it,” worrying that impeachment would divide the country. The president “wants to be impeached so he can be exonerated by the Senate,” she later suggested. Yet at the same time, she called his actions “villainous to the Constitution.”
The muddled nature of the Democratic position was on full display following Mueller’s testimony. At a press conference after Mueller’s testimony, Pelosi declared that Trump’s actions would have resulted in indictment had he not been president, and accused him of engaging in a “cover-up”—but she did not change her view on impeachment. Standing alongside her was House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, who that day had accused the president of criminal conduct and “disloyalty” to his country—but who, the next morning, suggested that he had not yet reached the point of supporting impeachment, though the president’s defiance of a court order might “push [him] over the edge.”
The basic message is that the movers and shakers among the House Democrats believe the president to be a criminal who is disloyal to his country and abusive of his office, and yet somehow his conduct is not quite bad enough to justify the constitutional remedy designed to address the problem posed by such a leader. Pelosi and Schiff have both argued that impeachment proceedings are too dire a remedy to use in a situation in which the Senate would fail to convict an impeached president. But this is a separate argument, and to some extent one at cross-purposes, from their hints that Trump’s actions so far just don’t rise to a level that warrants impeachment. There may be a clear, forceful line of logic somewhere in here, but the House leadership has instead dabbled in a range of arguments while committing to none.