It is a quirk of our current highly polarized political environment that a party can plausibly claim its opponents are acting in a partisan fashion by insisting upon doing so itself. It takes two to tango, but refusing to tango takes only one. And if Democrats and Republicans aren’t dancing together, then any action becomes a partisan action—and can be denounced as such.
And so it was last week that, confronted with a decision by the Democratic leadership of the House of Representatives to authorize procedures for the public phase of consideration of the president’s impeachment, House Republicans voted as a bloc against the measure and thereby enabled themselves to decry the vote as partisan. The criticism was, of course, accurate. Unlike the House votes to authorize the impeachment inquiries of Presidents Richard Nixon or Bill Clinton, this vote came very nearly along perfect party lines—with two Democratic House members joining the Republicans and only a single former Republican, the now party-less Justin Amash, voting with the Democrats.
But the argument also elides the source of the partisanship. What is notable about the vote is not that Democrats, looking at the information available to the House, want to consider impeaching President Donald Trump. It is rather that Republicans, looking at the very same information, uniformly do not want even to consider it—that they purport to be outraged not by the president’s behavior but by the processes through which whistle-blowers complain about that behavior, by the means Democrats employ to consider such complaints, and by the expectation that a president will act on behalf of some vision of the public interest rather than putting national-policy tools at the service of his own personal and political interests.