Through their debate over the articles, Democrats might have to decide what’s more important: pursuing a matter that they believe has the most obvious political utility—or making a more comprehensive statement about how an American president is allowed to act.
All of Trump’s offenses “have a legal and a literary dimension to them,” in that they tell a story to the American people, Representative Jamie Raskin of Maryland told me in a recent interview, comparing the articles of impeachment to the Declaration of Independence, in which Thomas Jefferson listed 27 grievances against King George III. “The story needs to come through as well,” said Raskin, a member of the Judiciary Committee. “It’s not just this random, one-off thing.”
For the most part, House Democrats agree that the Ukraine scandal is the most pressing of the allegations against the president: Trump asked a foreign leader, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, and has subsequently tried to stonewall Congress’s attempts to investigate. Pelosi and others argue it’s the most straightforward example of Trump’s abuse of power; it’s more easily digestible than anything Special Counsel Robert Mueller dug up; and because it involves a Democratic presidential front-runner, it’s also much more relevant to the upcoming election. Plus: The president’s ask to Ukraine is what persuaded so many moderates to endorse an impeachment inquiry in the first place. That combination of clarity and urgency, many Democrats believe, should be enough to rustle up much more public support than before for the impeachment inquiry, which the latest national polls show a slim majority of Americans support.
“For me, it was a really discrete and comprehensive bite-size example of something we should be concerned about,” Representative Chrissy Houlahan of Pennsylvania told me. She was one of seven freshman lawmakers to endorse the inquiry for national-security reasons in an op-ed in late September. When it comes time to spell out the articles, her “personal preference,” she said, would be “to keep the focus narrow.”
The current plan is for Democrats, led by the House Intelligence Committee, to continue gathering information about Trump’s request of Ukraine through witness testimony and subpoenaed documents; today, Democrats plan to question the acting ambassador to Ukraine, Bill Taylor. Then, after reviewing the evidence, the Judiciary Committee will decide whether there are grounds for impeachment. If so, committee members will write the articles—a list of reasons that they think the president should be removed from office—and present them to the full House for a vote. President Andrew Johnson, for example, faced a total of 11 articles, spanning from his violation of the Tenure of Office Act to bringing “contempt, ridicule and disgrace” to the presidency. By contrast, former President Bill Clinton faced two: for lying under oath and obstruction of justice. If the House votes to approve any of the individual articles, Trump will be formally impeached, and his case will go to the Senate for trial.