Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, seen speaking at the 2019 California Democratic Party State Convention in San Francisco.
Politics – Justice – Government
Updated: December 19, 2019
Published: December 11, 2019

Place your bets on the Gentle Lady from California to outsmart the bullying White House misogynist

Writing from Washington, D.C.

For months, the conventional wisdom was that House Democrats should vote on articles of impeachment against President Trump and send them to the Senate as quickly as possible. That way they could avoid Republican accusations of playing politics during the 2020 campaign, while maintaining momentum for – and focus on – impeachment to sway the public.

But the plan has changed, wisely, in my view. On December 18, the House approved two articles of impeachment against Trump. Then House Speaker Nancy Pelosi put the brakes on. She said she would not send the articles to the Senate until she had assurances that the Senate process would be fair. Good luck with that. But I don’t think she should wait just a short time. I have been arguing for months that she ought to wait until after the November 2020 election to send the articles to the Senate. The benefits of a speedy process are dubious, while a delay provides both numerous and significant advantages.

Let’s look at the arguments for speed. Republicans already are accusing the Democrats of playing politics, so the Dems can’t avoid that smear. And much of the public is already suffering from impeachment fatigue, so it could be that slowing the process down would be a better way to shift public opinion.

Now let’s look at the benefits of a slower process.  

Unlike George Washington University Law School Prof. Jonathan Turley, who testified before the House Judiciary Committee in early December that he favored more hearings because the record to date is flimsy, I think the record is overwhelming. But if the Democrats delay sending the articles to the Senate, it’s possible that the record will get only more persuasive, which could change the thinking of the few remaining undecided voters.

Those who have already testified may embolden others to come forward or, at the very least, leak damaging documents. One could assume that if the documents that the administration was withholding made Trump look good, the White House would have released them. Similarly, if witnesses had other than damaging testimony to provide, the White House would have provided limos, motorcades, and police escorts for them to rush to Capitol Hill. Thus it’s fair to assume that documents and any information from identified or anonymous sources would range from embarrassing to smoking-gun culpability. And there are hints that tapes may show the extent of the skullduggery. (The notion that this president withheld testimony or documents based on a principle, such as executive privilege, is silly. He has never shown himself to have a belief in any principle.)

Why rush when the case could get better?  Let the courts rule on whether officials have to testify. Former National Security Advisor John Bolton, for example, says he has information that has not come out yet. The public should hear it. Don’t foreclose additional hearings because the articles already are in the Senate’s hands. Hearings could provide the basis for additional articles of impeachment or at the very least provide damaging testimony under oath that would ratchet up the pressure on Senate Republicans to do the right thing.

Beyond the evidence, a delay could mean that during the election campaign, voters will hear a steady drumbeat about Trump’s execrable behavior. Behavioral economists will tell you that repetition leads to familiarity, which leads to credibility and eventually to comfort. Trump used this approach to make his voters comfortable with “Crooked Hillary”. Notice the truth of what’s repeated matters not at all, though Democrats will have the added benefit of truth and facts on their side. The Democrats will benefit politically from the repetition if they can come up with the right sound bites and explain them clearly.

House Democrats could blame the delay on the Senate’s attempt to run a kangaroo court and on the White House, arguing they were just waiting for Trump to turn over documents and let witnesses testify and for the courts to resolve bogus issues that Trump lawyers are raising. Former Clinton administration White House spokesman Joe Lockhart wrote in a December 8, 2019 opinion piece for CNN that the House shouldn’t send articles to the Senate before the White House provides witnesses and documents. It really is all Trump’s fault.

A delay also avoids the problem of strapping senators running for president into their chairs in the Senate chamber during a trial. It’s unclear how long Senate Republicans want the trial to last, and they could try to hobble Democratic Senate presidential hopefuls. A post-election Senate trial would enable the candidates to campaign without impediment.

President Trump receiving a phone call in the Oval Office in November 2018 with an update on the California wildfires.

Eventually there has to be a Senate vote. Congress must hold the president accountable. But Speaker Pelosi has complete discretion on when to send House action to the Senate for a trial. The Constitution provides no deadline. Waiting until after the election means Trump will not be able to claim vindication based on an acquittal by his cowed Republican lackeys.

It would be a delicious revenge on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Moscow Mitch has not permitted a vote on election security, which could enable Moscow to help Trump’s re-election bid in 2020. And in March 2016, McConnell didn’t permit a vote on President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, even though Obama had 10 months left in office. Since McConnell has been so eager to deny Senate votes Democrats sought, Pelosi should take the opportunity to deny McConnell a vote he so desperately wants.

Would sending the House vote to the Senate after the election make the impeachment process moot? Not necessarily. Let’s look at some possibilities.

Trump loses: No longer threatened with retaliation from a vindictive Trump who would continue in power, Senate Republicans would be able to act publicly on the disgust they have expressed privately. They could grow vertebrae and vote to convict. This is still important even if Trump loses the election. Congress needs to show that a president will pay a price for the kind of reprehensible behavior Trump has displayed. It needs to establish where the acceptable line of presidential conduct is because Trump has trampled over every previous line, and now there isn’t one. History must record a permanent stain on Trump as the only president impeached, convicted and removed since the nation’s founding – even if it’s just days before he would be out anyway.

Trump wins: All the more need to go ahead with a trial. It will be a key test of whether the so-far craven Senate Republicans care more about party or country. The key may be whether Republicans in the House and Senate lose in droves in 2020. In 2022, 24 Republican senators will be up for re-election, while only 12 Democrats will be. If Trump is not able to help candidates lower on the ballot, it could change the calculus for Republicans facing voters in 2022. It won’t be about party or country, but about self-preservation. That has meant supporting Trump so far. Will that still be true if he hurts down-ballot candidates? And a conviction would disqualify Trump from serving a second term.

Speaker Pelosi has bided her time well so far. She did not rush for impeachment when activists beseeched her. My guess is that she knew Trump well enough to anticipate that he would do something exceptionally idiotic, and she just had to wait for it. Of course, she was right. It wasn’t just releasing the less-than-perfect phone conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky about investigating Joe Biden and his son, Hunter. It was screwing the Kurds by pulling out of Syria, writing a threatening, puerile letter to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and promoting the idea of holding a G-7 meeting at his Doral resort.

All these incidents happened within days of each other. The Kurdish/Turkish moves, denounced in bipartisan fashion, showed how reckless and ignorant Trump is when it comes to national security. The Doral decision, later rescinded after bipartisan condemnation, shows Trump’s utterly venal instincts and inability to learn or distinguish right from wrong. Trump’s later war crime pardons of some in the military enraged supporters of the chain-of-command structure and military discipline. Trump’s tweets during former Ukraine Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch’s testimony on November 15, 2019 before the House Intelligence Committee added more fuel to the GOP perception of the president as an intemperate, volatile, childish bully. And his decision to mock a grieving widow, Rep. Debbie Dingell, and her late husband, Rep. John Dingell, just after the impeachment vote, show just how despicable Trump is.

These blunders show that Trump has limited cognitive ability and dubious character – former Defense Secretary James Mattis’s take, according to The Atlantic. So while Ukraine can give senators the pretext for conviction, Trump’s loathsome behavior, utter lack of judgment and the risk he poses to the nation’s security ultimately may give Senators the motivation to oust him.

Pelosi plays Trump better than anyone else in Washington. When she initially declined to move on impeachment, saying Trump wasn’t worth it, it was a riposte calculated to drive him even more nuts, if that’s possible. It would be poetic justice on an unimaginable scale if the Gentle Lady from California outsmarted the misogynist in the White House. I am not sure how she’ll do it, but my money is on her.

Stan’s biography can be found here.

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