The Movement to Impeach Donald Trump Is Far from Over
On Wednesday afternoon, Representative Al Green, who since 2005 has represented Texas’s Ninth Congressional District, stood on the floor of the House of Representatives and read from a resolution to impeach Donald Trump. “Donald John Trump is unfit to be President,” Green said. “Unfit to represent the American values of decency and morality, respectability and civility, honesty and propriety . . . unfit to insure domestic tranquillity, promote the general welfare, and to insure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, as lauded in the preamble of the U.S. Constitution.”
To make his case, Green, who was also responsible for previous efforts to impeach Trump, pointed to Trump’s long history of trying to sow racial divisions, including his inflammatory tweets over the weekend about four Democratic members of Congress who are all women of color. The damage that Trump has inflicted on the United States was so grave, Green concluded, that it warrants “impeachment, trial, and removal from office.”
Later in the day, the House voted, three hundred and thirty-two votes to ninety-five, to “table”—i.e., sideline—Green’s resolution. When Trump arrived in Greenville, South Carolina, on Wednesday evening, for a campaign rally, he hailed the vote, saying, “We’ve just received an overwhelming vote against impeachment, and that’s the end of it.”
Actually, that was more of Trump’s wishful thinking. Far from marking a finish to anything, the seemingly lopsided vote demonstrated that the movement to impeach Trump is steadily gaining support in the Democratic caucus. For now, a majority of Democratic representatives, including the Party’s leadership, don’t believe that the time is right to launch impeachment proceedings. But the efforts to impeach Trump are far from over.
When interpreting Wednesday’s vote tally, it is important to keep a number of things in mind. First, this wasn’t an up-down vote on whether Trump should be impeached. It was a vote on a motion to set aside Green’s motion, which cited Trump’s racist tweets over the weekend, and which otherwise would have gone to a floor vote. In effect, the motion represented an agreement not to decide the impeachment question right now, which is the strategy that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other members of the Democratic leadership have settled on. Even so, ninety-five Democrats, out of a total of two hundred and thirty-five, voted against the motion—signalling that they favored an immediate start to some sort of impeachment proceeding or inquiry.
That figure represents substantial movement. In December, 2017, when the House voted to table Green’s first impeachment motion, which cited Trump’s comments about there being “very fine people” on both sides of the violent clashes in Charlottesville, Virginia, just fifty-eight Democrats voted to keep it alive. In January, 2018, when Green tried again, sixty-six Democrats sided with him.
The ninety-five votes that were cast on Wednesday in support of Green’s most recent resolution represented about forty per cent of all Democratic representatives. Another way to look at it is that the forces demanding a rapid move to impeachment fell just twenty-three votes short of achieving majority status in the Democratic caucus. (To get there, they would need a hundred and eighteen votes.)
Moreover, it’s clear that the level of support for Green’s resolution understated the support for impeachment. Among the Democrats who voted to table Green’s motion were a number of prominent impeachment supporters who, following Tuesday’s unanimous vote by House Democrats to condemn Trump’s racist comments, didn’t think this was the most opportune moment to move ahead. “We’re trying to keep the caucus together as we respond to the most lawless administration of our lifetimes,” Representative Jamie Raskin, of Maryland, told the Washington Post. “I’m enough of a political pragmatist to believe that you call votes when you think you can win them, not when you think you can lose them.”
It’s also worth looking at who among the Democrats voted nay on Wednesday. Not so long ago, support for moving rapidly to impeachment was a position adopted, mainly, by those on the left of the Party. Now it has gone mainstream. An article at The Hill noted that a number of powerful committee chairs broke with the Party leadership. They included Nita Lowey (Appropriations), Bennie Thompson (Energy and Commerce), Raúl Grijalva (Homeland Security), Jerry Nadler (Judiciary), Jim McGovern (Rules), and Nydia Velázquez (Small Business).
What explained the votes of such Party stalwarts? Certainly, they are disgusted by Trump. In many districts, they are also facing intense pressure from constituents and activists. As Thompson said on Wednesday, “My district wants me to vote for the immediate impeachment of Donald Trump.”
To be sure, Thompson represents a deep blue area of western Mississippi. It is sometimes said that Democrats, when facing competitive races in 2020, will never support impeaching Trump, but that isn’t necessarily true. Citing her responsibility to uphold the law, Representative Ann Kirkpatrick, who represents Arizona’s Second District, said, “I’ve come to the conclusion that the House of Representatives must open an impeachment inquiry.” Kirkpatrick was following the example of several other Democrats in competitive districts, including Tom Malinowski, of New Jersey, and Katie Porter, of California.
On this occasion, Pelosi and her leadership colleagues were able to hold the line, but things are still moving. On Thursday, Elizabeth Warren and other Democratic Presidential candidates reiterated their support for opening an impeachment inquiry. Next week, Robert Mueller will deliver his long-awaited testimony on Capitol Hill. If the former special counsel spells out, in plain English, what the second volume of his report says in legalese—his investigators uncovered numerous instances of Trump trying to obstruct justice, and it is Congress’s responsibility to take up the matter—the calls for impeachment will grow even louder.
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