The release of the Mueller Report added to the list of reasons many Americans – especially Democrats – want Congress to impeach President Donald Trump. The sheer volume of potentially impeachable offenses is shocking. Nevertheless, calls for impeachment are misguided.
We don’t think the president is innocent. Currying favor from a hostile foreign power was a wicked betrayal of the office he still manages to hold. Firing his FBI director and admitting that he did so to quash an investigation into his own campaign echoes loudly with Watergate. Each of these actions, and dozens more, could be considered grounds for impeachment.
Our concern is with how it would play out.
Impeachment is only the start of a process. It is an indictment supported by a majority in the House of Representatives. The next step would be a formal trial in the Senate, and there conviction requires a two-thirds majority.
However compelling the argument might seem against Trump, the chances of convicting him remain nonexistent for now. His own party has remained bafflingly loyal over the past two years and holds a majority in the Senate. The clear and convincing evidence that could potentially sway enough Republican senators to turn against their problematic president – if that is, indeed, even possible – simply isn’t there yet.
With failure all but certain, impeachment cannot be seen at this point as an instrument for removing Trump. Even if it were, it might not be the best way forward for the country.
The impeachment of President Bill Clinton is not so far removed. Some Americans might see impeaching Trump, whom Democrats have loathed since his election, as payback. If Democrats impeach and Republicans don’t convict, the whole thing appears driven by partisanship. There would be a dangerous possibility that any future president could face impeachment as soon as the other party takes control of the House.
On an even more pragmatic note, successfully removing Trump mid-term would mean the ascension of Vice President Mike Pence. While Pence has not to date figured centrally in the Trump administration’s most serious scandals, he has certainly countenanced them.
We have sometimes taken cold comfort in knowing that however unwise Trump’s policy positions might be, his ineptitude at the levers of power has blunted some of their impact. Pence’s experience in government would put similar policies in the hands of a president much better able to implement them.
Placing Trump’s removal in the hands of 67 Senators strikes us as too procedural a remedy, too. Despite the scandals abroad and at home, whether we like it or can even quite explain it, Trump won the general election. His removal from office is best reserved for a similar expression of popular will in 2020.
Finally, if Democrats impeach, Washington will become even more mired in gridlock. Congress would waste months, maybe even a year on a pointless impeachment trial rather than tackling the serious challenges confronting the nation. America’s infrastructure needs repair. Working Americans need better-paying jobs and better prospects for advancement. Schools need improvement, and the graduates of those schools need the promise of a more robust and inclusive economy.
House Democrats should spend the coming months focusing on those needs and on making the case for why their candidate should win the White House in 2020.