Dear Madame Speaker,
It’s 1:30 AM, and I can’t sleep. Given Wednesday’s events, I’m guessing you’re having trouble sleeping, too. I’ve just made myself a hot chocolate, and I’ve settled in at the keyboard because there are some things I think we should discuss.
When candidate Donald Trump publicly asked Russia to help him win the 2016 presidential election by hacking Hillary Clinton’s personal emails, we were shocked. But the polls said Clinton was set to trounce Trump, so we all just let Donald be Donald and figured the train would make its way back to the track in the end. We all know how that worked out.
As I watched you on TV in the days after the election, I was pretty sure your stiff-but-polite smile masked a vision of the four-year nightmare you saw headed your way. But I’d bet even you could not have imagined the Trump wrecking ball that had its sights on Congress, the rule of law, and American democracy as we have known it for more than 200 years.
Worst argument for keeping Trump: Impeach Trump and don't worry (much) about President Pence. We already have him.
Mr. Trump began his presidential tenure by firing the FBI director for refusing to end an investigation into Trump's national security adviser. This didn’t sit well with some of your fellow Congressional Democrats who talked about a ticking “impeachment clock.” Then, when Trump disclosed classified information to Russia, Maxine Waters, the “reclaiming my time” congresswoman from California, alluded to impeachment. Even so, you were able to dodge the issue.
In August 2017, after the president referred to white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia as “very fine people,” Tennessee Rep. Steve Cohen announced he was prepared to introduce articles of impeachment for Trump’s failure to meet the “presidential test of moral leadership.” Madame Speaker, when that effort was scuttled, you again escaped without being pressed for support.
Then, the president’s national security adviser, campaign chairman and personal attorney were all convicted of federal felonies. As part of Michael Cohen’s guilty plea, he and the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s Office all but named the president of the United States as an unindicted co-conspirator in a campaign fraud scheme hatched to muzzle a loose-lipped porn actress who threatened Mr. Trump’s chances of winning the 2016 election.
Stop treading water, hold Trump accountable
Madame Speaker, through it all you managed to contain the calls for impeachment from your congressional colleagues and many in the Democratic base who were losing patience as they waited for special counsel Robert Mueller’s report. You effectively argued it would be premature to discuss impeachment before the release of the special counsel’s investigative report.
But then came the Mueller report — a 448-page biblical damnation of Trump’s unseemly welcome of Russia’s election takeover and his scorched-earth efforts to obstruct the investigation into all related matters. Madame Speaker, that’s when we all thought it was finally going to happen. We’d waited two years to see Trump held accountable for his wholesale trashing of all we claim to hold dear as Americans and we looked to you to lead us into the fires of impeachment. From the ashes we yearned for a new dawn and restoration of sanity.
Instead of leading us, you told us to keep treading water. You told us impeachment proceedings would divide the country and solidify Trump’s base. You insisted we could not impeach based on “political reasons,” but you ignored the ample factual support for articles of impeachment. Finally, you employed a reverse-psychology-101 tactic and told us Trump was “goading” us and wants to be impeached.
Madame Speaker, I get that you think the public is weary of all things Russia and does not support impeachment proceedings. I also get that you fear impeachment proceedings may alienate independent voters who are up for grabs, come 2020. And I know you’ve earned the “politically savvy” praise that is often whispered around your name. So, even with the growing head count of more than 60 members of Congress who support impeachment, I’ve held my tongue and not mentioned the “I word.” But then Wednesday happened.
Don't risk turning off 2020 Democratic voters
In an interview with George Stephanopoulos, the president said “I’d take it” if a foreign adversary offered him “dirt” on a 2020 political opponent. No matter that Trump’s own FBI director and lackey attorney general have both condemned political candidates seeking or accepting political assistance from a foreign government. No matter that receiving something of value from a foreign government to influence an election is illegal. The president said he would do it anyway.
Madame Speaker, your political calculation that impeachment proceedings will scare away independent voters may be on point. But as politically sophisticated as you are, you now run the risk of making the same fatal miscalculation made by another political veteran. Hillary Clinton did not beat the campaign trail in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania because she felt these Democratic strongholds were hers for the taking. Instead, she tried to flip red states like Arizona. In courting the possibilities, she lost the probabilities.
Watching an emboldened Trump commit ethical and criminal violations and flout congressional subpoenas, with no tangible repercussion, is demoralizing to Democrats. There is a growing consensus in our party that our leadership is toothless and satisfied to play by the rules of the playground while the oversized bully violates all the rules and beats us to a pulp. Capturing the swing votes would be nice but losing Democratic turnout due to an uninspired base is the real danger.
With Trump’s announcement Wednesday that he plans to use his 2016 dirty playbook in the upcoming presidential election, we have reached a critical mass. Madame Speaker, I know it must gall you that a political neophyte like Trump has forced your hand. But playing out the clock is no longer an option.
Michael J. Stern was a federal prosecutor for 25 years in Detroit and Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter: @MichaelJStern1
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'I think I'd take it' is the last straw. Nancy Pelosi, it's time to impeach Trump.