This excerpt is from episode 182 of The Editors.
Rich: All right, so, Jim Geraghty, we got history. We had a historic vote last night on the floor of the House. Two articles of impeachment charging President Trump with abuse of power and obstruction passed handily, with just a couple Democrats flaking off, two on abuse of power, three on obstruction, and Tulsi Gabbard taking the statesmanlike posture of voting present. What do you make of it?
Jim: I’m sorry, I’ve got to stretch there and just get a—
Rich: That’s a really good theatrical yawn. Did you work on that or—
Jim: Yeah, a little bit extra.
Rich: . . . did you just come up with that?
Jim: A little. Yeah, well, I’m saving up my energy for the utterly exciting Democratic presidential debate tonight, because that’s well-scheduled. Yeah, six days before Christmas, opening night of Star Wars, good timing, DNC. Good job.
Look, this was long predicted. The only part of this process that was the least bit surprising was I guess most people didn’t see Jeff Van Drew changing parties. As of this taping, that appears to be all systems go. And most of the purple and red district Democrats falling in line. I wonder if these two are related, that once Van Drew switched parties, that maybe Pelosi started arm-twisting on this.
Rich: No, I think they’re related a different way. I think what happened to Van Drew, he voted against the inquiry, and he has a catastrophic drop of support in the party. He has like 20 percent approval, so he’s not getting nominated. He’s not winning that seat again as a Democrat. I am open to the idea a lot of these Democrats are genuinely outraged by Trump’s conduct, but I think they also saw that there’s no way out of this for them except for through. So if you voted against these articles, unless you’re in a real special very Trumpy district, like Collin Peterson is from Minnesota, that you just have to vote for it and grin and bear it and hope you can win over any swing voters and Republican voters you need in November down the line.
Jim: Yeah, and I think also this may reveal that there probably weren’t that many Democrats in districts where this vote was going to make or break. The Joe Cunninghams of the world in South Carolina’s First District, that’s got where my parents live down in Hilton Head and all that quick-growing southern corner of the state, he’s probably toast anyway, so might as well vote his conscience. Why defy the party? All that kind of stuff.
That was somewhat surprising and interesting, but I think the biggest number you heard tossed around for Democrats voting no was six to ten. Nobody expected this to really be that much of a close vote. Either due to whipping or the sense that most people said, “Well, no, might as well. In for a penny, in for a pound. Might as well vote for impeach and hope that our voters agree with us,” that was somewhat interesting. I’m sure we’ll talk a bit about the weird situation that Nancy Pelosi and the advocates for impeachment find themselves in now.
Today’s Morning Jolt, I wrote a bunch about, was there a moment where you could’ve gotten a fairly bipartisan majority for a resolution of censure or some other sense of saying, “Mr. President, you shouldn’t have done this. You can’t do this. You don’t have this kind of authority. If you think there’s some sort of corruption going on with Joe Biden or something, we have a Department of Justice. This has to be done through official channels”? I went through and I found nine House Republicans who’d made various comments kind of in that vein, and maybe you could’ve gotten them onboard.
Whatever Democrats and impeachment advocates think should be the case, you were just never going to get any House Republicans voting for this. Maybe you had a shot at one or two, like Rooney down in Florida, but really, it was always going to be a party-line vote. I don’t think Trump, to the extent Trump is capable of feeling shame, which is measured on the molecular scale, he’d probably be more annoyed by a bipartisan resolution of censure, I think, than by this then.
He’s going to walk around with this as a badge of pride. He’s going to say, “This was a partisan vendetta. This was a witch hunt,” yadda yadda yadda. Whereas if you’d gotten a decent number of House Republicans to vote on something that didn’t call for impeachment, just said the president shouldn’t have done this, maybe it would’ve been a little more consequential. This was ultimately about making the base of the Democratic party happy, and I hope Democrats are happy now. You got what you want. I hope you walked around with a sad, somber spring in your step, as Nancy Pelosi said this morning.
Rich: On censure, I thought that would be a better way for them to go. It would’ve become just as partisan as impeachment largely. Maybe, Jim, your nine, probably fewer than that. Maybe you get like five House Republicans. Better than zero and losing a couple cats and dogs on your own side. But I do think you’d get a real shot, and not a real shot, likelier than not to get over 50 votes for a censure in the Senate. That’d be a more bipartisan rebuke. It doesn’t live in history in quite the same way.
Michael, obviously, address anything you’ve heard from Jim, but what do you make of the case substantively that the Democrats ended up landing on, which is, by and large, he’s a threat to the election, which has the backdrop that he somehow welcomed foreign interference into the last election, which they, incredibly enough, base on, when they talk about it in more detail, on Trump saying at that press conference, “If you can hack Hillary’s emails, find her old emails. Russians, if you’re listening, do it.” So they say he just can’t be trusted to run this next election because he welcomed Ukrainian interference this time around, and also that he endangered national security through this scheme.
Michael: I don’t think a lot of the case. I do take the point that if you believe as I do . . . I believe the case can be made that the president abused his power, that there’s good-enough evidence at least to look into whether he asked for a sham investigation or just an announcement of an investigation for political benefit. I do take Luke’s constantly repeated point, though, that the United States has an interest in knowing what Joe and Hunter Biden were up to.
On the obstruction, I think that’s just a joke at this point. Nancy Pelosi basically couldn’t even finish the sentence of asking for transcripts before the White House just released them, and there was nothing in the additional testimony that indicated that there was anything beyond the transcript that was really incriminating or that really added to the case. If anything, they should be passing a motion congratulating him for helping the case of impeachment, not obstructing it.
It’s an odd thing. It’s funny, I was reading Alexander Hamilton on impeachment again, refreshing my memory once more, and he talks about it in these terms of that you have to construct it in this way because the Senate trial . . . What other body of men would have the confidence to sit between the president and the representatives of the people as his accuser? What’s interesting about it is it shows you in reality . . . And he worries that partisan passions would corrupt this. Well, that was very prescient, because partisan allegiance has totally eclipsed the sense of these three separate branches of government operating independently of one another. Legally, they operate independently, but practically speaking, the two parties are the motor running underneath our politics.
I think in our lifetimes, impeachment has almost been destroyed as a constitutional provision because it’s been launched twice in the absence of a two-thirds majority sentiment for impeaching and removing the president, and so this thing has become defanged almost totally and looks partisan. Now it’s like our expectation is that you only launch impeachment because the base of one faction demands it, and that’s probably a tragedy for the American people.
Also, it’s probably just bad politics long term for Democrats in the sense of he’s going to survive this. They knew he was going to survive this. Maybe they hoped they would put some Senate seats in play through this process. I don’t know if that’s . . . I don’t know if impeachment adds to the Trump effect on certain senatorial candidates that might be weak on the Republican side. But now they would have a very difficult time if Trump does something else, something that excites more outrage among a larger share of the public. This bomb has already gone off and already failed to remove him. It will fail to remove him from office.
I don’t know. I thought it was just a very odd event. I thought the drama of it was kind of funny, with the Democrats wearing black and Nancy Pelosi trying to shush her—
Rich: That was a very good shush move. Clearly, a grandmother with a lot of experience in shushing.
Michael: Listen, Nancy Pelosi is fierce. The daughter of a Baltimore mayor is going to have some just natural authority. But it did give what Jim said, the somber spring in their step. It was bizarre. That’s all I can say about it. This was bizarre. This whole thing has been bizarre from beginning to end.
Rich: Charlie, where are you on the substance? Because you’ve been excoriating about Trump’s conduct, but haven’t really . . . I don’t want to put words in your mouth . . . had a strong view one way or the other on impeachment or removal. It seems to me there are a couple different ways to look at it just within our own house.
Andy McCarthy and myself tend to make the consequentialist argument, “Well, nothing came of this. They delayed the funding for two months. They get the funding. There’s no announcement of investigations.” I would even argue that even if they announced an investigation of Burisma, it would have zero effect on our election or, really, interfere in our election.
But Ramesh, who favors impeachment, says, “Well, it doesn’t really matter what the consequence was, that the core impropriety here of being willing to leverage public resources for what was clearly something that had a political motive at bottom related to the election and mixing his official duties with that motive in this way is just intolerable. It didn’t matter whether it was stopped or not. It doesn’t matter whether it was a little thing or a big thing. It’s just that motive itself is disqualifying.”
Charlie: I don’t buy the consequentialist case at all. Imagine if we had learned that President Obama had instructed Lois Lerner to go after Tea Party groups. Would we have said, “Well, she didn’t do it,” or, “Well, it was caught before tax season was over,” or, “In the grand scheme of things, it didn’t affect much.” No, of course not.
Trump did this. The fact that it didn’t come to much is neither here nor there for me.
That doesn’t mean, though, that I’m thrilled about what happened yesterday. In fact, when it happened, I felt irritated. I instantly thought just how close to the Clinton impeachment this has been. In both cases, the president did what he’d been accused of, and in both cases he was let off — Trump’s case will be let off — by his party.
In both cases, critics of impeachment pretended that the president was being impeached for something innocuous. In neither case was that true.
The language is similar. Representative Loudermilk — there’s a name! — compared the House of Representatives to Pontius Pilate yesterday, and the president, implicitly, to Jesus. Well, so did Steny Hoyer in 1998.
Both impeachments settled on behavior that was, arguably, impeachable, but in both cases that was not really why the impeachment drive had begun. You go back to Clinton’s: Clinton’s impeachment came after years of Republicans saying that the guy was a philanderer, maybe a rapist, that he was dishonest, he was corrupt. It came after Whitewater and the cattle futures scandal and the travel agency scandal. By the point that the Republican House impeached Bill Clinton, it just knew that he was worse than the articles of impeachment themselves suggested.
I think the same is true of Trump. Democrats have said for a long time now that he’s a philanderer, maybe a rapist, that he’s dishonest, that he’s corrupt. The impeachment has come after Mueller and the emoluments cases and watching Trump berate the media and tweet like an idiot. So by the point that they impeached him yesterday, they just knew that he was worse than the articles of impeachment suggested.
I think I would’ve voted for neither. In fact, I think I would’ve opposed all three of the impeachments that we’ve seen in American history. I’ve said this before, but it is odd, given some of the terrible things presidents have done, including in my lifetime, that all three of the impeachments that we’ve seen seem so small, so partisan, so contingent upon the surrounding politics, rather than a break from it. And all three seemed so unlikely to prevail. It seems to me that, throughout their history, Americans have not breathed a great deal of seriousness into the Impeachment Clause of the Constitution, and this latest impeachment is no exception.
I am — what was the word you used? — excoriating when it comes to Trump, including on this, and when it comes to the Republicans and the way that they have fallen in line with him and pretended his call was “perfect” and there’s nothing to see here. But I feel sad in general because I don’t think that anyone has taken this seriously from the beginning, including yesterday. Donald Trump certainly didn’t. The Republicans haven’t — and aren’t — and nor are the Democrats. Nancy Pelosi is not sad. She’s not somber. She doesn’t think this is grave. She’s not praying for the president. She’s not protecting or saving the Constitution. And the people who ultimately pushed Nancy Pelosi into this, because she didn’t want to do it, do not give two hoots about the Constitution. In fact, they generally loathe the Constitution, and they’re happy to say so.
I find it odd that impeachment has come in America’s history when it has, on the topics that it has. It was said earlier that maybe a censure would have been a better option. Perhaps. But that’s what this is. That’s what this was for Clinton, and it’s what this is for Trump. When you know full well that the Senate is not going to convict and you push an impeachment through the House anyhow, you are effectively censuring the president. You’re using a different mechanism to do it, but you are effectively censuring the president. I think that that is a tactical mistake, even if you believe that the underlying high crimes and misdemeanors would warrant such a measure in a vacuum.
Rich: On Pelosi, I actually may be naïve. I don’t doubt that she prays for Trump. I think the appropriate reaction when anyone says they’re praying for you, the appropriate reaction is “Thank you.” It’s not like, “No, there’s no way you’re doing that. Stop lying.” MBD, pick up on anything you heard from Charlie. I just think the norm . . . There’s a tendency to think, to Charlie’s point, the Nixon impeachment, that’s the model; that’s the norm. But now we have a different norm, where it’s inflamed partisan majorities in the House that do this with, at least, the recent example is no chance of convicting. They came within one vote of convicting Johnson.
Michael: I really relate to Charlie’s feeling of almost being alienated from the process, because on the one hand what the president did was worth condemning, and on one level if you’re saying, “What are your standards, MBD, for impeachment?” this qualifies. But thank God we don’t go by my standards for public office. Duncan Hunter Jr. would’ve been horsewhipped in public. Several Congress members that were parading around yesterday would be tarred and feathered. It’s a great mercy to me and to all of my colleagues that my standards do not prevail in our country—
Rich: What would you do to your colleagues?
Michael: . . . in many ways.
Rich: What punishments would they have? What chastisement would they suffer?
Michael: But I agree with Charlie that—
Rich: Maybe we could get some serious enforcement of deadlines here for once, Michael, if we put you in charge.
Michael: I know. But I agree with . . . Except my own. But I agree with Charlie. Iran-Contra was a more serious offense than this. The Lincoln bedroom scandal was a more serious offense than this. The—
Charlie: Invasion of Libya.
Michael: The bombing of Sudan ahead of impeachment was a more serious offense than this. The invasion of Libya. Undeclared drone warfare in several countries. Attempts at regime change in Syria without congressional approval, actually even against congressional approval. Johnson siccing the intel community on Goldwater. There was so many offenses presidents of both parties have conducted in my lifetime that seem so much more serious than this idiotic phone call, which was wrong, that I find it hard. My sense is that the motive for impeachment isn’t actually the offense. The offense was just the usable excuse for impeachment.
Rich: I think Charlie is right, though. In both cases, it had built up and went to a deeper issue than what the impeachment itself was about.
Michael: Right, but fundamentally I think this is . . . In both the Clinton and the Trump impeachment, you have an opposition party in Congress that is shell-shocked by the political defeats the president has been inflicting on their party, and a party that is angry that the country doesn’t see the president as the fraud they see the president as. I think the Charlie’s comparison is very apt.
Charlie: But also that believed that it was destined to rule now. If you look at the Republican party, it was shocked in 1992 that Bill Clinton, this draft-dodging, weed-smoking womanizer, had beaten George H. W. Bush after the corner—
Michael: A war hero.
Charlie: . . . that the Reagan Revolution had supposedly turned, and it was especially shocked when he won reelection fairly easily, and began to wonder, “Well, are we now going in a different direction?” I think the same thing happened with Trump. Although, it was far more appalling to progressives that Trump won, not only because he represents everything they hate — and he is hateable in some ways — but also because they are more prone than others to believe in the coming of the Age of Aquarius and the bending of the arc of history and so on. To replace Barack Obama with Donald Trump was a shock to the system.
Rich: Jim, let’s dive a little bit. You touched on this earlier. The current Pelosi gambit, I cannot believe that this gambit will last much past the weekend, because it seems so pointlessly self-destructive. But the idea, and this is not a great credit to this idea, that apparently it originated with Laurence Tribe, of holding the articles, I think Tribe just wanted to hold them indefinitely so he wouldn’t get acquitted, but the idea is to hold them, and this is going to make Mitch McConnell so upset, he’s going to be so desperate to have the articles thrown over in his lap, that he’s going to say, “Okay, let’s have a trial the way Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer want it.”
The problem here is Mitch McConnell isn’t going to feel that way, obviously. It contradicts the claim over the last month that Democrats can’t go get witnesses, more witnesses, firsthand witnesses, because it would take time, and this is an urgent priority. The nation is at risk every day that the president isn’t impeached and removed. Then, finally, it’s just obviously like a game. It makes it seem even more partisan and political than it has to this point.
Jim: Yeah. The general gist is Trump is an authoritarian—
Rich: Sorry, Jim. Go ahead. I’ll silence my phone.
Michael: You should break out the blues version of this.
Jim: Things are so bad for impeachment. In short, the message from the Democrats is Trump is an authoritarian, he has no regard for the Constitution, he is a threat, we cannot wait until the next election, he must be removed as quickly as possible, and it could wait until after the holidays. No contradiction there. By the way, the only way this could go any better . . . I know McConnell has already given his initial statement in scoffing about this, but if he had just gone out there and said, “Please don’t throw me in that briar patch. Oh, no, it would be terrible if my caucus couldn’t vote on Trump’s impeachment. We’d be broken up.”
You could see Wednesday the thinking of Democrats, both in office and the activist left on Twitter, having this recognition. For a long time, they’d been trying to answer the question, “How can we impeach Trump?” and all of a sudden, around the middle of the week, it became the question of “Wait, how can we stop the Senate from acquitting Trump?” which is a very different question. This idea of “Well, the Constitution says the Senate holds the trial, but it doesn’t say when it has to hold the trial,” it’s an entire miscalculation of the orders and priorities and interests of Senate Republicans.
Is it conceivable that four Senate Republicans would say, Mitt Romney at some point is going to say, “By golly, Nancy Pelosi is right. These rules are unfair. We do need to call a lot more witnesses and we do need to take a lot more time on this, so I will take a stance with the 47 Democrats to insist that Mitch McConnell take a fairer set of rules”?
We’re all certain, by the way, that Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker and Amy Klobuchar and Michael Bennet all want as long a trial as possible, right? Everybody is on board for this whole thing where they’d hear from every witness, and this would drag on through January into February, and they wouldn’t be able to campaign in Iowa and New Hampshire. Everybody is on board? Okay, just wanted to make sure on that.
It’s really bizarre. I now find myself thinking that this is the ridiculous cherry on top on what has been a largely bad-faith process since the beginning, that, in a way, for the House to impeach Trump and then to never send it to the Senate in order to have a trial . . . By the way, Democrats may well look at this and say, “Hey, you know what, that may violate the Constitution,” but as Charlie pointed out, they never really worried about that very much before.
Trump getting acquitted would be worse for the country than us never sending it over to the Senate. We can all do math, right? You’re going to get most of the 47 Democrats voting for this, maybe not Joe Manchin. I think Doug Jones probably says in for a penny, in for a pound. Maybe you lose one or two other Democrats. Then you’d end up with maybe Romney would vote for it, maybe Murkowski, maybe one or two others. You’re not going to get the twelve that publications like The Bulwark were throwing around there. So you end up with a situation where it’s a vote that’s 49-51 or something, and you know Trump is going to go out onto the White House lawn and twerk in victory and see it as a complete exoneration because they couldn’t get the two-thirds of votes. If you really see Trump as this-
Rich: Now I oppose his impeachment even more than I did at the start of the podcast.
Jim: That’s why at the beginning I was saying, “Okay, would a bipartisan resolution of censure have done more, have actually sent the clearer signal to the president you shouldn’t do this?” I don’t know. But we all know where this is going, and we could see where this was going from the beginning. And it’s midday on Wednesday, Democrats suddenly realize, “Hey, wait a minute, we’re not going to get close to 67 votes. What are we going to do here?”
Keeping the impeachment in limbo, taking the two articles of impeachment and freezing them in carbonite until they can work out the rules for weeks or months, it sounds like a great idea to me. I love this idea, just for the sheer ridiculousness of it.
Michael: This is why partisan impeachment is such a disaster, because in a sense the way impeachment is set up is supposed to be the House, the elected representatives of the people, accuse the president, an impartial Senate tries the president. Without Republicans taking this seriously, the guilt that Democrats want to heap upon Trump for being okay with election interference, etc., inevitably spreads to all the Republican Party in their minds. The Senate become collaborators, and Mitch McConnell becomes Moscow Mitch again, and Vice President Pence because he’s not resigning in protest. Well, even if you impeach Trump, he is also in some way connected to this guilt. In a sense, it reveals itself as just a tool of partisanship and not some kind of solemn, sad duty that the Constitution imposes on Nancy Pelosi and her peers. It doesn’t work this way.
Rich: Charlie, last question on impeachment. Do you care one way or the other whether the Senate trial has witnesses?
Charlie: Well, I think it’s up to the Senate.
I’m not sure that Jim presented the best argument from the Democratic side. The argument, as I see it, is that the Democrats believe, or at least their position is, that what Donald Trump demonstrated with his Ukraine phone call is that he’s prepared to cheat in the next election, and that, as a result, he needs to be removed before the next election. So it doesn’t matter if you wait until after Christmas because the key is getting him out before he can run again and, in their eyes, cheat again. From their perspective, it’s worth waiting because the Senate is not going to be fair, is not going to consider this seriously, and is therefore going to exonerate Trump, which will mean he will run in the next election.
Now, I think this is a bad argument, not least because the House could have done everything that it wants the Senate to do. It could’ve brought in any other witness that it wanted to bring in. That it did not is not the leadership of the Senate’s problem, and the leadership in the Senate is in no way obliged to make up for the House’s mistakes or oversights.
It’s also an extraordinarily silly idea because there is no leverage here. The Senate does not want to be sent these articles. The Republican Party doesn’t want to deal with it. It doesn’t want to vote on it. Susan Collins doesn’t want to vote on it. Cory Gardner doesn’t want to vote on it. McConnell doesn’t want to have those meetings, and he doesn’t want to be accused of being Moscow Mitch or a collaborator or any of the other things that Michael says.
It’s a very silly plan that is built upon a misreading of what this would do. I don’t think that McConnell and Trump would sit there and say, “I can’t believe I’ve been left in limbo.” I think that McConnell would breathe a sigh of relief that he doesn’t have to deal with it, and Trump would run around the country saying, “They’re so weak, their case was so flimsy, it was such a stunt that they didn’t even transmit the articles to the Senate. These people wasted time, they wasted money, they sullied my good name, and they weren’t prepared to follow through.” We have all seen a Donald Trump rally. We’ve all seen how Donald Trump tweets.
Taking advice from Laurence Tribe at this stage is perhaps not a good idea. In fact, this is such a bad idea that I wonder at one level whether it’s a pretext for essentially rendering the impeachment a censure vote and drawing a line under it.
Rich: I think she’s transmitting them—
Charlie: No, she will do it. I’m just saying that this argument, which has caught on in some quarters, makes no sense whatsoever, and so you have to assume Nancy Pelosi, who is not stupid and is not politically ignorant, will know that.
But the specific question you asked: I don’t think the House should have any say over what the Senate does. The House had its turn. It could’ve lasted a year, this investigation, if it had wanted it to. It didn’t. Now it’s on to the next chamber.
Rich: MBD, exit question to you, a special, historic, double-barreled exit question. The number of Republican senators voting to convict in the Senate will be what; and yes or no, will there be witnesses during a Senate trial?
Michael: There will be witnesses, and zero Republicans will vote to convict.
Rich: Jim Geraghty?
Jim: Two. Minimal witnesses, if any. Basically, it’s going to be the McConnell plan of rules. Maybe he’ll throw them a bone here and there just to get this thing going, and it will be done by the end of January.
Rich: But you say there are going to be two Republican votes to convict?
Jim: Yeah, Romney and Murkowski probably.
Rich: Wow. Charlie Cooke?
Charlie: I don’t think there will be any votes to convict on the Republican side, and I think there will be a few Democratic defections, and no witnesses.
Rich: That’s the correct answer. It’ll be zero and zero, no Republican votes to convict. Dan McLaughlin pointed out the other day there actually . . . Obviously, a really small sample size, but in the two prior Senate trials, no member of the president’s party has ever voted to convict. That was only nine, I believe, Democratic senators during the Johnson impeachment, but no Democratic senators during the Clinton impeachment. I think that will hold up here. I think if you’re just doing pure politics, it is a debacle for you if you’re Susan Collins or . . . Mitt Romney is different. He has a degree of independence. But you’re just going to lose your own party. Susan Collins, her career would be over if she votes to convict, in my estimation.
Then on witnesses, I think that’s a closer call. If they’re going to flake on something, Romney, Murkowski, Collins, it would clearly be witnesses, in my view, not the ultimate question. But I think McConnell, he knows what he’s doing. He is going to . . . We’ll know more soon, but he’s trying to get a similar process to the Clinton impeachment, where you do the real basic ground rules first and you hear the basic case first and then you vote on witnesses. His calculation is just, after two weeks of this, and it would take about two weeks, there’s just going to be zero appetite for continuing.
I think the default rule, as I understand it, someone was mentioning it to me, they go Monday through Saturday, which is unheard of for the Senate to not be able to run home on Thursday. You’ve got to sit there and you can’t say anything, and you’re going to hear these things over and over again we’ve already gotten sick of because we’ve heard it repeatedly over the last two months, and then you ask questions on a note card. By the time you’re in the second week of this, going up against a holiday weekend coming up early the next week after that, and I know that shouldn’t matter in the fifth great historic Senate trial, but it will, that probably Republicans will just be ready to vote and to end it. But as I said, we’ll know more soon.