WASHINGTON — Please, Tom Steyer, stop spending all that money on impeachment ads. If you want to run spots against President Trump, target his shameful 2020 budget.
In the meantime, the rest of us should quit pretending there is a big debate among Democrats about impeachment. There isn’t. There is actually consensus, which is why House Speaker Nancy Pelosi won broad support when she pushed back against impeachment in an interview with The Washington Post.
True, there is an intellectually legitimate case that the House has a moral and constitutional responsibility to start the impeachment process now, given what we know about Trump’s misdeeds and lies. Yoni Appelbaum, senior editor of The Atlantic, has advanced this argument forcefully and thoughtfully.
But the vast majority of Democrats recognize that they did not win control of the House last fall on a promise of impeachment. To the extent that Democrats who flipped House seats (and thus the majority) campaigned on holding Trump accountable, it was by endorsing the traditional inquiries being carried out now. Before you risk tearing the political system apart, you have to lay the groundwork with your constituents. This has not happened yet.
Moreover, it’s foolish to say: “Let’s impeach him. Now we will assemble the facts.” It’s far better to say, “Let’s painstakingly investigate all the charges against Trump, let’s see what special counsel Robert Mueller finds, and then — and only then — will we decide what to do.”
Those eager for impeachment are entirely right to feel we should be further along than we are. The Mueller probe should have been accompanied by serious inquests by the House into the president’s actions.
But far from investigating Trump’s transgressions during his first two years in office, a Republican-controlled House focused on disrupting and discrediting those trying to learn the truth. Democrats now have to start from scratch. Unfortunate? Yes. But still no reason for rushing to impeach. This is what the leaders of the committees doing most of the probing believe, and it’s why they backed Pelosi’s restraint.
In the meantime, a premature debate over impeachment floods the media with distractions from all the damage Trump is doing through thoroughly normal uses of power that are not impeachable. This is why Trump eagerly brings up the I-word himself. Gathering shiny objects is his thing.
It’s more fun to talk about impeachment than, God forbid, budgets. Yet the budget the president proposed this week is a statement of his values. And it’s genuinely vile. He breaks a major campaign promise by proposing cuts in Medicare. He ignores the voters’ verdict last fall by calling for yet another effort to repeal Obamacare with $777 billion in reductions to Medicaid and Affordable Care Act subsidies. He slashes programs for low-income people, including a 30 percent cuts in food stamps.
Good for you, Mr. Steyer, for tweeting against Trump’s budget. Why not drop impeachment long enough to tell more people about what Trump is doing to them?
The larger point is that the Constitution doesn’t create an obligation to impeach Trump. Maybe we’ll get to the point where there is a moral and political responsibility to impeach. Pelosi said she’d act if faced with “something so compelling and overwhelming and bipartisan.” I’d go further and say that “compelling and overwhelming” evidence might require the House vote for impeachment, even if Senate Republicans refuse to drive him from office. That would send a message to voters about the extent of Trump’s wrongdoing and how spineless Republicans have become.
But there’s an overriding obligation for those of us who oppose Trump because of the damage he is doing to our democracy: the imperative to check our passions. The Constitution is a framework for self-rule. We must demonstrate our respect for democratic procedures and the power of the people to speak through free elections.
South Bend Mayor and Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg had it right during his boffo CNN town hall performance Sunday. While acknowledging that new information might yet leave Congress no choice but to “begin impeachment proceedings,” he said plainly: “I would like to see this president and the style of politics that he represents sent off through the electoral process — decisively defeated at the ballot box.”
Politics should be about promoting durable, long-term reform. This requires affirmation from the voters. Congress should not lightly deprive the electorate the chance to kick Trump out of Washington, rebuke his party and set a better course for our country. The ideal date for Judgment Day is still Nov. 3, 2020.
Dionne, a Washington Post Writers Group columnist, may be reached at @EJDionne on Twitter.