If there was any doubt that Democratic leadership is not serious about the impeachment trial (version 2.0) of former President Donald Trump, it seems to have been dispelled this afternoon. Back-to-back deals passed in the Senate first allowed impeachment managers to call witnesses and then reversed themselves an hour later.
The story starts with an explosive report about what CNN described as “an expletive-laced phone call” between Trump and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy while the Capitol was under attack on January 6. The call, which was first revealed by Republican members of Congress, is said to offer proof that the former president was derelict in his duty to protect Congress and the other inhabitants of the Capitol from the insurrectionists.
"He is not a blameless observer. He was rooting for them,” one Republican member of Congress said.
In the call, Trump allegedly told McCarthy, "Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are.”
McCarthy reportedly responded that rioters were breaking into office through the windows and yelled at the president, "Who the f--k do you think you are talking to?"
McCarthy briefed other Republicans on the call and one of them, Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.), described the shouting match in both a town hall and an appearance on CNN.
As news of the call became public, Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), one of the impeachment managers, asked the Senate to call Herrera Butler as a witness. Herrera Butler, who is apparently the only Republican to go on record with descriptions of the phone call, also asked other Republicans with knowledge of the conversation to come forward.
The Senate initially voted 55-45 to call witnesses, reports Politico, but then impeachment managers struck a deal to enter Herrerra Butler’s statement into the record rather than hearing her testimony. If Democrats really wanted to convict Trump and disqualify him from holding office in the future, this was their moment and they missed it.
I’ve long said that the impeachment trial should not be rushed. Impeachment managers should take their time for investigation and discovery. The insurrection occurred only five weeks ago and there is still much that is not known about Trump’s actions. For example, we didn’t know about the existence of the Trump-McCarthy phone call until a few days ago.
Democrats seem to take the view that Trump’s actions were impeachable on their face. For most of the country, that’s true, but not for the Republican senators who might provide the necessary 17 votes to convict Trump. These senators not only need to be convinced of Trump’s guilt, they need to be hit over the head with it.
House Democrats should be digging into White House communications records and seeking sworn testimony from Trump aides. Vice President Pence, McCarthy, and others in Trump’s inner circle should be subpoenaed. This isn’t going to happen and by the time you read this, Donald Trump may have already been acquitted.
If Democrats really wanted to win Republican votes to convict Trump, they could have handled the entire process in a more bipartisan fashion. We know more Republican votes could have been won. Many Republicans have been critical of Trump’s actions, which after all, risked Republican lives as well as Democrat.
Democrats could have written broader Articles of Impeachment that focused on the big picture of Trump’s attempts to steal the election rather than just incitement. They could have included Republicans on the team of impeachment managers. They could have called witnesses and sought out more evidence. But they didn’t.
Why are Democrats not all-in to disqualify a man who clearly provides an imminent danger to our constitutional republic? I can think of several reasons.
The most obvious reason is the mathematics of impeachment. Presidential impeachments have a history of failing. No president has ever been found guilty by the Senate. Knowing that there was almost no chance of Republicans voting to convict Trump in large enough numbers to make a difference, it is tempting for Democrats to simply take the political win of labeling Trump’s legacy with an asterisk that says, “twice impeached.”
For the same reason, newly-elected President Biden does not want to expend political capital on a losing battle. He would rather focus his energy on enacting a new COVID relief bill and other aspects of his agenda.
Less obvious is that Democrats may not really want Trump to go away. Since he took office in 2017, for Democrats, Donald Trump has been the gift that keeps on giving. His incompetence restored Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House after Democrats won a majority in 2018. In 2020, Democrats won back the White House and, early in 2021, they eked out a Senate majority thanks to Donald Trump’s battle to overturn the election.
Why would Democrats want to disqualify Trump? They probably hope that Republicans will be stupid enough to nominate him again in 2024. Even if he doesn’t run or win the nomination, Trump’s mere continued presence in the political world is moving the Republican Party towards a split that would leave Democrats ascendant for the foreseeable future.
There is an inherent risk in this strategy, however. What if Trump wins in 2024?
At this point, no serious person thinks that Trump can win in 2024 with all the baggage that he has accumulated since 2016… and since last November. But no serious person thought Trump could win in 2016 either. Given Trump’s deterioration over the past few years and months, electing him to another term would be very bad for the country.
I’ve said all along that Republicans should do what is best for the country and vote to ban Donald Trump from American politics. I’m sure that Democrats will vote to disqualify him, but they should take the impeachment process seriously and give Republicans every reason not to acquit Trump. Unfortunately, both Democratic leaders and Republicans are choosing to play politics with America’s future.