Jim Hartman: Democrats should censure Trump
On Inauguration Day, Jan. 20, 2017, the Washington Post reported: “The effort to impeach President Donald John Trump is already underway.” Prior to taking the oath of office, Democrats were looking for any pretext to remove him from office.
The investigation and report of Special Counsel Robert Mueller had the potential to serve as the basis for impeachment. While Mueller testified that he did not “exonerate” Trump, he found that the president did not legally conspire ( “no collusion”) with Russia to steal the 2016 election.
The Mueller report also contained 10 instances where Trump potentially committed obstruction of justice, but Mueller reached no conclusion on that issue. He did conclude that Russians interfered in the 2016 election to help Trump win.
Having avoided the Russian “collusion” claim, Trump stumbled into a new controversy giving Democrats another reason for impeachment — by asking Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden and his son, Hunter.
Unlike with Russia, this time Trump did something wrong. His phone call with Ukrainian President Zelensky was not “perfect,” as Trump repeatedly claims. A USA Today/Suffolk University poll found only 30 percent of the public believe there was nothing wrong with the call. However, the same poll found only 38 percent think it was an impeachable offense.
Trump insists that he did nothing wrong. His strongest loyalists agree, but it was clearly inappropriate. Other Republicans have fallen back to the position there was “no quid pro quo,” no investigation of the Bidens conditioned on $391 million in military aid to Ukraine. The most convincing evidence is to the contrary, and the first rule of a good defense lawyer is don’t deny things that are undeniable.
Republicans are on their strongest ground on the ultimate question — whether Trump’s conduct constitutes “high crimes and misdemeanors,” justifying Trump’s impeachment and removal from office. The answer is “No” — and all congressional Republicans agree — both in the House and Senate.
Democrats should drop impeachment for a censure of Trump instead.
There is important precedent for censure — a formal statement of reprimand. In 1834, the Senate voted to censure President Andrew Jackson over his resistance to a congressional investigation into Jackson’s decision to shut down the Second Bank of the United States. If Congress censured Trump, he would be only the second president in history to be censured.
Former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, now 85, was a highly-skilled political practitioner while serving as the powerful Democratic speaker of the California State Assembly (1980 to 1995), and then as mayor of “The City” ( 1996-2004). Brown has a track record as a shrewd political observer. He believes Democrats are making a major political miscalculation in attempting to impeach Trump. Impeachment will only “solidify” President Trump’s “hold on power,” in Brown’s view.
Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told voters before the 2018 election that Trump’s impeachment would be a “distraction” and further divide the country — “it’s not worth it.” She pledged to concentrate on economic issues.
Yet, in September, Pelosi reversed course and began an impeachment “inquiry” at the urging of the most rabid anti-Trump members of her Democratic House caucus. By doing so, Pelosi will be foregoing any congressional action on issues Democrats profess to find important: gun control (expanded background checks; “red flag” laws), affordable health care; immigration (DACA for “Dreamers”); foreign trade (U.S.-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement).
The House could pass a censure resolution and it might even win bipartisan support. By censuring instead of impeaching the president, Democrats could turn the political calculation against the GOP. Don’t count on it — the Democratic base suffers from Trump Derangement Syndrome.
In the end, the decision to remove Trump from office should rest where it belongs — in the hands of the American people next November. Let the verdict on Trump come from voters, not Congress.
Jim Hartman is an attorney residing in Genoa.