I’m betting you’ve been swept up in the “firm majorities of Americans now support impeaching Trump and removing him from office” storyline, but let me tap the brakes here for a minute.
As is the case with presidential horse-race polls and everything else, the national numbers are ultimately irrelevant. What matters more are the state-by-state numbers, and even the congressional district numbers, because it’s in states and congressional districts that elections are won or lost. And there’s a little news on that front that doesn’t fit the storyline.
Harry Enten of CNN writes that a recent poll from Wisconsin has impeach-and-remove at just 44 percent. He also points to a recent Florida poll that has impeach-and-remove at 46 percent, two points behind the number opposed to it.
There’s more. The New York Times and Siena College polled the impeachment question in six key battleground states: Pennsylvania, Michigan, Florida, North Carolina, Wisconsin and Arizona. They found that the inquiry is supported by 50 to 45 percent, but “impeach and remove” is opposed by the fairly substantial margin of 53 to 43 percent.
So there’s still work to do. How to move those numbers? Obviously, the biggest and quickest way to move them is with new bombshell revelations. We all assume there have to be more of those, because it’s basically impossible that this man who’s broken the law all his life suddenly followed it on everything except one phone call to Kyiv. But new revelations also require new “radical, unelected bureaucrats” to be willing to come forward and risk their careers. So it’s not a given.
I also think the numbers can be moved or at least nudged by going ahead and having that full House vote and making it official. Nancy Pelosi hasn’t ruled this out, but she is reluctant to do it. I get the reasons why. And of course, there’s no constitutional or legal requirement that they have such a vote. Remember—in the Watergate era, the House Judiciary Committee started hearings they called impeachment hearings in October 1973; the full House vote came in February 1974.
But I think there’s a strong political case for holding a vote now. Here’s why.
White House counsel Pat Cipollone’s main argument for not cooperating with the House is this absence of a vote. In his Oct. 8 letter to Pelosi and House chairmen, he called the inquiry “invalid” because the House “has never attempted to launch an impeachment inquiry against the President without a majority of the House taking political accountability for that decision by voting to authorize such a dramatic constitutional step.”
A lot of the letter was just crazy, and many people pointed out that Cipollone was just making stuff up. But one point isn’t crazy—the one about political accountability.
I think about it like this. The Republicans are making a number of arguments here. They’re all a pile of conditional-morality lies that are in many cases exactly the opposite of what they argued when they were in the House minority or when they were impeaching Bill Clinton. And if your average American has heard them, I bet he or she recognizes it for the propaganda it is.
But there’s one argument they’re making that I’d bet passes the average person common sense test: Sure, they should vote. They’re Congress. That’s what they do. They vote on stuff. So why would they not vote on this?
There are a couple reasons. One has to do with whether such a vote would put swing-district members at risk. I think that’s overstated. So far, 227 House Democrats have said they favor impeachment, and only eight have not. They’re from the most Republican districts—Joe Cunningham of South Carolina, Kendra Horn of Oklahoma. They’re in tough positions. Pelosi should just release them to vote no if a vote happens.
But as for the other 227, they’ve already said they favor an impeachment inquiry. A vote wouldn’t put them at any greater risk than they already are by having said they support an inquiry. That is, if I’m a Republican attack-ad maker, I can already make the ad—they said yes. What different would a vote make? Very little if any.
The other reason not to have a vote is more persuasive—and, I’m told, of much greater concern to Pelosi. It’s setting the precedent of acceding to White House demands or conditions. The implication of Cipollone’s language I quote above is that if the House does hold the vote, he will consider the inquiry valid and will cooperate. Well, no one is naïve enough to believe that. What he’ll do after a vote is just move the goal posts and make another demand.
That demand is going to be for the White House and House Republicans to have their own subpoena power. They’re already demanding this, but it will likely move to center stage—lots of cable-news segments about it, that kind of thing. Again, it’s nonsense. The House majority makes the rules on impeachment, and that’s just the way it goes. But that won’t stop them clamoring for it.
I respect Pelosi’s read here. Let’s put it in constitutional terms: The legislative branch, on a power (impeachment) that the Constitution clearly and directly says rests with it, should not let the executive branch bully it into doing something the Constitution does not require.
Still, I think Democrats would win the PR war by holding a vote. Then they could say: OK, Cipollone, and OK, Devin Nunes and Jim Jordan. You’ve been screaming that this inquiry was illegitimate because there’s been no vote. Well, now there has been. So now, you’d agree it’s legitimate, right?
No, they wouldn’t—but they’d be plenty boxed in. And I think a majority of the American people would figure it out. People are paying pretty close attention to all this. A full House vote would call the Republicans’ bluff, and voters would get it.
Those polls I cited up top show that the PR battle isn’t won here. Having a vote will help. It’ll show people that Democrats are happy to own this and they’re not doing it in some side-door way. Sure, to some, it would look partisan. But it would look like conviction to a lot more.