A sitting president coercing or extorting the president of Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden—as The Wall Street Journal is reporting, and as Donald Trump and Rudy Giuliani seem to have essentially conceded—is a clearly impeachable act. The only problem: Democrats are probably too cowardly to do anything about it.
Don’t take it from an admittedly conservative columnist. This is a charge being made by Democrats like Rep. Steve Cohen of Tennessee, who confessed: “We back off of everything! We’ve been very weak.”
He’s not alone. “At this point, the bigger national scandal isn’t the president’s lawbreaking behavior - it is the Democratic Party’s refusal to impeach him for it,” Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted on Saturday night.
“The integrity of our democracy isn’t threatened when a president breaks the law,” she continued. “It‘s threatened when we do nothing about it. The GOP’s silence & refusal to act shouldn’t be a surprise. Ours is.”
I’ve been very critical of AOC, but she’s right about this.
On Monday, Chuck Schumer sent a letter to Mitch McConnell to “urge” Senate Republicans to start an investigation on the Ukraine story. When it comes to Republicans holding a Republican president accountable, I wouldn’t hold my breath, Chuck.
Our other checks and balances haven’t worked either. Institutions like the media and the intelligence community have largely failed. As AOC suggests, it is now up to (gulp!) Democrats to be our last line of defense.
Yes, even conservatives like me are counting on congressional Democrats to enforce the rule of law, even as we know they’ll let us down. That’s what they do. They are basically the Washington Generals.
Now, I know a few progressive ideologues and activists who think Democrats have always been weak. As a conservative, that hasn’t been my experience. Until recently, conservatives retained a grudging admiration for the ruthless competence of Democrats like Schumer and Pelosi—who helped ram through Obamacare on a party-line vote.
This belief was so pervasive that almost super-villain qualities were attributed to them. It was presumed by many, for example, that Schumer had completely outmaneuvered and manipulated all of the Republicans involved in the immigration reform debate. The default assumption was that he was smarter and tougher than “our” guys.
I suppose both sides think the other side is better at politics…both sides tend to overestimate their enemies and underestimate their own elites.
But this transcends partisanship. During most of my lifetime, there was also a perception that Congress was, as an institution, pretty powerful and independent (just ask Richard Nixon!). Sure, there were always some silly members, but you didn’t want to get yourself crossways with someone in leadership.
Perhaps this was always a façade. Or maybe Congress just slowly ceded their authority to the executive branch, outside groups, and Twitter mobs. Regardless, we have reached a point where congressional Democrats look like a joke.
Just last week, Corey Lewandowski made a mockery of the House Judiciary Committee with impunity. The closest he came to any sort of accountability was when committee chairman Jerry Nadler said he was “considering” holding Lewandowski in contempt.
Considering? That’s pretty weak sauce. Why consider? Perhaps because holding him in contempt would only demonstrate their weakness even more (and arguably help Lewandowski in his bid for the U.S. Senate in New Hampshire).
Asking what Congress can do to someone like Lewandowski is like when Stalin famously asked, “How many divisions does the Pope have?”
Could Nadler have summoned the sergeant at arms to detain Lewandowski? That’s a question better left for a congressional historian, but congressional hearings won’t have much legitimacy without some mechanism to enforce their rules.
Of course, the problem exits outside the hearing room, too. Most recently, Joseph Maguire, acting director of national intelligence, simply ignored a congressional subpoena for contents of the whistleblower’s complaint—contents that were deemed “urgent” and “credible” by the intelligence community’s inspector general.
These contents are important, inasmuch as they are needed to confirm and substantiate the self-incriminating things Trump and Giuliani have said to the media (like Lewandowski told us, there is no compulsion to tell the media the truth)—and to verify media reports (which have all too often been incorrect).
Seeking these contents is part of appropriate due diligence, but executive branch stonewalling shouldn’t be all it takes to prevent Congress from officially exploring what is perhaps the only, albeit it symbolic, form of recourse they have: A House impeachment.
Until now, I have been content to allow Democrats to make their own strategic decisions regarding the wisdom of pursuing impeachment. Now, though, the situation is even direr. It seems to me that they have a moral responsibility to use whatever means are legally at their disposal to rebuke this kind of behavior and make it clear that no one is above the law.
As it stands right now, it seems more likely that this whole story will redound to Trump’s benefit. It might even cost Biden the nomination. Just as he did with “no collusion,” Trump is probably going to find a way to win this p.r. battle, too.
But if that happens, it will happen regardless of whether Democrats play the only card they have to even symbolically punish an abuse of power. It’s time to quit “considering” whether to do the right thing. It’s time to quit trying to “urge” others to do the right thing.
The time to hesitate is through.