With Eye on Winning Back House in 2018, New Dem Group Talks Impeachment

No matter how many people march, it won’t make a difference without control of the House of Representatives.

Patrick Fallon/Reuters,Patrick Fallon

The website is up and running for the world to see, ahead of President Donald Trump’s 100th day in office, with Democratic activists’ roadmap to impeachment.

Power to Impeach, a new super-PAC, is not offering a plan for instant gratification. Impeachment would requiring flipping the House of Representatives from red to blue, which can’t possibly happen until November 2018, if then.

The notion of removing Trump from office is catnip for activists, though, and if Democrats want to get back into power in Washington, impeachment is a great motivator for Democrats to turn out and vote in the midterms. “When people vote, Democrats win,” says PAC founder Matt Thornton, the former communications director of the DCCC. “This is an outlet for activists to put a plan in motion.”

Democratic turnout typically falls precipitously in these off-year elections, and a smaller, older and whiter electorate helps to keep the House in Republican hands. Under the Constitution, the impeachment process must begin in the House, and with Republicans in control, it’s unlikely that a majority would vote for Articles of Impeachment, or that Speaker Ryan would even allow such a vote to occur.

Tens of thousands of people across the country marching, calling their members of Congress, signing petitions, “none of that makes any difference,” says Thornton, “as long as we have a structural barrier. The only way to get there (impeachment) is by changing who controls the House.”

Like many Americans who didn’t support Trump, Thornton was distressed by the outcome of the election. After what he says was a lot of soul searching with friends and family, he decided to create this impeachment super PAC as an outlet for activists to put a plan in motion to recapture the House.

The focus will be on Republican-held seats, mainly in districts Hillary Clinton won. There are 23 of them, and Democrats need to pick up a net total of 24 seats to regain the majority.

In a House with 435 seats, that shouldn’t be so daunting, but redistricting controlled by Republicans after their big win in 2010 left few truly competitive seats. In 2016, Democrats didn’t even enter a candidate in 29 districts, including one in Texas held by Republican Pete Sessions, a district that Clinton carried over Trump.

Still, the party in power typically loses seats in its first midterm, and it’s possible given Trump’s lurching style and potentially low poll ratings that he could provoke a major backlash.

Bill Clinton two years into his first term saw the Democrats lose 54 seats in the House and the Republicans take over the chamber for the first time in 40 years. Democrats regained the majority in 2006, but President Barack Obama two years into his first term saw Democrats lose 63 seats in the House, and Republicans regain the majority they’ve held since.

How many races Power to Impeach will play in depends on how the fundraising goes, says Thornton. The special elections in Kansas, where the Democrat lost but came a lot closer than once thought possible in such a red state, and in Georgia, where the Democrat goes into a June runoff as the highest vote-getter from a crowded field, “give me hope,” says Thornton. “The base is very fired up.”

Jack Pitney, professor of politics at Claremont-McKenna College, says the Impeachment super PAC is a great tool for energizing Democrats, and that it could also raise quite a bit of money. In his area of California, he’s already predicting Democrats could pick up seats in Orange County, which was once solidly Republican.

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“Running on impeachment is good for the Democrats short term,” he says, but wonders, “is it good for the country?” He recalls watching the Nixon impeachment proceedings on television, and how the Democrats did not take great pleasure in what was happening. Clinton’s impeachment was more of a partisan show until the Senate voted to acquit him.

“At one point, there may be a solid legal case against Trump,” says Pitney, adding that it’s fair to question given today’s extreme partisanship whether any Republican would vote to impeach Trump. Recalling that Trump boasted during the campaign that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue, and wouldn’t lose support, “Even then,” says Pitney, “they’d call it self-defense.”

Pondering his question about what’s good for the country, Pitney concludes, “It’s bad to use impeachment as a political tool, but it’s also bad to think he’ll continue in office.”

Power to Impeach is heady stuff, and the website lays it all out there, the “hateful and unconstitutional rhetoric…the executive overreach, conflicts of interest, abuse of power, undermining of core American values…. the cloud of alleged foreign collusion by the president’s allies during and after the election. In short: our worst fears about this presidency were realized.”

For people dismayed at what’s happening, flipping the House is a tangible and doable goal, whether it results in impeachment or not. Because Senate control is probably out of reach with ten Democrats running for reelection in states Trump won, some by double digits, the House is the better bet.

Also, on impeachment, Thornton points out that the Senate doesn’t act until after the House votes, and that a Republican-led Senate does not pose the same structural impediment as the House. “Placing pressure on vulnerable senators to do the right thing is a grassroots barrier we can overcome,” he says, an outcome that can only happen if the House falls to the opposition.