Steny Hoyer, the second-highest ranking Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives, may have best summed up the reaction to the Mueller report from the party’s ostensible grownups.
“Based on what we have seen to date, going forward on impeachment is not worthwhile at this point,” Hoyer told CNN Thursday. “Very frankly, there is an election in 18 months and the American people will make a judgment.”
Nevada congressional Democrats more or less echoed variations of Hoyer’s stand-patism. Senators Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen urged Trump to guard against future election meddling. Democratic Representatives Steven Horsford and Susie Lee expressed a desire for more information, in the form of Mueller appearing before Congress and release of the “full, unredacted” report, respectively.
All reasonable suggestions, to be sure. They are also suggestions that conspicuously gloss over the report’s fundamental finding: Trump is a lying crook who should be impeached.
At least Titus acknowledged the meat of Mueller’s findings, blasting Trump’s “disregard for the rule of law” and noting the report’s “disturbing evidence that President Trump engaged in obstruction of justice.”
“Since the Special Counsel stated he could not exonerate the President, Congress must hold the President fully accountable for his actions,” Titus said.
But what does holding Trump “fully accountable” mean to congressional Democrats? In an interview with the Current late last year Titus dismissed the prospect of impeachment because Republican senators are in thrall to Trump and would never support impeachment no matter what his crimes.
In that same interview, however, Titus noted that she had supported legislation to study impeachment, adding “I wouldn’t hesitate to do it. But I don’t want to go on a fool’s errand. If you don’t have a chance to get two-thirds in the Senate, and you don’t have strong Mueller investigation findings…”
Mueller’s findings are pretty stout. His report details ten “discrete acts” of Trump’s obstruction, including but not limited to lying to prevent disclosure of evidence and instructing staff to assist in the obstruction. Fortunately for Trump, administration officials just didn’t do some of the obstruction Trump told them to do — passing instructions to Rod Rosenstein to fire Mueller for instance — and Trump, a study in both incompetence and short attention span theater, was too addled to follow through.
Mueller’s report recites the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) opinion that “the indictment or criminal prosecution of a sitting President would impermissibly undermine the capacity of the executive branch to perform its constitutionally assigned functions,” in violation of “the constitutional separation of powers.”
Noting that as Special Counsel, Mueller is acting as an attorney in the Justice Department, his report states “this Office accepted OLC’s legal conclusion for the purpose of exercising prosecutorial jurisdiction.”
In other words, no indictment.
The Constitution “does not categorically and permanently immunize a President for obstructing justice,” the report says. “The separation of powers doctrine authorizes Congress to protect official proceedings, including those of courts and grand juries, from corrupt, obstructive acts regardless of their source.”
And later in that same paragraph:
“The conclusion that Congress may apply the obstruction laws to the President’s corrupt exercise of the powers of office accords with our constitutional system of checks and balances and the principle that no person is above the law.”
And then in the last line of the next paragraph — also the final line of the report — is the now-famous “while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”
In other words: Dear, Congress, yes you can. Cordially, Robert Mueller.
The anti-Hoyer gets it:
Many know I take no pleasure in discussions of impeachment. I didn’t campaign on it, & rarely discuss it unprompted.
We all prefer working on our priorities: pushing Medicare for All, tackling student loans, & a Green New Deal.
But the report squarely puts this on our doorstep.
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) April 18, 2019
Ah, but as Hoyer points out, there is an election in 18 months. Democrats are terrified that impeachment would look horrible and detract the American public from all the excitement of … Beto standing on stuff, or whatever.
The country — or a segment of it operating in the undemocratic relic that is the electoral college — vomited up into the White House an inveterate liar and crook (as Mueller’s report notes, Trump’s crimes extend beyond those Mueller’s team investigated; that’s why he made referrals to separate prosecutors). In response, many Democrats seem inclined to say “Darn! That’s too bad. But we mustn’t perform our constitutional responsibility to remove a crook from office because impeachment might upset some imaginary swing voters in Henderson. So let’s just wait for the election and hope for the best, and talk about preexisting conditions a lot.” Or words to that effect.
The political strategists may be right. Impeachment proceedings may just anger voters and help Trump.
But political strategists can also be wrong (this helps explains why elections have winners and losers).
If an impeachment process lays out in detail laws Trump has broken and lies he has told, congressional Republicans, too, would have to vote on whether they approve Trump’s corrupt acts and deem Trump fit to serve.
As Hoyer, says, there’s an election in 18 months.
Nancy Pelosi famously said impeaching Trump was “not worth it.” Mueller’s report is devastating evidence to the contrary. Democrats in Congress may opt (however unintentionally) to echo their Republican counterparts and abdicate their responsibility as a legitimate branch of government, because they think that’s the best path, politically.
But refusing to pursue impeachment would echo Republicans in another way as well, as it would amount to more normalization of Trump’s actions, behavior, unfitness and, as Titus put it, “disregard for the rule of law.”
Instead of echoing Republican inaction, Democrats in Congress must do exactly the opposite of what Republicans have done, and put the country above politics. Congress must perform its duties, because doing so, as Mueller put it, “accords with our constitutional system of checks and balances and the principle that no person is above the law.” Too bad so sad, Democrats, but impeachment is back on the table.