Impeachment no option for Democrats



July 30, 2019 - 10:00 AM

Think of the U.S. House hearings Wednesday with former special counsel Robert Mueller as a campaign-season debate over whether to proceed with impeachment proceedings against President Trump.

Judging by their muted reactions Thursday, congressional Democrats — at least enough high-ranking Democrats — realize they don’t have a strong enough case to pursue impeachment now. And they know that nothing has changed for the Republican-controlled Senate, which wouldn’t convict him. “The only way he’s leaving office, at least at this point, is by being voted out,” Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, who chaired one of the Mueller hearings, acknowledged Thursday on CNN.

For Democrats and others who dislike the president, that’s the sensible takeaway from Mueller’s investigation and testimony. That also has been House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s belief. She can say that _ for now at least — Wednesday took the air out of the push to begin impeachment proceedings: That is not the answer to a vexing, divisive president. Putting up a strong challenger in 2020 is the appropriate Democratic response.

Any impeachment isn’t supposed to be an easy call — a menu choice for those in Congress who decide they’ve had enough of a president they view as an irredeemable scoundrel. An impeachment by the House, and removal from office by the Senate, should be an anguished, collective act by Americans who rise above party differences to find their president guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors.

Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election represented a fact-based path to learning whether Trump’s actions crossed that red line. Mueller’s mandate granted him authority to pursue evidence of wrongdoing anywhere he found it, which is how he ended up dwelling on the question of whether the president obstructed justice.

Mueller identified numerous instances of Trump’s inappropriate conduct. They include the president’s decision to fire FBI Director James Comey, and Trump’s demands — defied by his subordinates — to fire Mueller. Irrefutable evidence for impeachment? Well, no, because presidents have broad powers, to take even arguably absurd actions. Many Americans support Trump. They don’t see a reckless lawbreaker; they see a feisty iconoclast.

Wednesday’s hearings didn’t deliver an open-and-shut case of obstruction. Mueller continued to avoid making a prosecutorial judgment whether Trump committed a crime. There are other allegations swirling around Trump, though not evidence at this point that rises to the level of an impeachable offense. Offered innumerable chances Wednesday to proffer such evidence, Mueller repeatedly declared that he wanted his report to do the talking.

That lack of some new narrative emerging from Wednesday’s hearings confronts members of Congress who have called for impeachment with the prospect of reliving what occurred in 1998: The House voted to impeach President Bill Clinton for lying under oath and obstructing justice. But the accusers couldn’t persuade Americans that Clinton’s offenses merited removal from office. The Senate declined to convict. Barring new and damning revelations, a similar outcome would be likely for Trump.

The Democrats’ emerging (although not unanimous) consensus to set aside impeachment for now is a logical response in the wake of Mueller’s testimony Wednesday.

The better focus for Trump opponents: Election Day 2020.