To Donald Trump, long the outsider yearning for a seat at the center of world events, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s announcement that the House will pursue an impeachment inquiry must have been devastating.
That Pelosi sprung her explosive news while world leaders are gathered in Trump’s hometown for the 74th United Nations General Assembly adds a deeper layer of public humiliation. The past three years have seen Trump flail first for acceptance from, then dominion over, an expanding list of world leaders who dared oppose his impulsive international policies. So much for that plan.
Critics will note that Pelosi didn’t explicitly endorse impeaching Trump; that would require a floor vote in the House of Representatives, which Pelosi never warmed to and still hopes to delay. Eventually, though, Pelosi will be compelled by the nearly 200 members of her caucus who want to see Trump brought up on formal charges.
Trump supplied the nails for his own political coffin after admitting earlier this week to withholding $391 million in congressionally-approved aid intended for the Ukrainian government (though he says that this had nothing to do with the Bidens). He sees this as playing hardball. Of course, others allege otherwise, suggesting that in fact he was playing games in order to dig up dirt on the son of Joe Biden after assuming he'd be running against the Democrat presidential contender in 2020.
Trump’s blatant self-dealing – and his conviction that what he did was not only ethical, but admirable – shocked even Republicans. It also saps the president’s authority to engage with his counterparts on the world stage, where American credibility already sits near all-time lows. A Trump cornered by an aggressive House impeachment inquiry is even less likely to be a reliable partner in complex international negotiations.
Whatever satisfaction it might bring long-suffering Democrats and Never Trumpers, impeachment is still dead-on-arrival in Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s Republican-led Senate. In an interview Tuesday, Mitt Romney, one of the most vocal critics of Trump’s lax ethics, refused to humor the idea of ousting Trump.
Pelosi’s decision to pursue impeachment is also sure to mobilize many in Trump’s diehard base who have long seen impeachment as the long-term goal of a vast, anti-Trump “Deep State” conspiracy at the highest levels of government. If the Senate declines to convict Trump, or impeachment grinds toward Election Day without resolution, Democrats can expect to face a Republican base convinced it is fighting for its life.
Democrats are likely to gain, too. Impeaching Donald Trump remains the Holy Grail among vast swaths of the already-energized Democratic base. Presidential hopefuls Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg raced to outdo each other with words of support. Joe Biden, curiously, hedged his bets with a few procedural technicalities.
Practically, Pelosi’s call for impeachment brings to an effective close an already unproductive and contentious relationship between the Trump administration and House committees. Last week’s House Judiciary Committee grilling of former Trump Campaign Manager Corey Lewandowski devolved so completely that some raised the idea of jailing uncooperative Trump boosters for contempt.
Cooperation between Trump and House Democrats was already in short supply before the Ukraine news broke. That spigot will likely turn off completely as the White House shifts into political survival mode. In what may be his final substantive session of Congress, Trump squandered the awesome power of the presidency on a beefheaded conspiracy theory about Hunter Biden.
That’s a loss for American farmers seeking solutions for unsold crops caught in Trump’s Chinese trade war. It’s a loss for veterans who depended on Trump’s pledge to reform the Department of Veterans Affairs. It’s a loss for Americans, who deserve better from their president.
In a sign of how quickly the American political cycle now moves, the UN General Assembly – still underway! – already feels like ancient history. Trump’s decision to walk out of the UN Climate Conference after just 10 minutes will barely be a footnote in what is now one of the most unexpectedly consequential weeks of Trump’s presidency.
The challenge for the press, for Pelosi, for Congress and for every concerned American is to somehow process the vast, well-documented case against Donald Trump without being sidelined by Trump’s super-effective Twitter distractions and manufactured dramas. The stakes have never been higher for Trump or for the polarized nation he leads.
Events have, after years of branching scandals, a Special Counsel investigation and countless lawsuits, locked Nancy Pelosi, Donald Trump and the American people into a single future: impeachment. As the world enters a dark new chapter of the Trump Era – and allows itself to contemplate a world after President Donald Trump – how Democrats in Washington sell impeachment to the public will decide what kind of America emerges from the chaos.
Max Burns is a veteran Democratic strategist and senior contributor at Millennial Politics. He appears on Fox News, Fox Business, and Bloomberg Radio. Follow him on Twitter @TheMaxBurns
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