By: Kiley Roach
Since the House of Representatives was overtaken by Democrats in the 2018 midterm elections, the issue of impeachment has become more hot-button than ever, so much so that the New York Times called the political process “inevitable” less than two weeks ago. The Democrats enter the new term with familiar leadership in the form of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, a party leader who has a formidable reputation as a strategist in the House. With a strong caucus of young, progressive Democrats calling loudly (even vulgarly) for impeachment on the wings of the House floor, all eyes are turned on Pelosi, who has cautioned against moving forward with formal impeachment processes. No matter whether impeachment is pursued or not, it will certainly position itself as a central issue to the 2020 primary season.
With eyes turned to 2020, the issue of impeachment has the potential to become divisive on the Democratic National Committee’s stage. As of now, analysts have estimated that nearly 30 potential candidates are exploring a bid at the presidency. This is one of the most diverse panels of potential candidates in respect to age, experience, race, gender, and reputation. In addition, the Democrats enter the 2020 primary season in the shadow of President Trump, and will likely be debating on key issues that have been centerpieces to the his presidential legacy. For example, “the wall” and border security, foreign affairs and trade, and health care policy. Impeachment, however, will likely loom as a backdrop for these issues.
Whether or not Democrats are vocally in favor of impeaching the President just might be one of the most divisive issues to greet candidates straight out of the gate, especially for those that will still be serving in Congress as the primary unfolds. Most notable examples of expected candidates include Bernie Sanders, Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar, and John Delaney. The true list of contenders hasn’t even been written yet, and this list is only encompassing those believed to be top viable candidates. Despite their differences and political approaches, these candidates will simultaneously be confronted with their obligations as Congressmembers and as that of presidential candidates. The possibility of impeachment drastically complicates both of these responsibilities at their intersection.
The potential for this issue’s weight, for me personally, became clear during today’s academic session. David Corn visited us today at the Washington Center, and shared a wide range of his arguments for impeaching the President. Some arguments were legal, others were ethical, but all had one thing in common: his purview that now is not the time to impeach President Trump.
During his remarks this morning, Corn posited some advice to the new Democratic majority in the House of Representatives: “Rather than moving straight to impeachment, take a step back and shift the focus back to simple oversight of the executive branch,” (Portions in italics have been paraphrased). In Corn’s view, impeachment is a political mechanism written into the Constitution for the sole purpose of checks and balances, a fundamental principle of our democracy. While he recognizes a need for accountability, he recognizes that pursuing impeachment could result in a disadvantage to the Democrats in 2020.
If Democratic leadership does choose to issue subpoenas and impeach the president (which, in the House, simply functions as a formal accusation of wrongdoing), there is no guarantee that it will come to fruition in the Senate. The Senate would have to rule with a two-thirds majority in favor of impeachment in order to remove the President from office, which, with a strong Republican majority, seems unlikely. The Democrats, in the event of a politically “failed” impeachment pursuit, Trump remains in office for the remainder of his term, and enters the arena as an underdog in the 2020 primary, which could ultimately work to his advantage.