This article was originally published at Salon
I'm on record going back nearly a year saying that despite my fervent desire to see it come to pass, I don't see a path to removing Trump from office. I haven't changed my mind. Even if the Democrats have a big sweep in November and take control of both houses of Congress, impeachment requires 67 senators to convict and I honestly wouldn't expect more than a small handful of Republicans (if any) to vote for it no matter what he has done. The dynamic of appeasement and abetting is so set at this point that I can't see that kind of shift happening.
Remember, we already know the president paid hush money to porn stars and Playboy models in violation of campaign finance laws, and Republicans don't care. He's refused to divest himself of his businesses and is clearly making money from the presidency, and they don't care. He's naively blowing up the nation's alliances and kissing up to adversaries without the vaguest clue about what he's doing, and they don't care. He's ruthlessly attacked the U.S. intelligence community and the Department of Justice, purely for self-serving reasons, and they don't care. Most importantly, he is suspected of conspiring with a foreign government and they really don't care. Indeed, most Republicans are going out of their way to help him cover it all up.
The Republicans have gone so far as to circulate a long (and growing) list of all the corruption and malfeasance they have failed to investigate as part of their oversight duties, claiming that the Democrats must be stopped before they actually do something about it. As Axios reported, the list "has churned Republican stomachs":
Here are some of the probes it predicts:
- President Trump’s tax returns
- Trump family businesses — and whether they comply with the Constitution's emoluments clause, including the Chinese trademark grant to the Trump Organization
- Trump's dealings with Russia, including the president's preparation for his meeting with Vladimir Putin
- The payment to Stephanie Clifford — a.k.a. Stormy Daniels
- James Comey's firing
- Trump's firing of U.S. attorneys
- Trump's proposed transgender ban for the military
- Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin's business dealings
- White House staff's personal email use
- Cabinet secretary travel, office expenses, and other misused perks
- Discussion of classified information at Mar-a-Lago
- Jared Kushner's ethics law compliance
- Dismissal of members of the EPA board of scientific counselors
- The travel ban
- Family separation policy
- Hurricane response in Puerto Rico
- Election security and hacking attempts
- White House security clearances
They'll be adding the latest news that Trump personally intervened in the discussions regarding the construction of a new FBI building, which just happens to be across the street from the Trump International Hotel and about which the president has shown a bizarre fixation.
One would think that such an enormous list would automatically trigger impeachment hearings once the Republicans lose their majority. But the truth is that with the exception of the highly secretive Mueller probe, none of this has been properly investigated and investigations take time. Unfortunately, the minute this new Congress is sworn in we will be at the beginning of a new presidential campaign cycle with all the competing cross-currents that brings with it. Nonetheless, it is vital that the Democrats prioritize the most important items on that list and hold public hearings.
They will have the time to do it. After all, Donald Trump would rather chew glass than work with Democrats at this point and his followers would run shrieking into the streets if he even pretended to compromise on legislation. So the prospect of anything but the most immediately necessary legislation being signed into law is nil. In fact, we can count on government shutdowns and endless standoffs. (What else is new?) Trump will be campaigning most of the time. It's all he really likes about politics and he never stopped doing it anyway. So congressional oversight hearings and investigations will be job one for the Democrats.
Last October, a PPP poll found that 49 percent of voters already supported impeachment. A more recent poll published by Axios in the wake of Michael Cohen's plea bargain shows just 44 percent supporting. And the Republican base is still behind Trump all the way. But as I pointed out last year when we first started talking about this, even Richard Nixon held out for nearly two years as his base stuck with him all the way and Republican senators did the same. He resigned largely because he'd lost the Southern Democrats who'd been propping him up. As Axios pointed out, "Nixon's impeachment numbers, as measured by Gallup polls at the time, didn't reach a majority until right before he resigned, per the Pew Research Center." Bill Clinton's approval ratings soared when the Republicans impeached him, and every single Democrat in the Senate (along with several Republicans) voted against conviction.
It's hard to impeach a president; none has ever been removed from office through that mechanism. In these polarized times it would be harder than ever. But it's very possible to vote him out of office especially if his high crimes and misdemeanors have been seriously aired for the public to see. Donald Trump's crimes may be revealed to have been so much worse than either of the previously impeached presidents that Republican senators would have no choice but to convict him in an impeachment trial. He's so corrupt and incompetent (and possibly disloyal) that it's hard to understand why they haven't impeached him themselves. But unless the proof is absolutely incontrovertible and his followers lose faith, they will probably stay with him. Most likely it's going to depend upon the American people to put things right again in 2020.