Congress' fear to impeach is unprecedented: Presidential historian
President Donald Trump speaks to reporters after learning that Speaker Pelosi is blocking his SOTU during shutdown. Image via screengrab.

On Wednesday, MSNBC's Rachel Maddow discussed the debate over impeaching President Donald Trump with presidential historian Michael Beschloss, who argued that there is really no historical analogue to the House's hesitancy to even open an impeachment proceeding.

"Is this restraint that we are seeing from the Democratic leadership in the House, do you think it is unusual given the historical circumstances here?" asked Maddow.

"Yeah, I do," said Beschloss. "I think it really defies history, because, just as you said in the case of Richard Nixon after the Saturday Night Massacre, a lot of members of the House wanted impeachment, and also Leon Jaworski, the special prosecutor, sent this secret over to the House that was called the Watergate roadmap. You and have I talked about that before. 1st of March, 1974, with supporting evidence, and that allowed the House to essentially go ahead. And that was considered to be so hot it wasn’t released until about seven months ago."

"And then in the case of the Starr report, that was released to the public in September of 1998, and Starr sent that immediately to the House, along with 18 boxes of evidence. And once again, the members of the House, which was Republican at that point, said let’s impeach, and they began the investigation," said Beschloss. "There was not this feeling that we have to hold back because maybe we’ll look too political."

Regarding the open question of whether special counsel Robert Mueller will be compelled to speak about the matter before Congress, Beschloss said, "it would be crazy if we were not called to testify. And I don’t know about you, Rachel, but Robert Mueller does not look to me like the kind of person who is going to defy a congressional subpoena that is to testify beyond what he’s just said in that report. Kenneth Starr testified before the House in the impeachment investigation against Bill Clinton November of 1998. That’s a precedent."

When it comes to Democratic fears that impeachment could backfire as it did for Republicans in 1998, when they lost seats in the midterms, Beschloss was skeptical.

"I’ve never been impressed by the Clinton situation as a precedent for this, showing us what might happen," said Beschloss. "Clinton was in the high 60s in approval, very much different from Donald Trump. The offenses he was accused of were in retrospect a lot more modest than the possible crimes that we’re reading about in the Mueller report. So if you’re looking at the Clinton case and saying does this show us that if the Democrats begin a house impeachment investigation, they have to worry about losing the election next year, I think that’s a really false parallel."

"And the other thing ... those members of the House, they all took an oath to protect and defend the Constitution," added Beschloss. "And if they do not do anything about these possible crimes that Robert Mueller has described very vividly in this report, they’re essentially saying we're not going to — we don't care about the rule of law. And obstructing justice, if that's what Donald Trump has done, that will become the new normal. And later presidents will feel very free to do it too because they'll just say the House will not do it if they think it will get them into political trouble."

"What should always prevail is a feeling by members of the House that they're going to protect the Constitution," Beschloss concluded. "And if they do not do that, we're going to be in a lawless society, and we will lose our democracy."

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