Democratic Party leadership’s hollow, moral grandstanding on impeachment and meek efforts to resist President Donald Trump is an embarrassment to the Democratic base.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi formally announced an impeachment inquiry in September 2019 following Trump’s visit to Ukraine. Trump allegedly asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, who sat on the board of a Ukrainian energy company while Vice President Biden served as vital diplomat for the region.
Trump and the right-wing machine have spun this story to paint Biden and his son as corrupt in an effort to deflect from the overt illegality on the part of the president. But is this truly the breaking point for the Democratic Party?
Of the many reasons to draw a line in the sand—the aforementioned obstruction of justice, the separation of families at the border, the millions of dollars Trump is making off his position, aiding Saudi Arabia in the massacre of nearly 100,000 Yemeni people—Pelosi and party leadership chose to shield a fellow elite from scrutiny. Hunter Biden did not have any expertise of the Ukrainian energy sector and received the position after being discharged from the U.S Navy for failing a drug test, all while his father served under the most influential world leader.
Let’s be real; if an average person tested positive for cocaine and was fired from their job, they wouldn’t fall into $50,000-a-month position. This is the type of self dealing that Americans are sick of, and there is a strong case to be made that Hunter Biden cashed in on his last name, which makes Pelosi’s decision to focus her impeachment messaging on this one offence remarkably senseless.
Previous impeachment opportunities
Party leadership hedged their political bets on the FBI’s special counsel investigation into whether or not the Trump campaign worked in concert with the Russian government during the 2016 election. For two straight years, Trump claimed “Witch Hunt” as the entire “liberal” media and establishment pushed the narrative that he was a Russian asset and a “Putin puppet,” only to have the rug pulled underneath them when former-FBI Director Robert Mueller found no evidence of a Trump-Russia conspiracy.
In a press conference, Mueller said his report did not exonerate Trump with regards to obstructing the investigation, and cunningly remarked that “The Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing.” The word he was looking for was impeachment.
Many House Democrats responded to Mueller’s dog-whistling on obstruction of justice and pushed for Pelosi to open impeachment proceedings, but Pelosi reeled them back, understanding the momentous failure the Trump-Russia narrative was politically. They, in essence, accused the president of being a foreign agent, setting the bar incredibly high and anything short of such malfeasance would be difficult to politically maneuver.
Proponents of impeachment argued that the rule of law needed to be upheld, and impeachment was an institutional lever falling under the purview of the house in order to hold the president accountable. Pelosi, with her eye on the polling data, resisted calls for impeachment and was not swayed by a moral imperative to hold the president to account for obstructing the investigation.
At the end of the day, with 85% Republican voters opposed to impeaching the president, it is safe to assume the Republican-led senate would not vote to remove the president, even if the House brought a solid case to floor. Pelosi also provided political cover for the moderate wing of the party that was afraid to go on the record in favor of impeachment, fearing blowback from their constituencies.
Impeachment, in this Congress, is not a tool to uphold a system of checks and balances; it is a political weapon meant to mire your political opponent in controversy and negative headlines with the intention of hurting their electability. Pelosi is not naïve and she understood this.
The question of moral obligation
With previous impeachment opportunities, why is there a formal impeachment inquiry now? House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler cited a “moral obligation” as a reason for impeachment. However, Pelosi and Democratic Leadership do not have a moral obligation to impeach Trump. They have a moral obligation to fight price-gouging pharmaceutical and health insurance companies, not take over $90 million in campaign contributions from these industries in 2018; they have a moral obligation to end interventionist wars and house the 500,000 people experiencing homelessness, not hand out billions of dollars to defense contractors that manufacture weapons of war and destruction; they have a moral obligation to pass sensible gun reform and protect a woman’s right to choose, not endorse an anti-abortion, anti-LGBTQ+ Democrat Dan Lipinski, and National Rifle Association, A-plus rated Democrat Henry Cuellar, as Pelosi did recently.
Pelosi and the party risk being perceived as vapid and out-of-touch if they proceed with impeachment. The Democrats won the House in 2018 running on the issues Americans care about: health care and the economy. If they want to win in 2020, they need to oppose Trump not through impeachment but through a robust, policy-oriented platform that promotes justice and equity for all Americans.