The first formal vote in the House impeachment inquiry of Donald Trump took place Thursday, and fell nearly universally along party lines: The House of Representatives voted 232-196 in favor of a resolution laying out the rules for the inquiry going forward, with only one Republican voting “Aye” and two Democrats voting “No.”
Justin Amash, the Michigan Independent and former fire-breathing Freedom Caucus member who bailed on the GOP over its obeisance to Trump, voted with the majority. Two Democrats — Colin Peterson of the MN 7th district and Jeff Van Drew of the NJ 1st district — voted with the minority, gifting the Republicans an opportunity to claim that impeachment opposition is bipartisan.
It won’t matter. Unless the Potomac thwarts its banks and subsumes the District or Trump personally invents in a functioning cold fusion reactor and saves us all from climate doom, the numbers say impeachment in the House is inevitable. The only real surprise to come out of Thursday’s vote is that Amash, in this instance, apparently has more integrity than two of Speaker Pelosi’s delicate red-district reclamation projects.
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“The Greatest Witch Hunt In American History!” tweeted Trump in the immediate aftermath of the vote. “A group of Republican lawmakers were invited to have lunch with Trump at the White House after the vote Thursday on the resolution related to the impeachment inquiry,” reported The Washington Post on Thursday afternoon. Oh, to have been a fly on that wall.
The resolution as passed is incredibly friendly to Trump and the Republicans, if you ignore the fact that it’s part of an ongoing impeachment process. By the rules, Trump and his lawyers can query witnesses once the show reaches the Judiciary Committee. The Intelligence Committee is authorized to release transcripts of the “Soviet-style” depositions they’ve been taking, which (by the way) have been open to all Republican members of the involved committees the whole time.
The rules furthermore allow Republicans to subpoena witnesses and documents of their own, pending majority agreement of the committee members, which should provide for some comedy when Matt Gaetz and Louie Gohmert try to make use of this largesse: The pair have made the peddling of shouted nonsense their life’s work. Also included in the rules are special procedures allowing Republicans to make up to 90-minute arguments against the issues at hand as they arise. Again, comedy should ensue.
Republican reaction to this entirely fair and deeply balanced resolution was predictable. “Democrats are trying to impeach the president because they are scared they can’t defeat him at the ballot box,” bleated House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. “To my colleagues on the other side, I say this: Give the people back their power. Let them choose the next leader of the free world. Follow the principles of our Constitution. And do not dilute our democracy by interfering in elections from Washington.”
There’s an old lawyer’s saying: When the law is on your side, pound on the law. When the facts are on your side, pound on the facts. When neither the law nor the facts are on your side, pound on the table.
The law is not on the side of the Republicans, and they know it. The facts are not on their side, and they know it. McCarthy’s aria — Let the people decide! — is almost certain to be the core GOP talking point going forward. That is how they will pound on the table: by making it sound like the impeachment process is stealing people’s right to decide who they want to be president in 2020.
The problem with that argument, of course, lies at the heart of why we are here in the first place. By attempting to leverage a foreign power into running a campaign of smear and interference against Democrats, it was Trump himself who tried to mess with the people’s right to choose their leader in a fair and open process. Trump attempted to foul the very process McCarthy sounds like he’s defending.
McCarthy’s reaction was among the more subdued coming from the ridiculous right. When gruesome conservative commentator Ann Coulter learned that Rep. Tulsi Gabbard had voted in favor of the impeachment rules resolution, her reaction was swift and, well, awesome if you like this sort of thing. “No she didn’t,” raged Coulter on Twitter. “Tulsi is a SENATOR, meaning she’s in the SENATE and doesn’t vote on HOUSE resolutions.”
Gabbard is the House member from the HI 2nd district. Being wrong is one thing. Being wrong in ALL CAPS online for all the world to see is why they invented the internet. Pound the table, Ann. Not your own sad, strange head. The table.
Word has been out for a while now that a large number of Republicans would vote to impeach or remove Donald Trump (depending on which chamber they reside in) if the vote were taken in the dark while everyone else was watching the ballgame. That’s not how this works, as the lady in the Esurance ad reminds us, but it is telling.
The reason these secret Republican anti-Trumpers are so nervous about actually doing the right thing is entirely mathematical in nature. Many of them rightly fear a primary election backlash from Trump’s wildly devoted voter base. That base has such power in their minds because primary elections typically suffer from low voter turnout, making Trump voters — who would turn out for their man if it was raining live, flesh-eating jaguars outside — more powerful than their numbers would normally indicate.
As I pondered the somber faces of congressional Republicans as they cast their “No” votes in solemn uniformity on Thursday, an idea struck me. There is a really easy way for these timorous GOPers to get out from under the electoral sword of Damocles represented by Trump voters in low-turnout primary elections: Increase turnout! Get more people to vote in Republican congressional primaries, and the Law of Large Numbers insists that the impact of Trump’s base would be diminished.
The dream died quickly, however, as I remembered that the only thing Republicans are more invested in than Trump is figuring out new and interesting ways to get fewer people to vote. Trying to get more people to vote is a highway to anathema for that party, a total non-starter.
Talk about getting hoist with your own petard. You either throw in with Trump and come to regret it or watch as your party gets sucked into his vortex with no power to stop it, and the only way available to salvage the situation without losing your gig cuts against the grain of your party’s core ethos — the ethos of repression and exclusion.
Speaking of comedy, that’s about as funny as it gets. Buy the ticket, Republicans. Take the ride.