Now that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has enough votes in hand to open an official impeachment inquiry into the rogue presidency of Donald Trump, it is worthwhile to contemplate what got us here, or more specifically, what didn’t.
Meticulously documented cases of Trump obstructing justice didn’t get us here, nor did his ongoing violations of the emoluments clause, his ongoing policy of caging separated children in concentration camps, his Muslim ban, his public embrace of racism and fascist white nationalism, his frontal assault on the climate, his serial assaults on women, his 12,000 bald-faced lies, or his documented hush money payments to hide his infidelities.
A strong argument can be made that impeachment in this situation is unavoidable because seeking foreign assistance in disrupting an election is a serious matter, as is undertaking a cover-up of those activities. The circumstances here are clear-cut and unequivocal, while the other gross violations of the public trust are harder to explain in 30-second coughs of television to an audience riddled with its own racism and misogyny. Ukraine is an easy layup by comparison. In the atomized, bubble-infested media landscape we endure, “easy” is not to be sneezed at in this circumstance.
Yet the fact remains that only when an establishment lifer was threatened with embarrassment did the gears of impeachment finally begin to grind. That Trump is being impeached because he tried to humiliate Democratic presidential candidates and former Vice President Joe Biden and then covered it up, and not for the gruesome laundry list of violations that came before, during and after he called the Ukraine president, is an eloquent diagnosis of what is wrong with politics in the United States today. It is a decidedly bipartisan calamity.
Because of this, impeaching Trump does not mean justice will be served for all who have been harmed by the illegal and immoral actions of this administration. In point of fact, there is no guarantee that Trump will even be impeached at all. If he is impeached, his removal from office is even less likely.
Speaker Pelosi currently has 223 votes to open an inquiry, but only 27 House members have said they will actually vote to impeach. That number is certain to rise as more damning information is gathered and disclosed, but until the number of committed impeachment votes reaches 218, the deal is not sealed.
Assuming the evidence in combination with Pelosi’s vote-wrangling prowess compels the House to cross that 218-vote threshold, impeachment will still not mean removal from office. If Trump is impeached in the House, the process will move to a trial in the Senate, where Sen. Mitch McConnell holds sway over a Republican majority that has stood stoutly with Trump through every scandal so far.
If Senator McConnell even allows a Senate trial to take place at all, there must be 67 votes to convict for Trump to be officially removed from office. Currently, the Senate is comprised of 53 Republicans, 45 Democrats and two Independents who caucus with them. If every Democrat and Independent votes to convict — hardly a guarantee in a chamber that contains Joe Manchin — 18 Republicans will have to join them for removal to be achieved.
This would seem on its face to be a bridge way too far, but the rumblings of Republican discontent over the Ukraine revelations are not insignificant. We are into the third year of the GOP playing the role of broom man behind Trump’s excrement-filled elephant parade, and enough “Yes” votes would solve a lot of problems for the party.
“These Senate Republicans are going to be pinned down to a yes-no answer,” long-time GOP insider Mike Murphy told MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell on Wednesday. “And if they provide cover to Donald Trump for this, a clear violation of his role as president, we’re going to lose [the Senate seat in] Colorado with Cory Gardner. We’re going to lose Maine with Susan Collins. We’re going to lose Arizona with Martha McSally. And the Democrats will put the Senate very much in play.”
“One Republican senator told me if it was a secret vote, 30 Republican senators would vote to impeach Trump,” Murphy then confided. It was a telling revelation regarding the level of exhaustion Republicans are feeling after allowing Trump to take over their party. In the end, however, these people are proven cowards. The Senate vote, should the process reach that point, will be very public. To paraphrase Robert Frost, that makes all the difference.
It was unyielding public pressure that got us to this point — there is little doubt Speaker Pelosi would ignore the Ukraine scandal along with the others if she could, but she can’t — and it will be public pressure that makes any proceeding in the Senate more than a show trial. Disquiet within Republican ranks is very real, and the issue at hand is so starkly simple that even those artful dodgers may not be able to do their standard duck and cover routine for long if the pressure remains high.
Some have already begun voicing concerns that Trump is relishing this fight, that he will turn it to his advantage in a way that guarantees his election. But his behavior, and the behavior of his allies, do not paint a portrait of a happy man.
On Thursday, Trump bluntly threatened the life of the whistleblower and the lives of the witnesses who were present for, and then voiced deep concerns over, Trump’s call with the Ukraine president. His personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, had a full-fledged meltdown on Wednesday after the whistleblower report was made public. “When this is over, I will be the hero!” he raged to The Atlantic’s Elania Plott. “Anything I did should be praised.”
Meanwhile, public support for impeachment continues to grow.
Whatever the outcome, there is undeniable merit in the effort, even as that effort fails to address Trump’s other numerous — and more severe — transgressions against the office he holds and the people he is supposed to serve. At the end of the day, Trump has finally heard the word “No,” and neither he nor his people are enjoying the taste of it. That will suffice for the moment, but the hard part has only just begun.