One might have thought that after the Mueller hearing debacle, House Democrats would move on from impeachment. Speaker Pelosi certainly hoped her caucus would.
But her caucus consists of nearly 240 members whose interests diverge sharply when it comes to impeachment. It’s in the interest of some members to “move on.” But for others, the smart move is to keep beating the dead horse. To neither faction does it matter whether the Constitution’s standard for impeachment is satisfied.
Members in swing districts have no interest in pursuing impeachment. The constituents that can make or break them don’t favor it. Indeed, many of these members disavowed, explicitly or implicitly, the idea of impeachment when they ran for office last year.
These members need substantive legislative accomplishments to campaign on. They view impeachment as a distraction that could cost them reelection.
Pelosi has a safe congressional seat, but her Speakership isn’t safe. Her interests coincide with those of members in swing districts.
But many Democrats represent safe districts. Any threat to their membership comes from other Democrats, and typically from the left. They cannot afford to appear soft on impeachment.
Jerry Nadler, the House Judiciary Committee chairman, is a case in point. He is being challenged from the left. It’s not clear how threatening the challenge is, but Nadler knows that his former high-ranking colleague Joseph Crowley lost to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a seemingly frivolous opponent.
Nadler would be ill-advised to move on from impeachment, even if he wants to.
Even House Dems in safe seats who aren’t being challenged from the left have reasons to keep pursuing impeachment. Raw hatred of Trump is one. They hoped to have a hammer with which to assault Trump. If it turns out they have only a wet noodle, no matter. They will use it.
Free publicity and the desire to raise funds constitute additional reasons not to move on from impeachment. A large, wealthy portion of the Democratic base wants the party to keep pressing for Trump’s removal. The futile pursuit of impeachment is a great way to pander to these folks.
How will the interaction of these conflicting interests play out? This way, I think: House committees will continue to seek documents and call witnesses relevant to possible impeachment proceedings. But Pelosi will succeed in preventing actual impeachment proceedings.
This isn’t a bad outcome for House Democrats. Both factions — the “move ons” and “full speed aheads” — will get something substantial. The former will be able to keep their promise — actual or implied — of no impeachment.
The latter will be able to keep stirring the pot and to say that they gave impeachment the old college try. Trump won’t be impeached, never mind removed, but his administration will be harassed and perhaps distracted. And the Trump-hating media will be able to keep writing anti-Trump stories based on little tidbits that the Dems uncover through their investigations.