Are House Democrats Getting Cold Feet?

A number of right-leaning news sources speculate that House Democrats are having second thoughts about impeaching President Trump. Such speculation is based in part on polls that generally show opinion turning against impeachment, especially among independents. A lot of attention–too much, I think–has also been paid to a radio interview given by Michigan Democrat Brenda Lawrence, in which she said “I don’t see the value of” impeaching Trump. Lawrence advocated a censure resolution instead, along with a focus on next year’s election. Of course, she promptly recanted when her comments became widely known.

My own view has long been that impeachment was a given once the Democrats captured the House majority last November. For them to retreat now, after two weeks of far-from-successful hearings, would be humiliating. The Democrats are a top-down party, and if House leadership demands “yes” votes on an impeachment resolution, it will get them.

And why should leadership, having set Schiff’s show in motion, change its mind now? There was never a chance of President Trump being removed by the Senate. The effort all along has been to damage the president’s re-election chances. However badly the hearings may have gone, they produced the desired result–the conjunction of “Trump” and “impeachment” in countless newspaper headlines and breathless television segments. All of that will be lost if the House now fails to pass an impeachment resolution. So the Democrats have nowhere to go but forward.

Here are the numbers: the Democrats need 217 votes to impeach Trump. There are currently 233 Democrats in the House, so they can lose 16 Democratic votes and still pass an impeachment resolution. Two House Democrats voted against beginning the impeachment proceeding, and 31 represent districts that Trump carried in 2016. In normal circumstances, Democratic leadership will free representatives in swing districts to vote against the party, as long as a majority is assured. Here, however, the Democrats need as great a show of unity as they can muster. Nancy Pelosi will do everything she can to achieve a near-unanimous impeachment vote.

Still, the Democrats must be a little worried about what lies in store in the Senate. There, the shoe will be on the other foot: an increasingly aggressive Mitch McConnell will be in charge. I assume Senate Republicans will call Adam Schiff as a witness, and they certainly will call the whistleblower Democratic Party activist who collaborated with Schiff’s staff to set this silly proceeding in motion. They also are likely to call Joe and Hunter Biden as witnesses, to explore the Obama administration corruption that President Trump allegedly was trying to investigate. It has been reported that three different Senate committees are now investigating not only the Biden family’s Ukraine corruption ($3 million worth!), but also the Obama/Biden administration’s solicitation of Ukrainian interference in the 2016 presidential election. That, too, could be explored in a Senate trial.

So any trepidation the Democrats may feel as they vote for their impeachment resolution is understandable. There is another X-factor: Chief Justice John Roberts. The Constitution provides that Roberts will preside over the Senate “trial.” How he conducts the proceeding will be important. Roberts’ tenure so far has been disappointing to many conservatives. (For what it is worth, I have defended him against some criticisms from the right.) But this is a crucial moment: his conduct of the proceeding will make a difference in how it is perceived by the public.

Another important question is how minority voters are responding to the Democrats’ obsession with partisan advantage. As I have written before, a lot of African-American voters, especially men, identify with Trump. Among Hispanics, too, Trump’s support has steadily grown. In both cases, this has a lot to do with the success of his economic policies, which have brought unprecedented prosperity to both black and Hispanic communities. But there is a cultural element as well.

The Trump campaign has announced a six-figure ad buy on black radio stations and newspapers. The theme is “Black Voices For Trump,” and Trump’s record will make the campaign appealing to millions of black voters. Polls, as always, are variable, but in some, President Trump’s approval rating is well over 30% among African-Americans. We are seeing similar numbers among Hispanics. If Trump continues to make a strong push for minority votes over the next year, his support there could make it impossible for any Democrat to beat him. Very few minority voters are impressed by Adam Schiff and the whistleblower Democratic Party activist.

So, in my view, President Trump will be impeached, simply because the Democrats have no way to go but forward. From there on, the path gets rocky. With luck (and an assist from John Roberts) the Senate “trial” turns into a fiasco for them. Beyond that, minority voters who care a great deal about jobs and very little about Ukrainian politics are likely to see the Democrats’ anti-Trump obsession as an attack on them. The bottom line is that at the end of the day, the Democrats will gain nothing from their impeachment obsession, and may instead be the net loser. Let’s hope that turns out to be the case.

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