The question of whether to impeach or not impeach caught fire this week after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi appeared to put the brakes on impeachment proceedings in the immediate future. But the work of preparing the path to impeachment has already started, beginning with the public hearing two weeks ago of former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen.
That path includes building public support for initiating such proceedings, which currently sits at only about a third of the nation. But public testimony like Cohen’s is all part of the process. Not only did the public find Cohen more believable than Trump (50-35 percent), but a strong majority of voters—58 percent—told Quinnipiac Congress should do more to investigate Cohen’s claims concerning Trump’s “unethical and illegal behavior.”
The week after Cohen’s testimony, House Democrats on the Judiciary Committee did exactly what the vast majority of voters said they should do: They issued document requests to more than 80 people and entities in support of their investigation into Trump. According to House Judiciary Chair Jerry Nadler of New York, roughly a third of those recipients have already indicated they plan to fulfill the request by next week’s deadline.
In the meantime, House Oversight Chair Elijah Cummings of Maryland is locking horns with an increasingly recalcitrant White House over issues related to Trump’s hush money payment to Stormy Daniels and the top-secret security clearances granted to Trump family members and White House advisers Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump.
What we are witnessing here is the early stages of a public relations battle to convince a solid majority of Americans that Trump ought to be impeached, assuming the investigations yield real evidence in support of impeachment.
Part of what upset so many people about Pelosi’s remarks on impeachment was the fact that she suggested it must have “bipartisan” support. Many people have rightly pointed out that impeachment will likely never be bipartisan enough that it will succeed in the GOP-led Senate. But Nadler has voiced a different metric for how to gauge “bipartisan” that has less to do with GOP lawmakers and more to do with voters.
“Impeachment cannot be partisan,” Nadler told the New York Times. “What you don’t want to do is divide the country so that half the country thinks for the next 30 years, we won the election, you stole it from us. […] The situation has to be such that you believe when you start the impeachment proceeding that the evidence you have is so persuasive of such terrible deeds that once the evidence is laid out, an appreciable fraction of the voters who voted for Trump will reluctantly say, you had to do it—you’re not just trying to steal the election.”
As I noted in a previous piece, it’s possible for impeachment to pass the Democratic House, fail in the Republican Senate, and for Democrats to still win the political war at the ballot box if some 60 percent of the population is convinced Trump committed impeachable offenses. That’s the “bipartisan” battle that looms.