Ever since Donald Trump put the U.S. presidency up for sale last week, a fierce impeachment debate among Democrats has begun anew. Support for beginning an impeachment inquiry is growing in the House Democratic caucus just as it is growing within the electorate. On Monday, freshman California Rep. Katie Porter nudged the caucus to just shy of 70 members in support of initiating proceedings, saying that she had not reached her decision easily.
“I didn’t come to Congress to impeach the president,” Porter said in a video statement, ticking through a list of constituent priorities she still hoped to accomplish. “But when faced with a crisis of this magnitude, I cannot with a clean conscience ignore my duty to defend the Constitution.”
Porter, who in 2018 unseated a two-term GOP congresswoman in conservative Orange County, is exactly the type of newly elected Democrat that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is supposedly trying to insulate by serving as a human bulwark against impeachment. Porter’s bare-bones but thoughtful video laying out the reasoning behind her decision won’t garner any awards for production quality, and yet it had racked up nearly 1.5 million views within in its first 24 hours online. Porter pushed the conversation forward by delivering a clear explanation for why beginning an impeachment inquiry into Trump was a necessary step toward safeguarding the integrity of our democracy. For her, it was a duty she could no longer ignore.
The Democratic voters who remain most acutely opposed to initiating impeachment proceedings usually make one of two arguments: 1) duty aside, impeaching Donald Trump is useless since the GOP-led Senate will never convict and therefore Trump will remain in office; 2) impeaching Trump is a political trap that will backfire in 2020.
Neither of those arguments is inherently true and, in fact, they are inextricably linked. Indeed, failing to make the depth and breadth of Trump’s malfeasance crystal-clear to the American people through a concerted and targeted impeachment inquiry will hamstring Democrats’ electoral chances in 2020.
But the main fallacy of this argument is the notion that conducting an impeachment investigation is entirely useless if it doesn’t end in a Senate conviction. Critics of impeachment routinely argue that those pushing for impeachment are simply indulging in pure “fantasy” because Republicans will immediately kill the entire effort in the Senate. But the emphasis on a successful Senate conviction misses the point of launching impeachment proceedings entirely. The impeachment process is exactly that—a process. It’s an opportunity for Democrats to alert the American public that, Hey, something important is going on here and we all need to pay attention to it. It’s a chance to educate voters and highlight Trump’s moral and intellectual unfitness for the office that has been entrusted to him. That way, if House Democrats vote to impeach and Senate Republicans back Trump, voters will be armed with the information they need to finish the job themselves next year.
House Democrats not only have the duty to make this case against Trump to the American people, they also have a real chance to draw a contrast in leadership to the GOP-led Senate. Trump has supplied Democrats with a wealth of impeachable material from which to work—an embarrassment of riches, actually. If Democrats remain incapable of using that material to convince 60% of Americans that Trump represents a clear and present danger to the republic, then the Democratic Party has bigger problems than just Trump.
For now, the message voters are getting from Democratic leadership is that Trump’s behavior doesn’t rise to the level of an impeachment inquiry, even as he engages in widespread obstruction of justice and invites foreign adversaries to attack our upcoming election. It’s a vacuum of leadership that won’t serve Democrats well in 2020 and entirely misses the severity of the crisis facing our democracy. Democrats must provide the clarity of vision that will empower voters to make sound decisions next year about the future of this country.