One thing and one thing only serves as an antidote to political calculations about the risks of taking action—the political backlash from not taking action. And following the oddly game-changing statement from Robert Mueller this week, House Democrats may be getting their first whiff of the possibility that not acting to hold Donald Trump accountable could also carry political costs they had not prioritized.
Thus far, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has mainly obsessed over the possibility that initiating impeachment proceedings against Trump could infuriate his base, turn off independent voters, and boost Trump’s approval ratings and therefore his chances of prevailing in 2020. But after Mueller stepped to the microphone and refocused America on the findings of his report, the sands started to shift with some 50 House members declaring their support for opening an impeachment inquiry. Three of those new signatories included veteran African-American lawmakers Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, chair of the Homeland Security Committee, and Illinois Reps. Danny Davis and Bobby Rush.
As the New York Times reported Friday, constituents from predominately black districts are particularly baffled and upset by congressional Democrats lack of action on impeaching Trump. Here’s a sampling of quotes from black voters in the Philadelphia area:
- “It’s time for Congress to do something. It’s time for them to stop being afraid to do what has to be done for the country.” –Paulette Beale-Harris, 60
- “They’ve got to get him out of the way before he destroys this country.” –James Gaines, 66
- “I don’t think he’s mentally stable, do you?” –Sabriya Bilal, 64
As Pennsylvania Rep. Dwight Evans told the Times, “The issue that I hear constantly here is, ‘We sent you for one reason only: to get rid of the president, right? Why haven’t you gotten rid of him yet?’”
These aren’t just any voters. These are the backbone of the Democratic coalition, with African Americans accounting for nearly one-quarter of the Democratic electorate. In that sense, black voters—nearly 90% of whom disapprove of Trump and 90% of whom also voted for Democrats in 2018—are essential to Democratic success at the polls. So when Democrats are calculating what it would mean to turn off certain white voters they lost to Trump in 2016, they would be wise to be taking into account what it would mean to depress the turnout of African American voters in 2020, particularly among the younger generation who provided “a huge surge” for Democrats in 2018, according to Democratic pollster Cornell Belcher.
Up until this week, movement on impeachment seemed to have stagnated. But one single TV appearance by Mueller appears to have jumpstarted considerations again. From the consummate Fox News watcher in Grand Rapids, Michigan, who was shocked to learn at a town hall with GOP Rep. Justin Amash that Mueller had written “anything negative” about Trump to the renewed energy among Democratic House members, the movement is only heading in one direction. With more exposure, the conversation is getting more complex and the questions are getting sharper both outside the Beltway and inside of it.
For the Fox News watcher, 69-year-old Cathy Garnaat, that means circling back around to a report she thought was case closed. “After I heard [Amash] speak I said, ‘I need to look into this myself. I need to read the Mueller report, especially the second volume,’ ” Garnaat told the Washington Post. Amen.
And for Democrats, that means starting to take into consideration the consequences of inaction alongside those of acting. Before this week, the downsides of inaction were viewed solely through the lens of duty and oath of office. Now the political considerations are coming to bear too.