The Potential Potholes and Pitfalls of Impeachment – “The Sunday Political Brunch” - October 13, 2019

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CHARLESTON, W. Va. – All the clamor from Washington, D.C. over impeachment is raising a lot of questions and concerns. As someone who covered President Clinton’s impeachment from gavel-to-gavel and was riveted to TV during President Nixon’s impeachment hearings, I have some perspective I’d like to share. Let’s “brunch” on that this week.

“What’s Getting Done?” – Congressional action – like the way we budget time in our own lives – is a series of choices. Time is finite, so when we say we want to pursue Agenda A and Agenda B, then we might be eliminating time and resources to address Agendas C and D. This was a huge argument in Bill Clinton’s impeachment, when the Nation’s Capital came to a grinding halt and seized up completely in the impeachment investigation.

“Times They Are a’ Different” – In 1974, President Nixon had already been reelected to a second term and would never appear on the ballot again. The same is true for President Clinton in 1998. Not so, for President Trump, who will be on the ballot in 2020 for reelection. The perspective here may cut a number of ways. First, the entire process may appear entirely political. House Democrats are already pushing for a vote by Christmas knowing they have the numbers to impeach, even though the Senate has the numbers to keep Trump from being expelled from the White House. Is this all just to taint his reelection campaign? That will be the accusation. Bet on it!

“What Have You Done for Me Lately” – It’s important to think about why Trump was elected in the first place. His top issue was immigration reform. Let’s face it, official Washington – both Democrats and Republicans alike – have refused to confront the illegal immigration problem in any serious way. They may nibble around the edges but no historic reforms are near. If impeachment goes forward, immigration reform will not. In fact, most other legislation and a host of issues, will come to a grinding halt, just as they did in the Nixon and Clinton cases. Impeachment simply sucks all the oxygen out of the room in Washington. Democrats will say Trump is an impeached president; Republicans will blame the House for being a “do-nothing Congress.” Tit-for-Tat here we come!

“The Finger-Pointing Game” – In 1998-99 when I was covering the Clinton impeachment, I can’t remember any bills of significance being passed. Republicans were accused of being a “do-nothing” Congress. The majority of the public – while outraged by Clinton’s personal indiscretions – did not believe it warranted removal from office. Republicans, who were criticized by many as overplaying their hand, lost five seats in their House Majority and Speaker Newt Gingrich had to walk the gang-plank, and was ousted by his own caucus.

“Same Song; Different Verse” – Quite honestly, Democrats in 2020 could face the same peril as Republicans in 1998. If you are perceived to be wasting a lot of time and money on what may be a partisan attack, and little else gets done, you could face the wrath of voters who want action on all kinds of issues from immigration reform, to Obamacare fixes.

“What’s the Rush?” – Many Democrats want to conduct impeachment hearings and have a vote by Christmas. That’s fast. From a purely political, tactical. perspective why not run it low and slow and deep into the 2020 campaign cycle and keep in on the front pages? With enough votes to impeach in the House, but not enough to remove in the Senate, Trump could spin this as a major political victory on New Year’s Day. “Democrats tried to take me out, but they failed,” he could say which might rally his base.

“The Power of Voter Anger” – Remember that Trump’s election had a great deal to do with voting against the status quo. And in the states where he surprisingly won such as Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, he appealed to a lot of those so-called “Reagan Democrats” who felt ignored by their own party. Impeachment may inflame, rather than placate the passions of those voters.

“Overview” – When I covered the Clinton impeachment of 1998-99, I ran into an incredible number of people in both parties who thought it was a colossal waste of time and money. Republicans went into the problem knowing they easily had enough votes for a House impeachment but were sure to lose in the Senate which required a two-thirds vote for expulsion. We face the very same math today and woe to the politicians on the bubble facing voters in 2020.

“A Huge Difference” – In 1974 and in 1998, the House held a largely symbolic, yet important vote, to call for an impeachment inquiry. I say symbolic, because the House Speaker – as Nancy Pelosi has done this year – has the power to call an inquiry without a vote of the rank and file. The symbolic votes on Nixon and Clinton were largely to show consensus. Yet in 2020 there are a significant number of Democrats in the House, who were elected in 2018, in districts Trump won in 2016. Democrats are very protective and trying to save those seats in an act of political self-preservation. It’s a move that could backfire when members currently sitting on their hands must cast a “yay” or “nay” vote.

Are you for or against impeachment, and why? Just click the comment button and let us know.

Mark Curtis, Ed.D., is Chief Political Reporter for the five Nexstar Media TV stations serving West Virginia, its five neighboring states, and most of the Washington, D.C. media market. He is a National Contributing Writer for, “The White House Patch” at www.Patch.com.

© 2019 Mark Curtis Media, LLC

Photo courtesy: Getty Images

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