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The Long and Winding Road to Impeachment – Sunday Political Brunch June 2, 2019

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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – This week I am in the crucial “Sunshine State” which will play a critical role in who wins the White House in 2020. For months I have predicted that House Democrats would begin impeachment proceedings against President Trump whether there was merit or not. I think the momentum is now gaining in that direction and has lots of implications. Let’s “brunch” on that this week.

“Mueller Moves On” – This week Special Counsel Robert Mueller closed his office and resigned. But before departing he held a press conference in which he made statements but took no questions. Among the things he said: “As set forth in the report, after the investigation, if we had confidence that the president did not clearly commit a crime, we would have said so.” Conversely, he said the DOJ policy against indicting a sitting president means "charging the president with a crime was therefore not an option we could consider." Mueller added that the Constitution provides a "process other than the criminal justice system" to address wrongdoing by a president. That means impeachment is the option available to Congress.

“Good Cop – Bad Cop” – While many rank and file Democrats have called for impeachment of the president in recent weeks, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has not been a fan of that idea. She remembers full-well the impeachment of President Clinton which took an entire year (1998-99), and resulted in legislative gridlock in Washington. In the end, Clinton was impeached, but not removed from office. Pelosi envisions a similar result for Trump, so she may be trying to be the “good cop” here. But I predict if the majority of her caucus serves up the “bad cop” role, she’ll allow impeachment inquiries to move forward.

“The Math Doesn’t Add Up” – Right now Democrats control the U.S House with 235 seats, to 198 for Republicans with two vacancies. In 1998, Republicans held a similar majority while investigating President Clinton, and clearly had enough votes to impeach, and so they forged ahead and passed two articles of impeachment. If nothing else, this is “get even time” for Democrats. The real problem is the U.S. Senate, where Republicans hold a 53 to 47 seat majority. Removal from office requires a two-thirds vote of the Senate or 67 votes. Clearly, Democrats would have to convince 20 Republicans in joining them to remove Trump from office. They might get two or three but getting 20 looks insurmountable. Even in 1999, Republicans had a 55-45 majority in the Senate, but needed 12 Democrats to expel Clinton. They got zero Democrats to join them.

“Impeach me, Please!” – Speaker Pelosi has warned Democrats that she believes Trump actually wants his foes to launch an impeachment. Pelosi told her caucus that President Trump “wants to be impeached” so that he can be cleared by the Senate. I think she’s right on the money. I mean, just look how the Mueller investigation emboldened Trump supporters and made them even more passionate in their backing. Trump seems to be inviting his own “Trojan Horse” to the impeachment process. Fascinating!

“The Potential ‘Coattail’ Fallout” – I think there is an interesting dynamic to watch here that concerns the timing of everything. In January 1998, Republicans launched their investigation of President Clinton over his involvement with Paula Jones and Monica Lewinsky. It was also the beginning of the 1998 midterm Congressional election cycle. If the Trump impeachment process starts now and goes a year, we may have resolution well before the 2020 presidential election (and Congressional elections, too). In 1998, Democrats won a net gain of five seats in the House, plus Newt Gingrich was ousted as Speaker. It was a clear sign Republicans overplayed their hands on impeachment. But there was no change in the Senate’s 55-45 GOP majority.

“Home Party Rules” – Remember that impeachment is a political process, it’s not a legal process like the criminal courts. Party loyalty can play a huge factor in a political process. For example, in 1999 only five House Democrats voted to impeach President Clinton, but in the Senate no Democrats voted to remove him from office. On the other hand, go back to the 1974 impeachment proceedings against President Nixon. Seven Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee voted to file three articles of impeachment against Nixon. After that, a group of Republican lawmakers visited the White House and told Nixon he could not survive and would be removed from office if he did not resign. Two days later he quit. My point is, when your own party says it is time to close the curtain, then you are done. It really makes little difference what the opposing party says.

“Unity and Division” – The only other example we can study on impeachment is that of President Andrew Johnson, who succeeded President Lincoln after his assassination. Lincoln, a Republican, chose a Southern Democrat in Johnson of Tennessee, for what was dubbed a National Unity Ticket. When Johnson replaced Lincoln, many Republicans did not trust him or want him. As mentioned earlier, impeachment is a political process, not a legal proceeding. Johnson was impeached on three articles, and in all three cases he survived removal from office by only one vote in the Senate. Interestingly, after Johnson left the presidency, he ran for U.S. Senate and won!

“Why All This Matters” – When it comes to impeachment, Congress has to tread carefully. In Richard Nixon’s case, the evidence was overwhelming and enough people in both parties were ready to remove him from office. In Bill Clinton’s case, it was clear he committed perjury by lying under oath to a U.S. District Judge. Of course, the lie was about an extramarital affair, and as reprehensible as many in both parties found Clinton’s behavior, many just didn’t feel it warranted removal from office. In Andrew Johnson’s case, he may have violated laws Congress specifically passed to bait him. But again, it was more of a political offense. My guess is that until House Democrats find clear violations of the law or breeches of national security, the Trump impeachment is going nowhere.

Do you favor or oppose impeachment of President Trump? Please click the comment button to place your vote and explain your position!

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

© 2019, Mark Curtis Media, LLC

Photo courtesy: Mark Curtis Media, LLC

Why Trump Won the White House - Sunday Political Brunch May 26, 2019

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MILWAUKEE, Wisconsin – This past week I visited my birthplace and the city where I grew up. It will be hosting the 2020 Democratic National Convention. It was a good choice since Democrats must win back this blue-collar state if the party hopes to defeat President Trump’s reelection bid. A lot of my Democrat friends believe it’s already a done deal, but I say over confidence sunk the arty in 2016 and could again in 2020. Let’s “brunch” on that this week.

“Why Trump Won: The Disenfranchised Factor” – 2020 marks the 16th presidential campaign in my lifetime and the 11th I will cover as a reporter. I can think of only four elections where the winning candidate successfully appealed to a large block of voters who felt disenfranchised by the system. Those victors were Richard Nixon in 1968, Bill Clinton in 1992, Barrack Obama in 2008, and Donald Trump in 2016. The fact that we’ve had two back-to-back presidential nominees do this - albeit from both ends of the political spectrum - is fascinating. Both Obama and Trump were able to reach and inspire large numbers of people who felt left out of the political process.

“Why Trump Won: The Immigration Factor” – Exit polls show one of the strongest issues for Trump voters was the problem of illegal immigration. Various studies put the estimated number of people in the country without legal permission to be about 12 million and growing. The two parties offered very different priorities. Democrats sought a path to legal citizenship for millions of children brought here illegally by their parents, while Republicans offered to build a wall. The GOP plan was embraced as tough (and by critics extreme), while the Democratic plan was looked at as fair and practical for the co-called “dreamers” (but weak on all other immigration policies). Trump won this issue going away on tough talk, whether a wall is plausible or not.

“Why Trump Won: Democrats Overconfidence” – It seemed to so many people to be a slam dunk. Donald Trump was fading in the polls, but he was out campaigning hard. Hillary Clinton took on an air of inevitability and campaigned less in person. Clinton had won the Wisconsin Primary in the spring, and never set foot in the state for the remainder of the campaign. It was a strategic blunder. Wisconsin is one of those states where retain politics still matters. As I passed factories and bowling allies on my trip this week, I thought of all the candidates who visited those spots at midnight, noon or in between, shaking hands and asking for votes in sub-zero temperatures. Hillary Clinton declined to do that, and it cost her Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania (the three states that put Trump in the White House.

“Why Trump Won: The Strategy” – About six weeks before the election, a high-level Trump campaign operative laid out the battle plan for me. With about three weeks left on the campaign, the Trump team would pull major assets out of Florida, North Carolina and Ohio. Internal polling showed them winning all three. Those resources (and money) would be re-deployed in the toss up states of Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin. The Clinton campaign largely believed only Pennsylvania was vulnerable, so it did not take seriously the Trump threat on Michigan and Wisconsin. Having grown up in Wisconsin, but with a close eye on Michigan politics, I thought Clinton was safe in those two, but felt strongly that Trump would carry the largest prize of Pennsylvania. Still, by my math, that would fall short of the White House keys. Boy was I wrong, as he won all three states.

“Why All of this Matters” – It matters because I watch a Democratic Party that may be about to repeat every mistake I laid out here from 2016. Party faithful I speak with assume it’s over for Trump whether the nominee is former Vice President Joe Biden or a far lesser-known candidate such as Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D) Hawaii. The Democrats need to find an appeal to people who feel cut out of the system, who usually don’t vote, and motivate them to get to the polls. Democrats must put forth a tough plan on illegal immigration, even if there is no wall funding. They can’t look passive on this issue, while Trump talks tough (even if he can’t do what he promises). They also need to have a coherent strategy to win back other potential swing states such as Ohio and Iowa, both of which Trump won in 2016. You just can’t assume you’ll win states where the party has performed well before. You must fight for every inch of ground.

Have you made up your mind on a Democrat candidate for 2020? You have at east two dozen from whom to choose. Tell us your pick, by clicking the comment button.

Mark Curtis, Ed.D., is a nationally-known political writer and author. These days he’s the Chief Political Reporter for the five Nexstar Media TV stations serving the State of West Virginia the five surrounding states, including most of the Washington, D.C. media market. He’s a National Contributing Writer for the White House Patch on www.Patch.com.

© 2019, Mark Curtis Medi, LLC.

Photo Courtesy: Tracy Curtis/Mark Curtis Media, LLC

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