Texas Democratic Rep. Al Green really really wants to impeach the president of the United States, and on Wednesday, he tried unsuccessfully (for a third time) to do so. The irony is that a lot of Democratic members of the House want to impeach the president, and a lot of Democrats around the country want to impeach the president — hell, billionaire Democratic donor-turned-presidential-candidate Tom Steyer even made “Impeach” hats, and clearly the president himself has yet to forget the “impeach the motherf-----" line from Squad member Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich.
But Al Green’s quixotic quest is not the way to get there, and even most Democrats in the House agreed. So did a lot of Democrats outside of it.
First off, the timing of Green’s rogue amendment was bad, coming just a week before former special counsel Robert Mueller’s congressional testimony, which would seemingly be a far more natural jumping-off point for any impeachment proceedings. It also distracted from a Democratic victory the day before, when Democrats, four Republicans and one (recent) independent voted to condemn the president for his racist language toward the four freshmen Democratic congresswomen known colloquially as “The Squad.”
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And, rather than being aimed at the “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors” that the Constitution defines as impeachable offenses, Green suggested that Trump’s racists statements, among other things, constituted a reason to impeach him.
There were other problems with Green’s offering, the largest of which was that it wasn’t asking an impeachment inquiry but straight-up bill to start impeachment — in other words, Green’s motion was just a straight indictment prior to an investigation to unearth evidence with which to go to trial in the Senate, meaning that any impeachment effort would be even more likely to get killed in the Republican-controlled Senate and give Trump even more ammunition to say he was vindicated.
In some ways, Green’s impeachment efforts are exactly what Trump has wanted (and keeps claiming he has anyway): a rogue Democrat so wedded to impeachment that he forgets the need to make his case to the American people (let alone in a trial in the Senate). Conventional wisdom is that impeachment needs to be sold to the American people, the way it was during the Nixon impeachment. The idea of impeachment is somewhat popular — though polling on it is at best problematic, and support swings wildly from between 27 and 50 percent, depending on how you ask — but that doesn't get you far.
So there is something to be said for holding hearings, which are ultimately how the House uncovered enough evidence not only to impeach Nixon but also to convince him that the Senate would convict and force his resignation. And, as David Nir, the political director of the site Daily Kos tweeted, Green had an option like that at his disposal: “What Al Green should do is force a vote on Rashida Tlaib’s resolution directing the House Judiciary Committee to open an impeachment inquiry.”
Tlaib’s March resolution, were it to pass, would force the hands of both House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., who many Democrats believe have been slow-walking the investigatory process. It would, presumably, ultimately result in televised hearings with subpoenaed witnesses and evidence, much like the Watergate hearings.
It’s important to remember that, before the Watergate hearings, Nixon was extremely popular with the public and within his own party, and public sentiment in favor of his impeachment was largely low until the hearings began. Televised hearings into Trump’s potential impeachment could potentially move the needle on impeachment with the public, especially when you take into account hours of expert witnesses replayed on cable television with soundbites that could be tweeted, Instagrammed, Snapchatted and even set to soundtracks on TikTok.
All of that could — conceivably — win hearts and minds and then theoretically convince Republican senators to stop the madness and vote to remove Trump from office, though it’s hard to believe Republican senators will ever stop the madness if they can’t bring themselves to mildly suggest that Trump simply stop saying racist things to members of Congress. (They just seem so incredibly wedded to Trump and willing to adjust decency downwards at every step.)
Ultimately, though, in a time during which American democracy is in such peril and the slightest misstep from Democrats can give the president a news cycle win, his opposition must work together, move methodically, and commit themselves to a singular agenda. Trump is a bad legislator, a bad president and a bad person — but he is good at taking the wins from his opponents’ missteps wherever he can get them. That, ultimately, is why Democrats can’t go completely rogue.
It is understandable that Green feels in his heart that the president needs to impeached — a lot of us do — but impeachment is a marathon and not a sprint, and it is definitely not something to do for a headline and then move on from. We want to impeach Trump because we want to remove him from office and the way to get there is through a series of carefully thought-out steps, and not through brash action. Trump does things for the retweets; we need to do them for the history books.