House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says Democrats are trying to remove President Trump from office “prayerfully,” “sadly” and “with a heavy heart.” In fact, as anyone who has been watching knows, many Democrats have been itching to impeach Trump since the day he took office.
The fact that they have long wanted to impeach the president suggests those Democrats view the Trump-Ukraine matter as just the latest, and perhaps the best, chance to get the president. And that calls into question their good faith in claiming that, despite deep reluctance, they must impeach now — right this minute — because it is their solemn constitutional duty.
From its earliest days, the Democratic quest to remove Trump has resembled the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote. Democrats in hot pursuit of the elusive Trump proposed to remove him for virtually any sin that came to mind, only to see their efforts foiled.
One early Democratic article of impeachment would have removed the president for “sowing discord among the people of the United States” with controversial comments on Charlottesville, transgender troops and Muslim immigration. Another Democratic attempt suggested removing Trump for attacking NFL players who did not stand for the national anthem. Then there was a proposal to remove him for tweeting about federal judges.
Others sought to impeach Trump for allegedly violating the Constitution’s “emoluments clause.” Finally, of course, many Democrats hoped to remove the president over the Trump-Russia affair.
Anticipation built for years, reaching a peak several months ago, just before the release of the Mueller report. And then, disappointment.
The core of the Democratic case against Trump was the allegation that Russia and the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated to fix the 2016 election. Many Democrats believed deeply that Trump was guilty, and sometimes fevered speculation filled countless hours on cable TV. But Robert Mueller could not even establish that conspiracy or coordination even happened, much less that Trump was guilty.
Some Democrats still hoped to impeach Trump for allegedly obstructing justice. Mueller’s report strongly suggested that Trump had committed obstruction, yet — in a move that angered Democrats — declined to reach a conclusion on the charge. Then, in July, Mueller made an underwhelming appearance on Capitol Hill. The air quickly seeped out of the impeachment balloon.
Then — voila! — up popped the Ukraine affair. Democrats saw a final opportunity to impeach Trump. They immediately began cutting corners to make it happen as quickly as possible.
First, Pelosi and her chosen impeachment czar, Rep. Adam Schiff, chose to skip the investigative stage that preceded earlier impeachments. The cases of both Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton involved extensive inquiries by special prosecutors who served as fact-finders. The same was true of the Mueller investigation.
But Mueller did not give Democrats what they wanted. Plus, he took two years to do it. Instead of calling for a special counsel investigation, Pelosi and Schiff decided to handle the investigating themselves, greatly increasing the chances they would reach the result they wanted.
Pelosi and Schiff also decided not to pursue the testimony of some key witnesses.
Instead, Pelosi and Schiff rushed ahead. Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee took just days to produce a report based on their brief investigation and then gave members 24 hours to read and assess it. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking. Voting in the Democratic presidential nomination race begins with the Iowa caucuses Feb. 3. The New Hampshire primary will be eight days later.
If Pelosi and Schiff can pass impeachment articles by Christmas, they can send the matter to the Senate for trial in January. Even on that accelerated schedule, the trial will probably overlap, at least a little, with voting. But if the House can’t get impeachment done by the holidays, the matter will certainly drag on through the primaries. So the race is on.
To summarize: Many Democrats wanted to impeach Trump from the get-go. Frustrated at their inability to get it done, they jumped on their last, best hope, taking shortcuts to ensure their preferred result and racing to beat the political deadline imposed by their party’s presidential contest. Through it all, they have insisted they are acting only with great reluctance and sorrow.
The question now is whether the public will believe it.