“Well now there’s two,” sang Muddy Waters. “There’s two trains running.”
One is the House Democrats’ impeachment of President Donald Trump over withholding aid to Ukraine, allegedly for political gain. The other is the Republicans’ so-far solid defense of the President.
Those trains are on a collision course as they head to the US Senate, where the Constitution requires a trial—its shape yet unknown—to determine whether Trump should be removed from office.
But there’s one certain takeaway from this week: On Wednesday Donald Trump became only the third president to be impeached in the 230 years since George Washington was first elected.
“The votes to impeach Donald Trump were partisan and predictable,” wrote historian Jeremi Suri, who watched the more than 10 hours of debate in the House. “But they still mattered enormously because the setting was so grave, and votes on impeachment are so rare.”
“On the surface, the Democrats and Republicans were describing two different realities, speaking past each other,” Suri noted. “The Democrats diagnosed a lawless, corrupt, lying president. The Republicans recounted how the president had tried to lead, and his opponents had undermined him, time and again. One side narrated Trump’s villainy; the other side lamented Trump’s victimhood.”
It all comes down to a single question, wrote John Avlon: “Do you think American presidents should ask foreign powers to investigate domestic political rivals?”
Avlon added, “This is the issue. The President has not only admitted to it – he extended the request to investigate (Joe) Biden to the Chinese. It’s part of a pattern we’ve seen from this President…If you are opposed to impeachment in this case, then you are saying that future presidents should be able to abuse the unique power of the office for personal political gain. That is a recipe for disaster in our democratic republic.”
President Trump, who already was tweeting at a record pace in recent days, sent a remarkable six-page letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi before the vote on impeachment, and then, just after the House approved abuse-of-power and obstruction-of-Congress articles, gave his longest-ever rally speech, denouncing the Democrats before a crowd in Michigan.
“Even the most secure of US presidents would be unnerved at the prospect that their political demise is only 67 votes away,” wrote Dean Obeidallah. “And while Trump has been called a lot of things, ’secure’ is not one of them.”
That letter to Pelosi? “Trump, the world’s most powerful man, and undoubtedly one of the luckiest, continued to drench himself in a thick, sticky coat of self-pity,” wrote Frida Ghitis. “The Salem witch trials gave more due process to the accused, he absurdly claimed, though he refused to participate in the impeachment process after Democrats invited him to do so. The claim drew an exasperated rebuke from the mayor of Salem, who noted that the 1692 trials targeted ‘powerless, innocent victims’– women who died horrific deaths.”
Paul Begala called the letter “Trump’s governing philosophy distilled” and wrote, “He is a wannabe autocrat, who has made his goal clear: to remake America as he has remade the Republican Party – turning a once-proud, strong party into a gaggle of sycophantic lickspittles. His rage for Speaker Pelosi is boundless because she stands up to him. His letter is a window not into a troubled psyche, but something much worse.”
The GOP is keeping score, but with different metrics. In the Washington Examiner, Byron York wrote, “for Republicans, the important numbers were zero and zero. Not a single Republican lawmaker voted for either article of impeachment. For the GOP, it was important to show that impeachment is an entirely partisan, Democrats-only affair, and that is precisely what happened.”
“This impeachment process has never been about truth,” wrote James Schultz, who served in the White House counsel’s office in the Trump administration. “House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff has turned what was once a respected committee into one which fosters further public distrust in an already unpopular body of government. His impeachment investigation has little to do with fact-finding and most everything to do with undoing an election.”
Back to the Future?
SE Cupp suggested that those watching the GOP defense of Trump, “might think they had stepped into Doc Brown’s DeLorean from ‘Back to the Future.’”
She noted, “Republican House members, right-wing media and Trump looked and sounded like they were out of a bygone era. The year? 1955. The place? Anytown, USA. The culture? White and male.” Meanwhile Trump was regaling his Battle Creek audience with tales of the glories of dishwashers gone by, saying today’s machines don’t measure up: “Now you press it 12 times. Women tell me…you know, they give you four drops of water.”
“The project of Donald Trump since descending that escalator in 2015 was to appeal to the aggrieved forgotten man whose life hadn’t delivered on the American Dream he was promised in 1950,” Cupp wrote. “Immigrants had taken his job, he was told. Women no longer knew their place. The white man was being driven out by black and brown families. Socialists, atheists and hippies were taking the country to hell in a handbasket.
“Trump reached out to those voters more explicitly and openly than any other presidential candidate had in decades, and he was rewarded for it.”
But for the Republicans to survive as a party beyond Trump, Cupp suggested, they’ll have to chart a more diverse future.
Klobuchar was on fire
The week of nonstop news rushed toward its end with a Democratic debate in Los Angeles Thursday evening. It was the most fiery of the recent debates, perhaps because the field of candidates was smaller and the start of actual voting is less than seven weeks away. Sparks flew between Senator Elizabeth Warren and Mayor Pete Buttigieg over the influence of big money in politics. “It should come as no surprise that these two candidates were fighting,” wrote Jen Psaki. “They are near the top of the polls. But the person who took greatest advantage was Amy Klobuchar.”
Check out our roundup of commentators’ views, including takes from Scott Jennings, Frida Ghitis, Carrie Sheffield, Raul Reyes, Julian Zelizer, S.E. Cupp, Errol Louis and Paul Begala.
Next up: Senate
The key player in the upcoming Senate trial of Donald Trump is the Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, already infamous among Democrats for his refusal in the spring of 2016 to give Obama Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland a chance to win Senate confirmation.
Elie Honig wasn’t impressed with what McConnell has said so far: “Give … McConnell this much: at least he’s open and transparent about his plan to rig the upcoming Senate impeachment trial of President Donald Trump.”
Honig added, “McConnell … came right out and said that he will work ‘in total coordination with the White House counsel.’ McConnell’s disdain for even the appearance of a fair process is so pointed that it seems his end goal is to de-legitimize the upcoming trial before it begins.”
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Bill Clinton’s two-track story
The impeachment vote brought back memories of the last time Congress took that step, in 1998, against President Bill Clinton. While that drama was playing out, the US was also bombing Iraq, a clash of news narratives that former White House Press Secretary Joe Lockhart—then brand new to the job– recalled as particularly challenging.
“We gathered 150 members of Congress – all Democrats – down on the South Lawn to stand with the President and repeat our simple message: This impeachment was all partisan; it’s all politics…”
“Only hours apart … Clinton told the press that there were no Republicans in this country, there were no Democrats, there were just Americans, and that we had won the military operation.
“Then the President left, leaving me to explain to 50 waiting reporters how the two announcements fit together. And I think it was so audacious that we took the breath away from even the press, and they seemed to let us get away with it.”
At day’s end, one of the President’s top aides came into Lockhart’s office, got two beers out of the bar and put his feet up, Lockhart recalled.
“I’ll never forget what he said to me: ’You know, except for getting impeached, we had a pretty good day.’”