There’s a debate taking place among Democrats and liberal commentators about whether Senate Democrats should attempt to block the confirmation of whomever Trump nominates to fill Anthony Kennedy’s seat on the Supreme Court. Proponents of obstruction cite not only the Republican Party’s treatment of Merrick Garland, frozen out of a Supreme Court seat in the waning days of the Obama administration by Senate Republicans, but the impact a solidly conservative court will have on jurisprudence and public policy for many years to come as well as the impropriety of the president nominating a justice who could impact the outcome of the Russia investigation at some point down the line.
The only real option the Democrats have before them to stop or slow a nomination is denying the Republicans a quorum in the Senate. They should do it. It’s a move Republicans would likely be able to procedurally overcome without much trouble, but it would also be an opportunity for Democrats to animate voters against the conservative movement’s aims, Senate Republicans, and the Trump administration in advance of November’s midterm elections with a bit of political theater. These are the very same reasons, actually, why the Democrats should’ve denied the Senate a quorum some time ago—not in opposition to this or any specific Republican priority, but in protest of the Trump administration, as a whole, and the party that brought it into being.
The mood among Democrats immediately after the 2016 election is an increasingly distant memory. Much more was made then than now of Trump’s inherent unfitness for the presidency—that he was a liar, a boor, and a racist, a man credibly accused of assault or harassment by more than a dozen women and surreally ignorant of public policy who routinely attacked the press and undermined faith in the voting process. He is not the president the American people wanted, and he took office as a consequence of an electoral system created to protect the institution of slavery more than two centuries ago. The accumulated ire over all this inspired two of the largest days of civil demonstrations in the history of the United States.
Yet the Democratic Party has never seriously challenged Trump’s legitimacy as the leader of this country. It was clear from the outset, as Democrats attended his inauguration and offered support for many of his nominees in the very first days of the administration, that we would drift further and further away from the rhetorical premise that Donald Trump should not be running the American government. Most Democrats are now unwilling even to say—out of a very possibly misguided attempt to mollify voters who already think poorly of Democrats—that Trump should be impeached, pinning the question to the outcome of an investigation that has yet to, and may never, directly implicate the president in wrongdoing. Meanwhile, Trump has racked up a vast array of clear conflicts of interest and is the financial beneficiary of obvious efforts to curry favor by foreign governments that patronize his businesses.
Moreover, the crisis of child separations at the border, as the Muslim ban did before it, has demonstrated that Trump’s racist and xenophobic rhetoric can turn rapidly into real policy. For that reason alone, the Democratic Party should actively and loudly pursue impeachment. It is highly unlikely that impeachment on those grounds would meet the standard for high crimes and misdemeanors most constitutional scholars would find compelling. It is extremely unlikely that an attempt at impeachment on any grounds at all would result in Trump’s removal from office, which would require the support of Republicans in the Senate even if Democrats take the House in November. And even if Trump were removed, he would be replaced by a Republican intent on pursuing the very same or similar policies. Nevertheless, like attempting to deny a quorum in the Senate, the prospect of impeachment and the impeachment process itself would provide Democrats a politically valuable opportunity to rally Democratic and potentially Democratic but disengaged voters against a highly unpopular president and the party that brought him to power.
Beyond this, impeaching Trump is simply the right thing to do. He is the head of an immoral administration and our political system offers very few options for immediate formal recourse. Defenders of our extant political norms frequently warn that breaking them to fight Trump, via impeachment on nonlegal grounds or other means, would lead to the destabilization of our political institutions and processes, subject as they would be moving forward to the pressures of partisanship. But that is where the American political system is inexorably headed, impeachment or not. Republicans floated the prospect of impeaching Obama on dubious grounds numerous times during his presidency; it’s highly plausible that the GOP will move to drawing actual articles of impeachment against the next Democratic president for pursuing left-wing policy goals, even if the Democrats’ normative commitments lead them to forgo impeaching Trump now. Trump’s Supreme Court nominee will likely be committed to overturning or chipping away at Roe v. Wade, an indication that the coming years and decades in American politics will be ever more acrimonious, bitter, and chaotic. Our institutions and norms were not built for this and will not prevent the Republican Party from pounding a Democratic Party playing by an antiquated set of rules into dust. But the GOP can be weakened. Impeaching Trump and obstructing the activities of this Congress are sensible ways to start.