When Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives claim to debate the legal merits of impeaching Donald Trump, they are really doing exactly what we’re all doing at home: debating the political merits of impeaching Donald Trump. Despite the advanced age of Congress, its main antecedent for impeachment is not 1974 but 1998—and how the Clinton impeachment appeared to backfire on Republicans in that year’s midterms. And so they—like, perhaps, many moderate Democrats who lived through that time—reason that impeachment will not only lead to Trump’s exoneration in the Senate (a guarantee), but make him more sympathetic in the process.
On Wednesday night, after Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet articulated the argument that the failure of impeachment in the Senate will only allow Trump to claim he’s been cleared by Congress, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro effectively demolished that case for an audience of millions:
Let me first say that I really do believe that we can walk and chew gum at the same time. All of us have a vision for the future of the country that we’re articulating to the American people. We’re going to continue to do that. We have an election coming up. At the same time, Senator, I think that too many folks in the Senate and in the Congress have been spooked by 1998. I believe that the times are different. And, in fact, I think that folks are making a mistake by not pursuing impeachment. The Mueller report clearly details that he deserves it, and what’s going to happen in the fall of next year, of 2020, if they don’t impeach him, is he’s going to say, “You see. You see. The Democrats didn’t go after me on impeachment. And you know why? Because I didn’t do anything wrong. These folks that always investigate me—they’re always trying to go after me. When it came down to it, they didn’t go after me there because I didn’t do anything wrong.” Conversely, if Mitch McConnell is the one that lets him off the look, we’re going to be able to say, “Well, sure, they impeached him in the House, but his friend Mitch McConnell, Moscow Mitch, let him off the hook.”
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