The Slatest

Impeach-O-Meter: After Impeachment August, It’s Judiciary Procedure September!

Underwood is sworn in as a member of the House.
Nancy Pelosi with Illinois Rep. Lauren Underwood and her family in the Capitol on Jan. 3 as Underwood is sworn in to Congress. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The original Impeach-O-Meter was a wildly subjective and speculative estimate of the likelihood that Donald Trump would be removed before his term ended. Republicans have since established that there’s nothing that Trump could do to lose their support, making a conviction in the GOP-held Senate inconceivable. But as evidence of the president’s criminal unfitness for office continues to accumulate, an increasing number of Democrats are willing to say that he should be held accountable, at the least, via impeachment proceedings in the House. So we’ve relaunched the Impeach-O-Meter as a (still wildly subjective and speculative) estimate of the likelihood that the House votes to impeach Trump before the end of his first term.

On Thursday, the House Judiciary Committee is expected to approve a set of rules that would allow it to more expeditiously weigh the merits of voting to recommend Donald Trump’s impeachment. The rules will, among other things, allow witnesses to be questioned by committee staff members—who could be attorneys, i.e., people who, unlike many members of Congress, are trained to elicit novel and potentially incriminatory information via extended interrogation—and will allow subcommittees to investigate impeachment-related issues on their own. Both are changes that, God willing, will increase the insanely plodding pace at which Democrats have been gathering evidence on the matter.

The committee, urged on by aggressive-minded members like Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin, is also going to begin holding hearings on Trump’s involvement in 2016 hush-money payments (prosecutors have said he supervised the payment scheme, which broke campaign finance laws), his apparent violation of embezzlement and bribery laws (recent stories about spending at Trump properties in the U.K. by Vice President Mike Pence and the Air Force have put the issue back in the news cycle), and his apparent abuse of the power to issue pardons (he’s reportedly told officials involved in building a border wall that he’ll pardon them if they break the law to get it done). And while Judiciary hasn’t identified it as an area of inquiry, even some Republican legislators appear to be annoyed by reports that the administration pressured officials at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association to back up Trump’s Sept. 1 claim that Alabama was on the verge of being hit “harder than anticipated” by Hurricane Dorian. (It wasn’t, and the House Science Committee just announced that it will be officially looking into the matter.) Add that stuff to the obstruction-of-justice cases that Robert Mueller’s investigation uncovered and the Russia quid-pro-quo sleaze that Adam Schiff’s Intelligence Committee is ostensibly still pursuing, and you start to have a stew going.

But will the general public, or rather the duly chosen representatives of swing-district voters who are crucial to the question of whether an impeachment resolution would actually pass the full House, care?

A number of activist groups attempted to answer that question with “Impeachment August,” an effort to persuade on-the-fence purple-district legislators to support proceedings against Trump via localized, showing-up-at-the-town-hall pressure. The New York Times portrayed the effort as a bit of a dud, noting that few of the 31 Democrats who represent districts in which Trump beat Hillary Clinton in 2016 have come out for impeachment and quoting some such members as saying their constituents are more concerned with other issues. The Times, though, didn’t mention that 20 Democrats in total did announce new support for impeachment proceedings in August. Some of those 20, like Illinois Rep. Bill Foster and Rhode Island Rep. Jim Langevin, portrayed themselves as reluctantly conceding to constituent pressure; two, Illinois Rep. Lauren Underwood and New York Rep. Sean Maloney, are from districts Trump won.

That said, both Underwood and Maloney tried to play both sides. Maloney said that he’d prefer not to hold an impeachment vote but would vote yes if the issue were forced, and Underwood said in a statement only that she endorsed Judiciary’s “impeachment-related investigation.” Politico reported this week that Democrats don’t necessarily all even agree on whether Judiciary’s work is an impeachment inquiry, though. And the 20 potential “yes” votes added in August still leave the Dems 80 votes short of the 218 they’d actually need to impeach.

At this point, then, it comes down to two opposing forces: On one side, the enthusiasm of certain Judiciary members to air the many impeachment-deserving things the president has done. On the other, the feeling among members of the public (where impeachment generally polls in the 30s and low 40s) and Democratic leadership that, while Trump may not deserve to be president, trying to remove him from the presidency via the constitutionally outlined process for doing so would be too disruptive or “divisive,” or that it would trigger an electorally dangerous backlash among his supporters. Trump’s most important achievement, in some sense, is to have become so off-putting to so many people that even the idea of having to think about him long enough to get him out of office seems risky and repellent. Very cool!

An impeachment likelihood meter with its needle at the 35 percent chance position.
Illustration by Natalie Matthews-Ramo and Lisa Larson-Walker/Slate. Photos by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images, Win McNamee/Getty Images, Chris Kleponis-Pool/Getty Images, Drew Angerer/Getty Images, and Peter Parks-Pool/Getty Images.