The Slatest

Impeach-O-Meter: Democrats Are Making Coded Allusions to Maybe Finally Doing Something (Potentially)

Trump gestures as Biden and Obama look on.
Donald Trump and Joe Biden at Trump’s inauguration in 2017.
Drew Angerer/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.

The story that seems to be making the impeachment question simpler for Democrats is a complicated one. Donald Trump, according to reporting that describes an as-yet-unreleased intelligence agency whistleblower complaint, repeatedly badgered Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky during a July phone call to let Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani help Ukrainian authorities launch an investigation of Joe Biden’s son Hunter over vague allegations that the younger Biden may have done something corrupt involving a Ukrainian natural gas company.

Using the leverage of an official office to benefit yourself politically is a textbook abuse of power, and there might be even more to the story: The White House was already known to have been withholding U.S. aid to Ukraine at the time Trump’s conversation with Zelensky took place, and a Washington Post report about the whistleblower complaint asserts that the complaint involves a “promise” Trump made to a foreign leader. This raises the possibility that Trump planned to use his authority not just to encourage but to reward a country that carried out dirty tricks on behalf of his presidential campaign, just as he did in late 2016 and 2017 when he tried to roll back economic sanctions against Russia.

On Sunday, Trump confirmed having done at least part of what he’s suspected of doing—the part about asking Zelensky to have Biden investigated—in comments to the press.

So is it impeachment o’clock, or what?

Even the Democratic caucus’s most cautious leaders are acknowledging that, yes, this Ukraine business sounds bad—and maybe impeachment-level bad. Here’s House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff on Sunday:

I have been very reluctant to go down the path of impeachment, for the reason that I think the founders contemplated, in a country that has elections every four years, that this would be an extraordinary remedy, a remedy of last resort, not first resort. But if the president is essentially withholding military aid at the same time that he is trying to browbeat a foreign leader into doing something illicit, that is, providing dirt on his opponent during a presidential campaign, then that may be the only remedy that is coequal to the evil that that conduct represents.

“We may very well have crossed the Rubicon here,” Schiff said.

The caucus’s least tentative members, meanwhile, are in this mood:

But what about the most important Democrat, Nancy Pelosi?

Any acknowledgement by Pelosi that the molasses-paced quasi-impeachment proceedings that Democrats are currently conducting might have to move to a “new stage” counts as progress toward impeachment. On the other hand, her fixation on the relatively mundane procedural question of whether the whistleblower complaint gets formally turned over is evidence that Pelosi is still acting as if the question of whether Trump has committed impeachable offenses is an open one that Americans have only just started to consider, rather than one that was already all but settled when Dems took power in the House in January.

That said, given that Democrats (and everyone else who’s paying attention) seem to more or less know what’s contained in the complaint—which is to say they appear confident that it’s going to be incriminating, rather than a “nothingburger,” when ultimately revealed—it’s not the worst idea to make a big deal of the administration’s refusal to turn it over. What are they hiding? is an easy concept to understand, and, notably, trying to avoid having to release a key piece of evidence to investigators did not work out well for the last administration that was facing potential impeachment over campaign-related ratfuckery.

We’ll need to see rank-and-file members in the House start putting pressure on Pelosi to raise the Meter into more-likely-than-not territory, but for the first time in a while, it’s going up!

The "Impeach-O-Meter" graphic, which registers a 45 percent likelihood of impeachment.
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 Image